Monday, November 12, 2012

Chickamauga Battlefield Half Marathon Race Report

In the days leading up to a race I will often ask my friends if they're planning on running or racing. In my mind there's absolutely nothing wrong with participating in an event, "running" it at a comfortable pace, and enjoying the overall experience. I've done this a number of times myself, and have never once regretted it. Conversely, I think there's also a time to test our limits and see what we're made of. To train for 14, 16 or 18 weeks, and then "race" with everything we've got to see if we're 1 second faster than the last time we attempted that same distance. But after running the the Chickamauga Battlefield Half Marathon this past weekend I came to realize there's a third option I had never really considered before.


Heading to the park on Saturday morning I had every intention of racing. I'd trained to do the same at the Montgomery Half Marathon back in early October, but the heat and humidity that day was oppressive. I threw in the towel a quarter of the way into the race and instead ran it with friends, having a great time in the process. So, with another month of training under my belt, fresh legs and ideal conditions, I knew the stars had aligned for an all-out effort. I was confident I could finish under 1:35, and hopeful I might sniff 1:32.

Having run this race and this course a number of times, I have a pretty good feel for its challenges. It's not exactly difficult, but it's not easy, either. Knowing I needed to restrain myself the first half so I could finish strong the second, I decided to aim for 7:15/mi through mile 5. I didn't execute this perfectly, but the pace felt very comfortable and I was pleased with where I settled in. A couple of seconds wasn't a big deal considering the very subtle, gradual descent.

7:09 (+30'), 7:06 (+5'), 7:08 (-14'), 7:04 (-17'), 7:05 (-48')

On the course, surrounded by awesome.
Starting at about the 5.5-mile mark there's a 2.5-mile section where runners climb about 50'. It rolls a bit, but no, it's not a huge obstacle. Still, I knew maintaining my pace coming up Jays Mill Rd, turning left onto Alexander Bridge and then right up Viniard Alexander Rd would be a challenge. I beared down a tiny bit, and stayed steady at 7:09/mi for the entire stretch.

It was around this point I noticed I wasn't just racing against myself. I started taking inventory of the other runners around me, trying to figure out which ones might be in my age group. One guy I'd been running with most of the race started slowly pulling away from me, but he looked to be in his early 30s. No big deal. Then I passed another half marathoner that had a good 10 years on me, which gave me a small boost of confidence. Finally, I locked in on a guy wearing green that wasn't too far ahead. He looked to be around my age, and later I learned his name was Scott. I decided I'd try to hang on to him as long as possible.

We came out of the woods, turned left onto Lafayette Rd, and then right onto Glenn-Viniard. During this next, 9th mile - where we passed my favorite monument, Wilder Tower - we climbed another 35' and I began to feel the fatigue. Just a little farther until we pass Bloody Pond and then break out into the wide-open Brotherton Field, I thought.

After turning right onto Dyer Rd and cresting the last short, steep hill, I took the opportunity on the descent to compose myself and prepare for the final miles. Entering the woods again at the 11.5-mile mark Scott was still in front of me. I knew I didn't have much time left, and set to work closing the gap between us. It took about a mile to catch up with him, and once I did I sat on his right shoulder for about 15-20 seconds. I began to wonder if he was fading or if I was being played. Was he waiting for me to expend what energy I had left? Should I keep him in front of me and then try to pass him at the very end?

Hanging on until the very end. Barely.
Finally, I surged past him and tried to pull away. I immediately felt a combination of paranoia, adrenaline and exhaustion. How much longer could I keep this up? Were those his footsteps I was hearing behind me, or was I imagining it? I gave it everything I had left, fully expecting he'd overtake me at any time. I turned right, ran past the medical center, and then made the turn back onto Barnhardt Circle. Looking back on my splits now I see I did the last half mile at about a 6:45/mi pace, but at the time it felt like I was running in slow motion.

Coming down the final stretch I had a brief moment of clarity where I heard the announcer call out my name. And I heard my friends cheering me on, as well. Then, I crossed the line and saw the time on the clock: 1:33:45. I had no idea how well I really did against men 40-44, but was pretty happy I held on to beat Scott at the end. 

After collecting myself I had the pleasure of watching Amanda (big PR!), Duane and Hilary finish. I refueled on the Chickamauga hallmark, banana pudding, and soaked up the sunshine and festivities. While waiting for James and Kaitlin to finish the marathon, Kate and I went over to the awards tent and studied the posted results. Here's how I fared:
Gun time: 1:33:45
Chip time: 1:33:43
Overall place: 14th
Men 40-44: 1st
Overall pace: 7:10/mi
Even though I won my division I feel I should give proper credit to 41-year-old Paul Horton, who finished 3rd overall with a time of 1:23:57. He would have been the winner of our age group, except he was awarded the winner of the Masters Division instead. I also want to express my appreciation to Scott Williams, who unwittingly pushed me to compete. He was very gracious at the awards ceremony, and without him I may not have found that extra gear.

All in all it was another outstanding experience at the Chickamauga Battlefield. I fully expect to be back again next year.


  1. Great job! I've heard very nice things about that race, and I really want to try it out one year. Keep up the good work.

    1. Thanks, Rebecca! I can't say enough good things about this race.

  2. Great job Drew and congrats on the AG win - competing does add another dimension to the race, but it's only fun when you set yourself up to compete by executing a smart race strategy, as you did here.

  3. Congratulations on this race and on the win! I'm curious to know if any of this race is on trails? I haven't been able to find any clear information on this anywhere. (I'm coaching an athlete who is considering registering this year.) :D

    1. Thanks for the comment, Dana. This is not a trail marathon. There is a very short section of maybe a hundred yards that's on dirt, but other than that it's paved.

      If you're looking for a well run, relatively flat (it rolls some around miles 6-8) race that's run on a beautiful course, I can't recommend this one highly enough.

      Let me know if you have any other questions. Oh, and if you decide to run this one sign up asap. It'll fill up soon, if it already hasn't.