After spending two and a half days in Savannah, it was finally time to race Saturday morning. My Rock n Roll Savannah finish time of 1:43:54 beat my 1:44:00 goal, and even though it was 21 seconds slower than Philly, I’m really happy with it. Not set on hitting a new PR with this race, I wanted to work on my strategy a little bit and really wanted to finish under 1:45:00, with sub-1:44:00 as a nice treat if I got it. I knew I could come in under 1:45:00 if I ran a decent race, but I was curious to see if I could run the first ten miles at normal race pace, then kick it up for the last 5K without fading at the end. I also planned on making sure I hugged every corner. After running 13.3 in Philly, where I had taken a lot of wide turns trying to get around slower runners, I wanted to avoid that extra mileage (and time) in Savannah. Race plan in place, I hit the hay Friday night relaxed and ready to run.
Doug and I both woke up Race Day at 3am with sore lower backs from three days in a too soft bed. Neat. It was back to bed until I rose from a restless sleep at 530 and climbed out with a ‘where did this come from?’ grumpy right ankle and slight headache. With a big sigh, I figured this was not going to be my day and started the morning without much enthusiasm. Looking out of the condo onto Oglethorpe Square, it was brightly lit with the headlights of cars full of runners heading to the start and my level of enthusiasm marginally increased. I pinned on my race bib, had some breakfast, fueled up with a GPS E2 and slapped a smile on my face before heading to the start.
Walking to the starting line, my back loosened up and I walked out of the tightness I had in my ankle, but my head was still not quite in race mode. I hoped the half mile trip would wake me up and get me pumped to run, especially as we approached the crowd. The walk had been a little chilly, but once surrounded by the massive crowd of runners, they helped keep us warm as we wove our way to the correct corral and I started to get ready to go. Getting into the crowd and seeing the Start line improved my attitude even more, and passing lengthy Port-a-Potty lines, even though there seemed to be plenty, made me thankful I didn’t need to use one. I hopped into my corral, which wasn’t too crowded, with plenty of time to move around, loosen up and chat before the National Anthem was sung and the elites were off.
Two minutes later, I crossed the Starting Line myself and started to get my cold muscles warm. Less than a mile in, we were sent straight up and over a big old bridge, and it didn’t feel very good to be running up a hill without a little more time to warm up. Ugh. My resurgent enthusiasm started to wane again as I clocked a slow first mile. Happily, my legs finally got going and I settled in as we leveled off after coming down the bridge’s other side and I started to enjoy the beautiful course.
The first water stop was at Mile Two, and it took me a little off guard. Narrow streets, water stations on both sides, cheering volunteers and lots of runners made for a very tight squeeze that dramatically slowed everyone down for a little longer than I liked. I eventually got through and resumed my first ten mile race pace, but this was an issue at most of the water stations throughout the race. Miles Two through Four were more about fighting through traffic than anything else. With long straightaways through some industrial areas, I could see turns coming a ways out, preparing myself to stick with the plan and take them tightly. I did take the turns tightly, but picked up almost a tenth of a mile of extra mileage running all over the road weaving around other runners and was looking at a watch that said 4.04 when I ran by the four mile mark.
Heading into Historic Downtown at Mile Five, scenery improved and cheering sections became a little more frequent, but I was also greeted by some side stitches. Working through those while maintaining my ten mile pace, I held in close to the corners as we twisted through very scenic streets to Mile Six. Around the 10K mark my shins and knees started to get a little grumpy, but passing the relay exchange and 10K sign, my watch indicated I hadn’t picked up any more extra mileage in the last two miles. I was succeeding at taking tight turns, which made me feel a little better, and at the halfway point I got a chance to complain about my now aching ankle when I passed Doug. Halfway there and it could have been much worse. I was on pace where I needed to be, even if it was a hair slower than I wanted to be, and I knew I even if I didn’t run the negative split I planned to, 1:45:00 was definitely within reach if I stayed in tight on the corners.
This middle section was also the prettiest part of the Rock n Roll Savannah course for me, running on a street lined with beautiful old homes under a canopy provided by trees draped with Spanish Moss makes you forget about your irritated shins a little bit. Crowds were pretty big here, and fans could see runners on both sides of the street as we ran down one side of the grassy median and up the other to hit Mile Seven. To this point, all of the bands had been excellent, but a hearing the Eye of the Tiger from the Mile Seven band was exactly the pick-me-up I needed.
Passing the Mile Seven marker, I could feel my legs getting a little tight and pulling over to stretch sounded great. I didn’t have time for that, so I focused back on the scenery and enjoying my run while pushing through the next mile. It was straight sailing past more scenery and another lush park to Mile Eight and I thought ‘Already?’ Even with my aching lower body, the first seven miles had flown by thanks to great scenery and fun crowds. During the long Mile Seven to Mile Eight straightaway I picked up a little more extra mileage running around other participants, but at this point I had come to terms with running further than I wanted to. I had been doing well keeping my corners close, and thought about my plan to run a negative split but with the way my legs felt, wasn’t sure with five miles left to go I could do it.
Another long stretch greeted runners through from Mile Eight to Mile Nine and I could see the return portion of the course dotted with the leaders. At the Mile Nine marker, I noticed quite a few runners heading to the course side Port-a-Potties, which I had actually noticed for the entire first half of the race, too. A lot of people had to use the course side restrooms, so it’s a good thing there were plenty of them. After running by the potties, I lost sight of the next long straightaway I’d face as we made a hard turn at Mile 9.5 to pass another green park and reach another rocking band at Mile Ten. My plan was to hit ten miles in under 1:20:00, and at 1:19:20, I did. Sticking with the second half of my plan, I settled right in to a 20 second per mile faster pace past the Mile 10 mark and was surprised by how good it felt to increase my speed for the last 5K. Lots of turns, which I successfully hugged, a quicker pace and plenty of cheering people in their front yards kept me distracted and made this mile go by quickly. Another hard turn at Mile 11 and I was headed to the Finish at a pace I knew I could maintain all the way through on legs that, for having felt cruddy the at Mile Six, felt really, really good. A quarter mile later, I hit the long, straight return portion of the course I had been watching the race leaders on roughly twenty minutes before.
At Mile 11.5, where the half and full courses split, a gentleman who I imagine had been running near me most of the race, wished me luck as he turned onto the full course and told me he “love[d] the way I ran”. I’m guessing he had noticed my steady pace through the first nine miles and the drop in pace at mile ten. Whatever he meant, I was flattered and it definitely gave me a little boost to head home. The hills I had been waiting for hadn’t shown up yet, and I thought that meant I was in the clear. Unfortunately, those hills were right there in the last two miles. Though they weren’t very big, and I passed plenty of people while climbing them, they did bring my pace down a little bit. During the almost two mile stretch from the half/full split to the 13 Mile mark, I picked up another tenth of a mile running all over the road, weaving past runners in front of me and I passed it with 13.09 on my watch. Making the turn to the Finish, my legs still felt very good and I ran out the last two tenths of a mile hard, crossing the line breathing easy with a smile on my face and 13.29 on my watch.
Rock n Roll Savannah was another all around fantastic Rock n Roll experience, I was very happy with my run and learned a lot about how I need to run my next race. Even though I didn’t feel great, had grumpy legs halfway through and picked up an extra two tenths of a mile, I accomplished what I set out to. Hitting my goal of running faster than a 1:44:00, successfully clocking a negative split and taking every turn tightly left me feeling very positive about breaking 1:40:00 at the Shamrock. Competitor Group, Brooks and the City of Savannah did a wonderful job putting on a race doused in Southern Charm that I would love to be a part of again.