Hottest. Hilliest. Race. Ever.
Late last year, I took advantage of Rock ‘n’ Roll’s annual crazy insane sale, when you can register for their races at the lowest price of the year. I signed up for three Rock ‘n’ Roll races during that promotion, one of which was the St. Jude Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in Nashville. I’ve been a country music fan since middle school and have wanted to visit Nashville for years, so this seemed like a good event to sign up for (ignoring, of course, the fact that I was running another half marathon one week before.)
I started looking at the race day forecast last Monday, and was quite distressed, to say the least, when I saw that Weather Underground was predicting a high of 89 on race day. I’ve run in all sorts of miserable weather before, and I’ve run long distances in miserable weather during marathon season, but this, as you may have noticed, is not marathon season, nor is it the armpit of summer in Chicago. We’ve had a warm day or two, but it has certainly not been hot, and it most definitely has not been humid, since sometime last summer or fall. Even though I often tried to overdress on my runs this winter to prepare myself for warm race conditions, no amount of overdressing could possibly mimic a half marathon 89 degrees when the actual outdoor temperature is closer to, you know, 20.
On Monday evening, I received an email from Rock ‘n’ Roll, advising runners to check their start times because the race had adjusted as a result of the forecast, moving the half marathon up from the original scheduled time of 7:30 to 6:45 a.m. (ouch). I was SHOCKED. I’ve run more than 55 races in my life at this point, and never once has a single race ever, ever adjusted its start time due to the forecast (or even current conditions). I’ve never even had a marathon training long run adjusted due to the weather. I was SO surprised to see Rock ‘n’ Roll do that.
It was, without a doubt, quite toasty when I arrived in Nashville Friday afternoon. I quickly remembered how much I loathe being hot and sweaty on the way to the expo! After retrieving my packet, it was back to the hotel for a very quiet and very early night in.
I stayed at the Sheraton, which was one of the hotels that partnered with the race. In addition to serving pasta for dinner on Friday night, the hotel also had a FANTASTIC spread out for runners on Saturday morning with bagels (wheat and white), orange juice, water, coffee, a toaster, peanut butter, regular butter, cream cheese, and other options I didn’t notice because I was too busy being happy about the bagel + peanut butter + orange juice situation. Even if I’m not spending the night before a race at my house, I always bring all of my own food for race morning, but I had forgotten to make any toast for myself before leaving for Nashville. I was totally panicked about what I would eat Saturday morning, and it was a HUGE relief to have almost all of my usual food made available to me by the hotel.
The view from the room, also, did not suck.
To be honest, it didn’t feel too bad walking out of the hotel Saturday morning…if my plan had been to sit around and not do anything all day. That, obviously, was not the plan, since I had 13.1 miles to cover. Fortunately, it was overcast at the start (that didn’t last long, though), so I wasn’t a puddle of sweat before we even started running. After navigating the longest portapotty lines of all time, I got into my corral, and 20 minutes or so after the race began, took off.
I, admittedly, have not run very many races outside of Chicago, and consequently, have not run many races with hills. But OH. MY. GOSH. Nashville was bonkers. Even if you took the weather out of the occasion, I think this race still would’ve been a struggle. It felt like the ENTIRE course was either uphill or downhill. There was a stretch maybe a mile long or so in the 10ish mile area that was flat, but everything else was up and down. I tried to work as many hills on the Lakefront into my training as possible, but nothing could’ve ever prepared me adequately for what Nashville’s course had in store.
I was obsessed with this building, the Union Station Hotel. I spent most of my time waiting in my corral staring at this beauty.
Since I’ve never been to Nashville before, I wasn’t particularly familiar with the city to begin with, so I wasn’t really sure where exactly we were running. We started on Broadway and ran through the stretch of all the honky tonks to begin with, and then wound around…other neighborhoods. Haha. I did feel like we got a good tour of Nashville, though, since we definitely saw all sorts of places! Most of the neighborhoods were interesting, too, with only one stretch (the flat stretch towards the end) feeling a little on the boring side.
Another thing I have to mention is the amazing crowd support this race had. Outside of the Chicago Marathon, I don’t think I’ve ever run a race that had such consistent crowd support from start to finish. I was so impressed, and it really helped keep my mood up, which was certainly key to surviving a race day like Saturday! It was 75 degrees before the sun came up when my alarm went off at 5:15, and by the time I finished it was in the mid 80s, so any bit of help was much appreciated that day.
My only goal for this entire race–A goal, B goal, C goal, Z goal–was to finish alive, so I threw all my normal race day strategies out the window. I walked whenever I wanted to, not following any sort of run:walk ratio or forcing myself to run to a certain point in the race before walking. I walked up hills when I felt like it and ran up them when I felt like it. I started throwing water in my face and dumping it over my head probably around mile three or so. I fueled when I was hungry, not only at miles 5 and 10 like usual (it ended up being miles 5 and 8). I fully expected to have my slowest half marathon time ever even before the race began, so I paid no attention to my watch whatsoever. I ended up crossing the finish line in 2:40:53, a full 30 minutes slower than the week before and a personal worst by 15 minutes (dethroning Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago 2015, my previous personal worst, also on a ridiculously hot day). Nevertheless, I still finished in the top half of women, and just narrowly missed finishing in the top half of my age group. If that doesn’t show you how terrible race day was, I don’t know what will.
This race should’ve been the worst experience of my running life thus far by all accounts. I was in no way prepared for the heat nor the hills, and I had an absolutely miserable finish time. But it wasn’t the worst experience. Not by a long shot. Having no expectations made this race infinitely more bearable, and while I can’t necessarily say that I’ll do it again, I’m certainly glad I did it at least once.
(p.s. how AWESOME is this medal?! You can’t tell super well from the picture, but it lights up under where it says Nashville!! This is easily my favorite medal in my collection to date.)