Sunday, April 27, 2008

Nashville Country Music Rainy-Day Marathon

I heard a great many good things about Nashville's Country Music Marathon. I didn't let my disdain for country music get in the way of signing up for good race.

With a field of 30,000 runners the Country Music Marathon has risen to the occasion with the apparent full support of the city and community.

The registration process was quick and efficient but thorough enough that newbies should consider this for their first marathon. I mean, how many races actually have a demonstration on how to attach the timing chip to your shoe?



P4265482Race time is 7am on Saturday morning. The start and finish line are 2 miles apart and the race coordinators recommend parking at the finish line and taking a shuttle bus (which run from 4am to 6am) to the start. Our hotel is a just about a half-mile from the finish so my plan is to walk over and grab a shuttle bus to the start.



I set my alarm for 3:10am and check the weather--which continues to predict rain all morning long. P4265483



P4265490It's just about 4am as I head out. The hotel provided Gatorade, bananas, bagels...even rain ponchos! Kudos to the Courtyard Marriott for proving extra service to the runners.




The rain continues to pour during my short walk to the shuttle buses.

P4265497There are literally hundreds of shuttle buses, stretching for over a mile, lined up to shuttle runners to the start.

P4265500At 4:15am I'm able to hop directly on a bus and head to the start line.




(The obligatory picture of the line-o-port-o-johns) 






P4265505This is the first race I've known that provides food and drink before the race (even coffee). With almost 3 hours before my corral is scheduled to go, I grab some food and fuel-up for the morning.



A pre-recorded voice repeats "starting corrals are straight ahead." Since the the info booths, food tents, and gear check lined up in a U shape--it was a bit confusing which way "straight ahead" really meant. Runners were headed in all directions.


P4265509Initially I begin to follow largest group of people, hoping they headed to the corrals, but soon discover they are headed to the Parthenon (really, in Nashville) seeking shelter from the rain.



P4265507I stumble across gear check--which is provided by twenty something UPS trucks. While I still have 2 hours before race time, I'm already soaked so I decide to shed my extra clothes and check my gear.


I find my way to the corral and have plenty of time to relax and think about my race.

At this time most of the people in the corral are volunteers. There are 30 something corrals which are scheduled to be let go at 2-4 minute intervals.




Around T minus 1 hour; I get asked if I would be willing to hold the corral sign. No less than 3 minutes later the emcee requests runners to start lining up and announces corral captains are holding a sign and will be able to answer any questions you have. Nice.

P4265517Our corral begins to fill up and, sure enough, I become the answer man for "Where is gear check?" "Bathrooms?" "What time do we start?" "How will I find my family at the end?" "How many aid stations are there?" "At what mile do they hand our Power Gels?" and my favorite "How did you get to be a corral captain?"




At 7 am the elites are released and every 3 minutes after, another corral. P4265523We begin inching up in a parade-like fashion before we reach the front.



We are held back for what seems like an eternity.

P4265533But in 3 minutes the horn is blown and off we go with nothing but smooth sailing ahead--no rubbing shoulders, no tripping over heels, no one weaving in and out trying to get a PR on the first mile--just find your pace and set the cruise control.




While there are no mountains to climb on the the Nashville course, it's not flat either. It's 26 miles of rolling terrain. Six months ago this course probably would have kicked my butt, but after the Clinton Lake ultramarathon my definition of hills has forever changed.

P4265535 P4265531 P4265533 P4265534

P4265562P4265545The only thing more plentiful than water stops is the music. Bands are everywhere.





P4265578And if there wasn't a band somewhere, someone would put together their own band.









P4265560cAnd if someone didn't put together their own band, they hired a DJ and danced with dogs.








P4265591And if there was no music, you got a group of friends and cheered.










P4265626Or you dressed up as train engineers and cheered.










P4265643Or maybe you dressed up as ducks and cheered.










P4265653Or sunflowers...












P4265661Or bees...












P4265650Or cats...












P4265624Or maybe you dressed up as nuns and blessed people as they went by (okay, I think the nuns are real).











And, of course, what do they offer at the aid station just outside the Abbey?










P4265575Maybe you made signs for your loved ones.











P4265574Or you just gathered your friends, from both sides of the ocean, to clap.










P4265577Maybe you have no friends so you taught your dog to clap.











cmmarathonOr maybe you don't even have a dog, so you cracked open a bottle champagne and dined on the right-of-way.









P4265583Did I mention there were bands everywhere?










P4265606...and people with signs...













P4265604...and people dancing...













P4265599...all for the people that run.












The first part of the course is shared between those running the half-mary and those running the full. P4265614Around mile 10, Elvis is there to separate the half-marathoners from the full-marathoners.

















After the split the course thins out considerably and becomes a lot quieter. Even the guy at the half-way point begins dozing off.






The course winds through an industrial park before going up and onto the river-front path. P4265644A nice change of scenery. While I miss the crowds and noise, a peaceful two-mile stroll can be just as rejuvenating.





P4265649Then it's down, off the path where we are greeted by another band.





P4265667Mile 16 I catch up with Flat Stanley pinned to the back of someone's shirt.








P4265668At Mile 17 I cross "Russell Rd." and realize I've held a steady pace for the past 17 miles. It's quiet enough I begin reviewing my time and how many miles I have left and I begin doing some math. I've always had difficultly doing simple math while running--I think it's because my brain all but shuts off while I run (maybe that's why I like running?)--even calculating simple splits require intense concentration. But I soon realize I am on my way, not to a PR, but a solid second-best marathon time.


P4265669Mile 18 I catch up with Tom Joens. I notice his " 'Run' Hit Wonder" shirt and I strike up a short conversation. I discover we both live 500 miles away and within 10 minutes of each other. Tom is also on the board of directors of CARA (Chicago Area Runners Association).





I review my time, pace and remaining miles again. The math still adds up. I could actually ease off a tad and still take a solid second-best marathon time.


At mile 20 we enter the third and final loop of the course. P4265673A scenic road that takes us for a loop around the lake. The aid station is handing out Jolly Ranchers. I've learned that, as much as I'd like to lose weight, a marathon is not the time to start dieting--I must eat to avoid bonking. And I have to eat a lot. If my heart rate monitor is accurate, I burn 4,500 calories during a marathon distance run. Your body typically doesn't burn fat during intense exercise, but will begin to burn muscle once glycogen stores are depleted. To avoid burning muscles (and hastening the "bonking" process) you have to continually replace glycogen. For someone that burns 4,500 calories during a 5 hour run, that's a lot of food. My pockets are stuffed with Power Gels and Clif Shots that are consumed at regular intervals.

P4265675At mile 25 we finish our lap of the lake and are greeted by the Music City branch of the Hash House Harriers. I quickly inhale one last packet of gel, grab a cold one (which really is ice cold), chug, give a hearty belch and put the hammer down.

For some reason, the last mile is strewn with runners on the side of the road, stretching, cooling themselves off, resting. I'm thinking to myself, why rest now? 10 minutes and you'll be home. I begin tossing my extra packets of gel to those who just can't seem to take another step. 

P4265683It's good to hear the crowd as we approach the finish line.

My official time is 4:58, making this a solid second-best marathon for me. I think what pleases me more is that I ran it consistent. The last two miles of the race were as fast as the first two miles and I crossed the finish line with nothing left to give.

It's getting difficult to pick my "favorite" race. I can say I was pleasantly surprised with the organization and thoroughness of this event with plenty of water, sports drink, food, and entertainment throughout the course. I'd rate this as a "must do" for anyone looking for a top-notch marathon.





After cleaning up and a short nap, we head out for the evening and settle in at Mulligan's Pub for some good Irish food. We are entertained by the house band, Def Leprechaun, until well past midnight before my legs freeze up and I begin to nod off at the table.

It's been a good day and I'm sure I'll be back to Nashville for another marathon.


I appreciate the art and science of running, but more than a sport it's a part of my life. It helps me live better. -- McGough