Racing today was an easy decision, with a rare Saturday off from coaching (compliments of spring break), a race just 4 miles from my dad’s house, and cool half marathon medals with Hebrews 12:1 on the back. And the first annual Run at the Mill (part of the Run for God series) was a winner!
Lydia and I rode up together the night before and spent the evening at my dad’s home. We made a Pizza Hut stop on the way: “carb loading,” we said, but any excuse would do. After arriving, we enjoyed a nice evening just chatting and hanging out.
My half marathon start time was 90 minutes before Lydia’s 5K start, so Dad was gracious enough to shuttle Lydia over, dropping her off just before her race, and even bringing over my dropped race bib earlier. Did I mention how nice it was to be only 4 miles away? It was so humid I had to use the car wipers while driving, but at least the temps were in the low 60s. Pollen counts were off the scale, but that’s a small price to pay for a very beautiful wooded setting.
Prater’s Mill is out of the way, but I can hardly imagine a better place to hold a half marathon. The course was scenic, along country roads past pastures, homesteads, and rocky streams. Since this is a mountainous area (north of Dalton and very near the Tennessee line), I expected many steep climbs, but it was actually quite flat: mostly gently rolling hills with just a couple of long uphills. This run in the country was so pleasant that I spent the first several miles with the MP3 player off, listening to singing birds and other morning sounds.
At 9:46, the first mile was my slowest, as I navigated through running traffic. I kept thinking I should have started closer to the front, but at least it forced me to start at a measured pace. In the end, I definitely negative-split this thing.
Miles 1-3 took us up some of the longer climbs and past the aptly-named Strain Road. Around mile 4, the fog began lifting, leaving very low clouds with sunlight streaming through, painting the countryside in bright gold. If only Tina could have been there with her camera! Shortly afterward, we were chased by some yap dogs, but they were all bark and no bite, succeeding only in adding humor and speed motivation.
After about the 10K mark, we were treated to some nice downhills, and then mostly level territory until about mile 11. Mile 8 was a turnaround: not my favorite, but it offered the chance to see where I stood against other runners.
I had recently recalibrated my Nike+ on a flat course, which left it confused on these hills. On average, it reported nearly 10% too much distance, since it did not account for my shorter uphill strides. But the course’s consistent, well-marked milestones helped me adjust.
After mile 11, we hit another uphill stretch, which troubled my left knee. So once I cleared mile 12, I checked my time and, seeing I was in great shape to finish at my sub-2 goal, dropped my pace significantly, perhaps a little too much. As I approached the final tenth, I could see the race clock and hear a volunteer shout, “hurry and you’ll beat 2 hours!” So I kicked into a final dash (a sub-6:00 pace) and finished at 1:59:50. Lydia had just finished her 5K and met me at the finish line.
Looking around, I could see the post-race activities in full swing. The grounds around the river and historic buildings were filled with bounce houses, booths, concessions, and a talented praise band playing in the pavilion. Joining the racers were many families and other visitors, giving the place the feel of a combination race, ministry, and country fair.
Lydia was excited about her strong running, so we checked and found she ran the 5K in 25:57, finishing first in her age group! She received a very nice award for that.
Overall, this race had a lot going for it: scenic course, nice venue, valuable ministry, abundant post-race activities, small town hospitality, plenty of helpful volunteers, top-notch timing system, and great execution.
For all the promotion and activities, this was still a small race: just over 600 runners. I would like to see it grow, and I have a feeling that once the word gets out, it will. There was a registration cap for this first annual race; I hope they can expand and accommodate a larger group next year.