I ran in the 4 Bridges Half Marathon in Chattanooga over the weekend. This was the first time that I have run in this event and since the weekend coincided with my anniversary, we incorporated the race weekend into our anniversary trip as well. This was the first time I had been to Chattanooga for more than a night since I was a young child, so I honestly did not remember much about the city. After spending an extended weekend there, I can see why my sister-in-law loves the city so much. Chattanooga is very scenic, with the Tennessee River running through the middle of it and surrounded by mountains. There is a great mix of modern and retro architecture, and actually a growing culinary scene much like the ones in Memphis and Nashville. When I go out-of-town, I try to eat at local places, and this weekend netted a few amazing options. After packet pickup and expo, which was held in one of the several parks in town, we went to a hot dog place called Good Dog. It was excellent, even if it isn’t the healthiest of meals. I went with the BLT Dog, which is exactly what it sounds like. After lunch, we checked into our hotel for the weekend, the Mayor’s Mansion, a fantastic bed and breakfast that was built-in 1883 and is just off of the UTC campus. It was definitely a better place to stay than the Holiday Inn. There was quite a bit of character throughout the building, and the service was top-notch. Originally, we booked the Cumberland Suite, but my mother-in-law upgraded us to the Laurel Falls Suite. Honestly, from the pictures, I was not crazy about the new room, but the pictures did not do the room justice. Yes, these curtains and wallpaper on the ceiling are weird, but it did kind of work. And the bathroom was as large as the rest of the room, including a gigantic tub that was great to soak in after the race.
Sadly, I did not pack well for this race since the weather I was expecting turned out to be ten degrees cooler than I anticipated. Also, I was mistaken on the time for the start of the race. I do not know why, but I thought the race started at 8:00 am, but it was actually 7:00 am. I guess that I saw the start time, and automatically assumed that it was in central standard time. Of course, the 7:00 am start meant that the race was beginning in the dark. But, since the temperature was expected to be 40, and I would be starting before the sunrise, I needed to find something to keep me warm. Sadly, this realization came to me rather late on Saturday night, so a trip to Wal-Mart was my only option. This impromptu trip netted me some hand warmers, body warmers, and a Ninja Turtle winter hat, because when you come across a TMNT hat with a built-in mask, you buy it. The hat actually was warm, and the hand warmers certainly served their purpose, but the body warmers were worthless. After an hour of waiting for them to finally heat up, I just discarded them.
There were no staggered corral starts for this race, but rather signs and pacers posted with expected finish times for people to line up according to. There were 1,200 registered runners for the half marathon, and probably close to the same in the marathon. The 5K runners started after all of the half and full marathoners left. I love how the concept for this race is to incorporate the several bridges in Chattanooga. As the name suggests, there were four in the half marathon. Within the first half mile, we were already running across one and since it was still dark, there was a great view of the downtown lit up. Both races followed the same course for the first ten miles before the marathoners split away. The race started in Renaissance Park and ended in Coolidge Park, which I honestly thought was the same park. By the time we reached mile three, the racers were separating and hitting their desired pace. The course went by the minor league baseball stadium, Tennessee Aquarium, UTC, and several other local landmarks. The city is beautiful, but has a significant graffiti problem. Everywhere we went the entire weekend, there was something tagged. The race course was no different.
I did not look at my Nike+ watch until mile three, and I was plugging along at a very steady pace. The cooler weather was definitely helping me maintain a steady pace. The second bridge came at mile five, and it was here that I started to think that I might have a shot at eclipsing my PR. I was running ahead of my expected pace and feeling great. This and a turn downhill led to my fastest mile of the entire race. Mile 6 was ran mostly on a running trail through a park, with a part of the course ran across the grass. After exiting the park, it was time for more streets and another bridge. Miles 7 and 8 were a steady incline, that I was able to maintain my pace on, including a negative split on mile 8. Mile 9 was the longest straight shot of the course, and as the two races separated, we looped back on another running trail along the Tennessee River. This lasted until the mountain that was mile 12. I actually had an average pace under ten minutes after nine miles, but I gave away a good chunk of that time in mile 12. The last mile took us racers across the pedestrian bridge into Coolidge Park. That bridge was very cool and enabled us to have a little bit of a downhill jaunt to the finish line.
I finished the race in 2:11:09 according to my Nike+ watch, which was a PR by 5:17! Of course, this was not an official time, so I was very eager to see what my official time would be. After waiting in a ridiculously long line for my time, I noticed that my time read gun time and was over a minute slower than my Nike+ watch. I was curious about this, but thought that it would be sorted out once times because official. It was then that I noticed that I had a chip malfunction. My chip time was 0:00:00, which was a little off. This was quite a bummer! I ran a great race, and now I am saddled with a gun time rather than a chip time. But at least the gun time was still a significant PR at 2:12:16. I know how well that I ran this race, and it was a PR, on a very hilly course, so that is definitely a positive! Plus, even the gun time should be good enough to bump me up a corral at the WDW Marathon in January if the corrals are similar to what they were last year.
Course: A: The multiple parks, four bridges, several landmarks, and mix of grass, road, running trails, and stairs, yes, there were a few stair towards the end, made for a very interesting course. The course was very hilly, as was to be expected, and did a great job of showing off the city.
Swag: A: There was some great swag in this race. I got a good-looking tech shirt, panoramic poster of Chattanooga, and a good medal, even if last year’s medal was even better. Also, at the end of the race, reusable water bottles were distributed instead of disposable plastic bottles, which was an awesome touch. Food at the end of the race was in a prepackaged box and there was also a table of fruit for runners as well.
Overall: A-: Great swag and neat course, but there was some organization and communication issues with this event, which were the only blemishes that I noticed. I emailed the race director on Monday and as of Thursday night, I have not heard back from him. There were several friendly volunteers, plenty of aid stations, and a great vibe. Plus, I did PR, so that is always a good thing.
I am not sure want the protocol is, but I am claiming my Nike+ time as my PR time for a couple of reasons. One, I started in the ten minute pace group, so I certainly did not cross the start line as soon as the race opened. Two, it gives me more of a goal to strive towards in future runs and PR attempts.
I will post more about our trip on a later date. I have a midterm to study for and paper to start.