Chickamauga Battlefield Half Marathon

3 years.  That’s how long I’ve been wanting to run this race.  The Chickamauga Battlefield Half Marathon has been on my radar ever since the day my running buddy Beth saw it featured in Runner’s World as one of the most scenic half marathon courses.  The first year I signed up and was injured.  The second year I transferred my bib number due to a pretty terrible case of mastitis (can I get a “holy ouch” from my fellow nursing mamas?), and the third brought another injury.  It’s become a running joke among my friends that I shouldn’t sign up for November races because by the time they come, I’m injured or ill.  This year I vowed to train wisely, being extra careful not to overdo mileage and to back off whenever I felt nagging pain.

And you know what?  It worked!

November 8th arrived with me injury free and READY to run Chickamauga.  Having just run a 20k a few weeks prior, I knew I had the mileage in me and having recovered with less running and more cross training since the race I felt rested and strong.  Beth and I drove the 2 hours north Friday night and crashed at our friend Rita’s house for a few hours of restless sleep before the big day.  8 months earlier we had been dreamily talking about maybe, just maybe, setting a PR at this race, but due to all of my issues and Beth’s injured foot (which required several weeks of missed training for her), we settled on just running a good, solid race while having a great time.

I had the coffee brewing at 5am and Rita and Beth soon joined me for some pre-race fuel of bagels and muffins.  It is really hard for me to eat before a race, but I’ve learned the hard way that if I don’t get the carbs in I crash at mile 10.  We were enjoying the luxury of savoring our coffee and food without little ones underfoot that it was 6:00am before we realized we better get dressed and moving!  After layering up for the 30 degree weather, we drove the chilly 25 minutes with just enough time to hit the bathroom and get our race numbers.  At the last minute I realized I had left my Garmin in the car and we decided to run back and retrieve it.  As luck would have it, it had somehow turned on in my bag and the battery was dead.  It wasn’t a wasted trip, however, because Beth and I decided to shed the sweatshirts we were wearing (and by mile 2 we were very thankful for that decision).  We hit the bathroom one last time and made the hike back to the battlefield.

Just as we were weaving in and out of a field of parked cars, a loud “BOOM!” went off shaking the earth beneath our feet.  When you run a race on a battlefield, they don’t mess with mere guns.  Oh no, we’re talking real cannons people.  Real cannons.  Rita, Beth and I burst into a fit of laughter as we realized that even after all of our preparation to get to the race early/on time, we somehow managed to miss the start.  Thank goodness for timing chips, am I right?  We finally managed to get our bodies over the start and settled in with the back of the crowd for what would be the most beautiful half marathon course I’ve run to date.

Chicka2There is no way to put into words the feeling of running through a forest in the early morning, with the dew fresh on the ground and the sweet sap from the trees filling the air.  No pollution, noise, or artificial lights.  No traffic idling as they wait for you to pass.  The temperature rose just enough with the sun to strip away the bitterness we had begun with.  Since I didn’t have my watch, I ran the race entirely by feel and it was divine!  The course was a perfect mixture of rolling hills and flat areas and weaved in and out of the forests on the battlefield.  After the first half mile, the girls and I began weaving around people and found our happy place.  Without having mile splits to scrutinize, I’m guessing that our strongest part of the run was mid-race.  The first couple miles were easy as we chatted away and took in our surroundings.  Around mile 4 we picked it up and were passing people steadily until mile 9 or so.  Around that point we fueled up on water, gatorade, and orange slices (thank heavens for those little citrusy slices of heaven!).  At mile 10 I began to feel not so much fatigued, but definitely like I had less pep in my step, so to speak.  Beth was still holding strong, but Rita began slowing down and I found myself struggling to decide if I wanted to stay with Rita or push it and keep up with Beth.  At mile 11 I found myself in  between the two but kept Beth in my sight and Rita within earshot.  Mile 12 brought us to some windy trail like sections of road and I lost sight of Beth.  I soon realized I had lost Rita too, so I just worked on bringing it home strong.  I was pretty certain my finish time was going to be just under 2:10.  I felt like it had been an easy race and that I could have pushed harder, and so I was shocked when I saw my finish time was just after 2:03.

With a 2:01:30 finish, Beth was kicking herself for not pushing harder to break the 2 hour barrier, but I surprisingly didn't have that reaction at all.  Sure I could have pushed harder, hated life during the race and experienced nausea, fatigue and pain at the end, but instead I felt GREAT.  Not just "oh I ran a half marathon - yay" great, but truly, GREAT.  My body felt good, I wasn't tired, and I was reeling over the awesome course, fun people and great run!  The post race coffee, banana pudding, soup and pizza was a nice way to refuel and I appreciated how quickly the race results were printed and posted.  

I needed that run.  Each of the 13.1 miles refreshed and re-energized my love for running.  Going into Chickamauga I really had no idea that this race was going to sort out and put at rest a lot of my recent fears and issues with being an athlete who has an illness.  There were several shorter races I had run in the previous months and just wasn't happy with my performance.  Chickamauga was a sort of time-out, an unplugged opportunity to run for the pure enjoyment of it and in the end revealed that despite everything my body is going through right now, it's actually pretty ok.

Cassi Villanueva 35 F3539 Roswell, GA 2:03:31 9:26 (13th out of 42 in age group. 275 out of 840 overall).

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