Before this weekend, (having never been there), when I thought of Atlanta I thought of this:

nightclubs

Nightclubs…

 

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Freeways packed with cars, blanketed in humid steam…

and Martin Luther King Jr.

But after my three-day visit for the Peachtree 10k, thanks to the hospitality of the Atlanta Track Club and others, my view has evolved to include:

Greenery and gorgeous historic neighborhoods…

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the Running Community…

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and, the future.

 

Context:

This year has been a debut (lowercase d) road race year for me, and Peachtree was my second 10k after the Oakley NY Mini 10k three weeks ago. In the Mini I raced scared. I let the top pack go right away, and hid in the safety of splits I felt confident I could hit without dying. I finished with a PR, but I never really “raced” anyone. Plus my PR was from the one and only 10k I did “for fun” 10 years ago. The Mini was a general step forward, and a great experience, but my performance felt a little hollow. In my prep for Peachtree I felt ready to risk something.

A Rough Start:

Screenshot 2014-07-06 20.38.35I woke up with exploding sinuses two days before the race, and dragged my sorry ass out of bed to get on a flight with my teammate Mel to Atlanta. Having not been sick in over two years, part of me wanted to punch the airplane window, and the other part of me thought maybe it would miraculously disappear, which was the mindset I decided to take. Within 24 hours I felt 95% normal, and by race morning, totally fine. Denial of illness while simultaneously doing everything in my power to get well (sleep, hydrate, etc) has worked several times for me now, and I’m starting to think there’s something to it.

One critical part of my race prep strategy was to freaking sleep, so I left Jude at home. He proved to be less than helpful at the NY Mini. I fantasized for days about how much sleep I was going to get in my hotel. As Mel and I tucked ourselves into our pillow-top mattresses around midnight, I felt like a bag of bricks. With a three hour time change, I figured I’d have no trouble sleeping until 11am EST. To be sure I wouldn’t miss my ride to the Expo autograph session at 12:00, I set my alarm for 11:30am.

 

Ha.

Ha.

Ha.

 

Screenshot 2014-07-06 20.40.13The phone rings at the equivalent of 4:30am PST. I’ve been randomly selected for drug testing! I stumble around the room mumbling about USADA and peeing, and tell Mel to go back to sleep while I get tested in the hall. I later found out Mel thought I was sleeptalking something about “Hassan” and “peeing myself” before disappearing outside in my pajamas.

They drew blood, right outside the elevators, at the viewing pleasure of several hotel guests as they went about their morning. As an enthusiast of clean sport and transparency, I didn’t have a problem with that, but of all mornings DID IT HAVE TO BE THIS MORNING?!?!?! It was literally my only day to sleep in for the entire trip. Dammit.

I met fans at the EXPO, which is always super fun. I’m 99% sure Snoop Dog came up at one point (not really but holy doppleganger). I sat next to a giant poster blow up of my Runner’s World Cover shot, which was helpful because at these kinds of things, strangers commonly mistake me for a volunteer and ask where the bathrooms are.

 

The Race:

I had committed in advance to taking some risks, and I did. I went out with the lead pack off the line and went through the mile in around 5:10. Then they started to pick it up and I couldn’t really gas it more than that due to fitness limitations, but I stayed within throwing distance of the leaders and tucked into a chase pack for another 5:10, and another. The first three miles are downhill, so I didn’t freak out that I was 40 seconds faster through 5k than in NY. Then came the hills.

The course climbs for over 2 miles at this point, and I struggled. Bad. People would pass me on every single hill, but when we’d reach a little dip or flat spot I would attempt to close the gap. But after completing half the climbing I was shattered. The doubts started to creep in, and then take over. Athletes I didn’t know started passing me and I couldn’t respond, and then I lost the will to even try. My competitive spirit evaporated and I started going into survival mode. Maybe I don’t have what it takes anymore. It’s probably time to retire. At the very moment I needed my strong spirit to propel me upward, I felt like a week-old birthday balloon, sagging and outdated.

That’s when Desi (Davila) Linden came up on my shoulder. Desi is an American hero if you don’t know her, and most recently finished 10th in the Boston Marathon in 2:23. Normally she’d be duking it out up front, but she is just starting to get back into the swing of things post-marathon.

“Come on, go get em,” she said to me as we crested the last big hill onto a flat section. Shocked, I surged to stay with her and then pulled slightly ahead. On another microscopic slope I again sagged and she pulled up on my side. “Look ahead. They’re all strung out in front of you. Go pick them off.”

What the frick? I didn’t really care about my race at that point. I was exhausted. It would take a super-human effort to change gears the last half mile of the race. What’s the difference between 15th and 18th place really? But Desi-Freaking-Linden challenged me, one of my heroes, and I wasn’t going to be a wuss. She put to words the things my own brain used to think, before Jude, back when I was super fit and feisty and in the hunt. The attitude I’d have right now if I were up in 5th place. I tucked my head down, engaged my core, and started to drive. Just because I’m not in the place I want to be doesn’t mean I can’t race like the champion I am inside. As I felt myself flying down the hill, the finish line started to barely come into view. It was still a long way to go. But I wasn’t slowing down. I pounded and leaned forward and drove my arms. Runners started coming back to me. I felt a weight lift off my heart that gave me one more gear. This is who I am. Winning or not.

 

I'm especially proud of this one.

I’m especially proud of this one.

Special Thanks:

First of all, thank you to Elizabeth and all the race organizers for making me a part of the event, and to German and Andy and all the Atlanta Track Club people behind the scenes for the hospitality! It was an important race for me for many reasons, so thank you.

THANKS TO ATLANTA! For having a gigantic road race. For bringing 60,000 people. For waving the American Flag to start it all. For having the most amazing fireworks I’ve ever seen. For not being insanely hot and humid for my race.

Thanks to my support team from home for patiently getting me healthier and stronger, and thanks to Josh Glass at Georgia Sports Chiropractic for filling in with on site body work.

Thanks to Genie and her team at West Stride for having me and my teammates as special guests in your running store and introducing us to the community you’ve built. We had a great time!

Thanks to all the fast women who create a competitive environment that doesn’t extend off the road. It was fun seeing old friends and making new ones.

Thanks to the Oiselle Birds who came through with smiles, good energy, hospitality, and love. Bringing twitter into real life is surreal. And amazing. I’m so lucky racing allows me a way to make these connections in real life.

And thank you to my three teammates who lined up on the start line with me, Caitlin Comfort, Mel Lawrence, and Kara Foster. The four of us felt the most like a cross country team as I’ve experienced in 10 years, and it made me extremely happy. Eating burgers, joking around, bunking up in hotel rooms, and watching the fireworks might have even been more fun than the actual race. :)

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I think it’s telling that this is my most liked photo ever on Instagram. Love these crazy chicks. Mel, Caitlin, and Kara.