UPDATE: Nice piece from CNN that features footage from the race and a weekday group run.
Since I was just coming off the 16-mile training run, I didn’t expect a really pleasant experience for this race. I felt fine physically and all, but I had a long hard day on the trails and this race required an early start. Add in what was supposed to be a hilly course and my expectations were low. I didn’t set a goal for myself or anything, but I figured I was looking at 1:10 or something like that. In my early morning runs around the neighborhood, 55 minutes was becoming the standard for a 5-mile loop. 1:10 felt like a reasonable loose target for a 10K.
I made it a point to participate in the race, in spite of some of the logistical headaches it presented (I’ll mention those later). I went to one of the first local Black Girls Run! meetups back in March of 2011 and socialized with a small group of women, including the founders, for the Georgia Half that year. Shortly thereafter, the group expanded from a blog into movement. Black Girls Run! hosts free running groups all over Atlanta and in other cities nationwide. The obesity rates in black community are sky high. BGR is on a mission to change that at a grassroots level. This year, the ladies organized their first national conference capped with a co-ed 5K/10K race. I simply couldn’t miss out on supporting this event.
The race was held at Atlantic Station and the area was buzzing with excitement. Atlantic Station really is a perfect race location logistically. There is plenty of free parking, the area is nice and well-lit, and you don’t get trapped into taking MARTA. Atlantic Station also has its own bathrooms in addition to the port-o-potties scattered around. When there are a lot of women running a race, you can never have enough bathrooms!
Since I’ve gotten hooked on trail races, I can admit that I was a little lonely at the start. I’ve gotten used to showing up to a race and knowing the majority of the few participants. I spotted a DailyMile friend but that was it. I was unable to meet up with DiscoDiva and I couldn’t find her in the crowd. At a normal race, this would not be too difficult because when there are only a handful of black people running, you can find anyone. That was not the case here when there are 2K black women all wearing some form of Black Girls Run! apparel. As I lined up for the race, I did run into Lorraine (Run Wifey Run) and Renee (Renee J. Ross) and was so happy to see them and have someone to chat with for a bit. I admire both of them so much as bloggers and mothers who work hard to get their fitness on.
The race fittingly began with the playing of Leah LaBelle’s “Sexify” which relates to the “Preserve The Sexy” tagline featured on some of the BGR shirts. I’ve loved this song since I first heard it this summer and it put me in a good mood right away. I started off at a relaxed pace but I was moving much faster than I believed I would. I found myself bobbing and weaving around a ton of people and passing them rather than holding back or walking.
The rather hilly nature of the course soon revealed itself. I expected that I would walk. I didn’t. I slowed down the pace and reigned in my effort level but I felt great so I pressed on. Two miles went by in a blur.
The crowd started to thin out as the 10K runners split from the 5K runners and I hit that zone of feel good running. I decided that I would see how long I could ride out the good times and resolved to only walk through the water stations. There were more hills and some long inclines, but I kept running. I didn’t watch my pace during the run because I try to note my HR more than my pace. When I hit my lap button at the mile markers, I noticed that my split times were better than they have been in a long while. I was totally shocked because I haven’t seen a 9 anything on my pace in a while. I certainly can’t credit the weather for the boost in speed because it was fairly warm even with the 7AM start. Maybe all the crazy trail hills from the day before made road running with some hills thrown in feel really easy? I guess this could be the cardio equivalent of how I feel when I do heavy lifts at the gym. When I switch to another weighted exercise, say 35lb kettlebell swings, those swings feel super easy by comparison.
After cutting through GA Tech, we rounded the corner to Northside Drive and I saw the real hill. It was a monster – long and mean. This was Mile 5 and I really didn’t want to stop here because I had been running the whole time (except water stations). People all around me were walking so I had to block them out of my field of vision to stay focused on running. There were crowds of people cheering us up the hill and that was so motivating. My burning calves wanted to quit, but I just couldn’t ruin an exceptional run by walking in the last mile. I made it to the top of the hill and congratulated a few other ladies who had run up with me on a job well done.
The rest of the course was cake so I tried to pick up the pace a bit. In spite of having a good run, I was eager to see the finish line. I had no idea of my total run time, I just knew that I felt great and was challenging myself but not killing myself. I was shocked to see 1:02 on my watch. My official chip time was 1:01:56 with a 9:58 min/mile pace. This was much better than the 1:10 I anticipated so I was very pleased. Not bad for 11 weeks pregnant and definitely not bad after tackling 16 miles of Coosa/DRT the day before. Not bad at all!
My split times were:
Miles 1 & 2 – 10:44
Mile 3 – 9:52
Mile 4 – 9:53
Mile 5 – 9:13
Mile 6 – 9:38
.2 – 9:20
DiscoDiva somehow managed to spot me after the race in the crowd of women in Atlantic Station. We ended up finding a bunch of bloggers and Twitter friends (SimplyB, Tazzee, K.Rock and others). I had a great time chatting and soaking up the party atmosphere. It really was a party complete with a DJ and everything! There was even some impromptu group performance of “The Wobble.” I’m not a dancer and I don’t listen to much radio so I don’t know that dance. I don’t know how to “dougie” either. The only fairly recent group dance I can hang with is the Cupid Shuffle. I’m so lame.
The BGR race organizers did a phenomenal job on their first race. As someone who has run a lot of races, I don’t say that lightly at all. All of the basics were covered (sometimes folks don’t even get this right SMH) – chip timing, adequate parking, plentiful water stations, cheerful volunteers. The course was interesting and challenging. There were even post-race foodstuffs handed out by Publix and ice-cold PowerAde from Coke. I was truly impressed. I ran another race put on by a long-standing organization of African-American runners in the city last year and I wasn’t nearly as impressed.
We even received a quality medal at the end of the race. I felt kind of indifferent about getting a medal for a 5K/10K. But people were genuinely excited about getting some hardware. A lot of these women had never run a race in their lives or thought they could do such a thing. This was not just another medal for them. I changed my tune when I thought about it that way and realized that I take a lot of things for granted. I can remember how excited I was to get my first medal (2007 Atlanta Half Marathon).
This race was truly something special. There were women of all shapes and sizes out there. I’m not talking about just a handful of non-size 6′s sprinkled in the crowd like usual. I freaking loved it and I’m truly glad that I ran the race.
There were a couple of things I didn’t love though. There was no race-day packet pickup. That is simply not standard operating procedure for a 5K/10K. I like my race experiences to be a hassle-free as possible. I’m the mother of a toddler and I work full-time. Driving clear across town to pickup a race number for a 10K does not qualify. If I didn’t feel strongly about supporting BGR, I would not have run a race with this headache. That said, the packet pickup at REI ran very smoothly. I was in-and-out quickly even though I had to use 1/2 hour of my precious PTO AKA future maternity leave to extend my lunch break.
A minor quibble would be that the 5K and 10K should start at different times. Walkers should also be clearly directed to start in the rear. A lot of first time racers simply weren’t aware of this common courtesy. The first two miles were spent dodging a lot of people. If I were running the 5K, I wouldn’t want my path clogged up by people running slower because they were running a 10K. If I cared about my time for either race, I would have been kind of annoyed at the setup.
I also think that it would be great if a race that is 95% geared towards women (even though it was co-ed) should have women’s cut T-Shirts. The shirt looks great and all, but I’ll never wear it. I just sent at least 20 boxy race tees to Goodwill last week. I like cute shirts!
Those are minor things and none of them overshadows the fact that this race was well-done. I performed well and I had fun. I haven’t enjoyed a road race this much in a long time!