I spent the last week running, eating, and spending time with good friends. Basically, as ideal of a week as is possible (minus the sad lack of Alex joining). Back in the fall, before I knew we’d be moving to the Bay Area I registered for the RNR Nashville Half. So instead of just another half, it ended up being an excuse to visit friends. And so, Wednesday before the race I hopped on a plane and headed back to Music City.
It felt so good to be back in Nashville, it’s the perfect city to visit, and while I’m glad we won’t have to endure four more southern summers (totally 6 months/year), I do miss it. It’s such a unique place, and very different than the usual cities we visit; southern lite for those of us not entirely keen on full southern culture. The music scene defines it, and it’s impossible to escape-even for us non-country music appreciators. It has excellent food, a good outdoors scene, and friendly people. The weather is still terrible.
The weather this time, of course promised to be punishing. While it had been temperate for a bit, race weekend forecasted a record high, race times shifted to earlier in the morning, runners were warned to prepare for heat and course closures. I was relieved I was running with a friend whose pace I knew I could handle in the heat. She was less amused, she had been gunning for a PR for months.
We spent the first few days of my visit going on shakeout runs and eating. I never really loved BBQ, but Nashville converted me. It’s hard for it not to. It’s just SO GOOD. It’s one thing about the south I wish we could import. And have it not cost so much, why is BBQ so expensive in the north? Caitlin and I split a giant chicken platter and sides and ended up spending $8/person for lunch. We had BBQ twice, at the generally considered “best” of Nashville Martins, and our personal preference Edleys. It was better than I remember. I’ve clearly been missing it. We also had throughout my time there Biscuit Love, Mas Tacos, burgers at The Pharmacy, Five Points Pizza (pre-race tradition), and Proper Bagel (a race day tradition). While the Bay Area hands down has a better food scene Silicon Valley is lacking and everything is expensive, so we probably eat out less here. And seriously about that BBQ…Though, no one can beat our burrito scene.
Pre race rituals with runner friends is one of my favorite things. Prior to moving to the states I didn’t have any friends who ran and didn’t know what I was missing. Now, it’s like a religion we all subscribe to. The rituals. They are as much a part of us as the running itself. I’m not a traditional person. But my pre-race rituals? Set. In. Stone. First, we go to the expo and take the required photos with our bibs, peruse the booths briefly for any free swag and then leave before we’ve “been on our feet too long.” Which is not the same thing as what we do next: run a shakeout run, a short, easy effort so our legs aren’t stagnant on race day. Followed by strides, to “prime the pump” and remind our muscles they can move fast after the sluggishness of the taper. Side note, I did not taper, nor really train for this race. But did all of the rituals anyway. Dinner. While carb loading is not really a thing anymore we still opt for simple food we know our bodies won’t complain about. We get pizza. Which, actually is a bit unusual as many runners stay away from dairy the night before. We seem to handle it alright, and really, pizza is just great comfort food. We also make cupcakes, another tradition that has nothing to do with nutrition and more the celebratory nature of race weekend. We continue to hydrate with water and electrolytes. I drink beet juice. We do some pre-race taper yoga/meditation and settle in for an OK nights sleep.
It’s 5:45 AM and 76 degrees with 85% humidity. I tell Caitlin not to tell me the temperature. She fails, and misery loves company. We meet up with a few teammates from Oiselle and get to the start line to wait in various lines (bathroom, corral, trying to just walk down the street). Someone hands me an otter pop. I love them. It’s a huge race, with 40 corrals. For reference, it takes about 1-2 minutes for each corral to go after the elites take off. We’re in corral 10 and it only takes us 15 minutes to cross the start. It would be nearly another hour before the last runners crossed. An hour warmer, an hour closer to full sun. And these are the slowest runners. I know there’s no other way to do it, but we felt for them! As we crossed back at mile one they had yet to make it half way through the corrals. Although that didn’t stop some runners/walkers from jumping up. A group of three women went with corral 9, with bibs placing them in the 30’s. They start walking off the line. Walking. With runners scrambling around them not to trip trying to hit 9-10 min/miles in a crowd without flattening them. As we passed them I could help but side eye them a bit and loudly complain about corral cheaters. After a few miles Caitlin was struggling, it was approaching 80 degrees and the streets felt like a swamp. I was having a great time though, the city turns out for the event and everyone was helping out. People handed out water, ice, fruit, and sponges. They stood in their front yards and sprayed runners with their hoses. They cheered and blasted music. Because of the heat many of the runners opted to treat it like a fun run. It’s already something of a “party race,” and Saturday was no exception. It was the most fun race atmosphere I’ve ever experienced. I was also running 2 min/mi under pace. For those who were trying to PR on this hilly course, it was less fun. Caitlin started suffering early and it quickly became my job to get her to the finish line in one piece (and try to lift her mood). It’s hard though, you train for months just to have freak weather thwart your plans. She took it in stride though, knowing there’s always another race and that she still gained fitness, and more, mental strength to push through 13 horrendously hard miles. Which will serve her well as she tackles her first marathon in NYC this fall. She showed a lot of grit that day, and I was super impressed by her. I hope in a similar situation I’d have the tenacity to push through.
Some runners, however, pushed too hard. There’s a fine line and the carnage on the sides of the road were evident of this. We passed a lot of runners on the side of the road, or at med tents, and unfortunately, being taken away in ambulances. But what was uplifting was watching fellow runners. One starts to waver and stumble and immediately a swarm of runners is there helping them. Runners are the best. I try to tell Alex who thinks the half/full is just too far that running distance is so much more than just racing. It’s witnessing humanity. Human suffering, perseverance, and kindness. It is faith restoring every time. It’s an emotional experience. I tear up running halfs/fulls every time, that has never happened at a mid-distance event. I teared up watching my friend put everything she has into finishing, thinking about how damn lucky I am to have this sport in my life. I can’t imagine life without it. Running does break your heart, but it’s worth every bit of pain. It’s life giving. Nearly a week later, I’m still riding the high.
After the race we ate burgers, attended an after party and rehashed the days events with every other runner who had also battled the elements. It was brutal out there, but it sure did make for a memorable race. Nearly everyone agreed it was one of the toughest they’d ever run. With the exception of course of those of us who “fun ran” it. The last few days in town we did a trail run and I got to run one more time with Green Hills Run Club, my first, and still favorite run club.
And then it was time to fly home. I had an incredible time, and it was hard to leave, now that Caitlin is leaving for Atlanta, I’m not sure when I’ll be back. But I know for sure it wasn’t my last time in Nashville!