Sounds crazy easy right? NOPE. First, downhill running isn't as easy as it sounds (gravity does some work for you, but it takes a huge toll on your quads and hips). Plus, it isn't all downhill...at all. The inaugural year, we ran the first 9ish miles down the mountain's road followed by 4 miles of hills through the town of Chatsworth. Talk about a MAJOR body/leg freak out. In 2016 the course changed and has been the same since then: 2-ish miles down the mountain, 2-ish miles up the mountain, 8-ish miles down the mountain and rounding out with about a mile of uphill to the finish with a flat final .2).
This isn't a guaranteed PR by any means. I was one of those who PRed last year, but I fought hard for it that day and that PR ended up being beat a few months later on the VERY HILLY Atlanta Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon course.
I had been doing so much extra cross training and working on speed this year that I knew that today could be my day! The days leading up to the Tear Drop Half Marathon were different than I typically experience - I was scared, nervous, a questioning my own abilities, and I was sick...UGH! I was struck with some sinus crud about a week before the race and while I was on the uphill swing, I was still battling congestion and a wicked cough. Who knows how this will go but, here goes nothing....
I am notorious for losing races with my mental game, so as I did last year, I was strictly running on feel and only had my distance shown on my Garmin. I would have no clue how my pace and time were until the end. Knowing that I had a 1.8 mile climb less than 2 miles into the race meant that I needed to start conservative the first 1.8 miles of downhill plus not burn out in the climb back to the top. I knew that this could be what makes or breaks my time today. I felt strong (but not too fast) on my legs through those first few miles. Once I hit the top, I knew I just start to let it go and speed up. I didn't want to give too much too soon, so I took it a little easier in mile 5 to let my legs recover from the climb and get ready to go.
I felt so strong coming down Fort Mountain. In order to not totally trash my legs too soon, I stuck with intervals to give my legs a 15 second rest every now and then. Around mile 7 or 8 I started to feel like I was losing it - I don't know if it was the remainder of being sick, the humidity, running hard, or the different running stride of downhill and jarring of my body. I didn't let that stop me though. I just pushed through and reminded myself that I can do this and that I have worked hard for this day. I felt like I was probably on PR pace, but didn't know for sure and couldn't even worry about it that this time. I just ran in the moment.
Remember how I mentioned that it isn't ALL downhill? Well, on top of the 1.8 miles you run UP the mountain early in the race, you also have some loooooong uphill climbs in the final mile as well. I was so thankful that they removed the 4 miles worth of rolling hills in 2015 and just have one mile of hills at the end now. I have now shame in admitting that I walked a little here - my legs were DONE and this just added to it.
No. This is NOT a "guaranteed" PR race. Yes, you might run fast on the downhill, but having the proper training for downhill as well as pacing yourself for the uphill plays a crucial role in your success. Not everyone PRed in our group. Each year participants submit their current PR time and the race director sends out the final results of the number of participants that PRed - based on the 2016 numbers, about 58% of runners PRed and 47% in 2017. Yes, that is a big number, but is not guaranteed nor is it given.
The support of my friends and family from the days prior to the race to me actually finishing was amazing. Sometimes I forget how lucky I am have to have such an awesome support system around me. I can never thank each of them enough for never telling me "you are crazy for doing that" but rather "I know you can do it" and always being there for me.
I learned a lot about myself and my abilities coming down that mountain for sure with the most important being that it is normal to be scared and to face your fears. I am already looking forward to adding this race to my 2019 calendar and seeing what I can do feeling 100%.