A chilly pre-dawn Sunday morning last month was the culmination for several weeks worth of training and a goal I’d set for myself a year ago. That Sunday marked my second time running the Georgia Half Marathon, 13.1 miles, a race that will probably hold special meaning for me for life, since the 2010 race was my first half marathon ever. (To be fair, although I’ve done a couple triathlons and several shorter races since then, the 2011 race was only my second half marathon!) After finishing the race in 2010, I was sore, injured (thanks to a flareup of hip bursitis the week before the race), and managed to cross the finish line just over the 3-hour mark. It was days afterward before I could walk without feeling some sort of pain. Still, I was proud of myself and looking forward to doing the race again in 2011.

Getting in one last stretch

Getting in one last stretch

Flash forward a year, and here I was back at the starting line. This year, I had trained better, incorporating hills and tempo workouts as well as endurance runs into my workouts. I felt stronger, faster and more confident. By race day, I was 50 lbs. lighter than I had been the year before, which helped as well. The scene for the race was pretty much the same: downtown Atlanta in the predawn darkness, surrounded by thousands of other runners as we stretched and shuffled, trying to keep warm and calm our nerves in the minutes before the start gun went off. One difference was that this year my running partner and I were a little further up in the start corrals, as we expected to have a better time. Our plan was to run a 10-minute mile pace throughout the race, and walk for a minute after every 14 minutes of running. It was our goal to finish the race in 2 hours and 20 minutes, 40 minutes faster than we’d done the race last year. It was a significant difference and a goal that I felt more than a little anxious about being able to accomplish. I told myself I would be happy with anything under the 2 hour and 30 minute mark. I was ecstatic when I rounded the final corner and saw the finish line clock and realized that I would finish the race well within our time goal. In fact, our finish time was a very respectable 2:12:36!

Proudly sporting my newest race medal!

Proudly sporting my newest race medal!

Here are some of my memorable moments from the race:

Being in one of the hundreds of portapotties while the national anthem was sung … hearing AC/DC’s Thunderstruck (one of my favorite running songs) on the loudspeakers as the race began … running across one of the downtown interstate overpasses and seeing the Atlanta skyline as the sun came up … high-fiving my race partner Tammy every time we passed a mile marker … passing a guy who *looked* like a Kenyan on one of the hills around Mile 7 .. having a stranger from the sidelines yell “Go Lesley!” around Mile 9 … feeling myself hitting a wall around Mile 11 but pushing through it … realizing that I was going to finish the race well beyond my highest expectations … getting a big hug from my husband after the finish.

I’ve already signed up for the 2012 race, and hope to have an even better time next year. I’ve also got a couple of other half marathons on the schedule for this year, including one in Savannah this fall where my husband will be joining me for his first half marathon.

Besides the physical training, one of the things I did in the weeks leading up to the race was to mentally prepare, including reading about other people’s running experiences. One of these was a book by Mina Samuels, called Run Like a Girl.

runlikeagirlI’d first heard about the book on Irongirl’s March e-newsletter, and thought it sounded like a great book. So I was both surprised and delighted when the author contacted me out of the blue just a few days after I first read about it, asking me if I would like a review copy. Why, yes, I would! The book is a female runner’s manifesto, a call to lace up your running shoes and hit the pavement – or whatever athletic pursuit gets you off the couch and towards a better you. She includes inspiring stories from other female runners, from young women and girls discovering their inner athletes to professionals and trailblazers like Kathrine Switzer as well as her own personal story. It was the perfect pre-race reading and helped stoke the fire in my belly. I particularly recommend the book to women, especially those who are mothers, who may not consider themselves or their daughters athletically-inclined or are wondering if they have what it takes to do sports activities. Run like a girl? Hell yes, I do!

Thanks to Mina for sending me the book. If you’d like to win my copy, please leave a comment to this post. I’ll randomly draw a name on April 30th.

Edit: And the winner of the drawing is Stephanie! I’ll email you for your mailing address. Congratulations!