To kick off my 2021 running season, I signed up for the Chilly Willy Half Marathon, hosted in Sugar Hill, Georgia, on January 16, 2021, only a couple of days previously. Given the unpredictability of COVID-19, acknowledging any running event could be canceled at any moment, I generally wait until the last minute to register for any race. This course comprised constant moderate rolling hills that added 551 feet of elevation gain that could have been more challenging in the summer, but I had confidence the starting temperature in the low 30s would provide me with extra energy from not sweating as profusely to cover 13.1 miles without noticeably slowing down.

Running this section twice due to the first-loop fiasco!

The half marathoners were to run the same loop twice, and I naturally followed those in front of me. When I turned around to go back the way I came around 2.5 miles in, I knew something went wrong somewhere, that there must have been a section I missed, but I initially could not figure out where this could have happened. Nearing the midpoint of the loop, out of a circular trail, awaited a sidewalk where half marathoners and 10K runners ran on, made a sharp right turn, and proceeded forward until the respective turnaround, but this sidewalk contained two sites of construction that forced runners to go around and thus many of them instinctively moved to their right onto the road, creating this error; I must have followed. Panicking and demoralized, I turned off my music and filled my head with negative thoughts while moving forward. As I ran back to complete the first lap, I, still clueless, commented to multiple volunteers this did not seem right. When I came back for the second lap, the location where the confusion occurred this time appeared clear with (I believe) the race director standing by. After letting him know, I ran up to and around the half-marathon turnaround cone and down two times to make up for the first time I missed, and, although he told me to turn around sooner prior to going back a second time, I went farther back toward the way I came and where I must have veered off course before turning back around to appease my OCD, which likely ended up costing my performance a minute. On my way back to the circular trail, I told him, “I do not understand how I missed this the first time,” to which he replied that is because the cones had not yet been set up to separate the sidewalk and road just a few feet to the right, which made sense of why participants moved away from the construction and landed on the wrong side. His verbally expressing what I did was “fine” now removed some of my internally freaking out before finishing up the final three miles. With two miles to go, coming out of the other side of the circular trail and back onto the road, I saw one runner cutting that entire trail section and running straight and right in front of me, prompting me to run extra hard to pass him so that he would not end up stealing my place in case he and I shared the same age group. I later observed on the results page the man who finished right behind me in my age group, whether this person or not, lost to me by mere four seconds, so I feel glad I decided to push harder when I did.

Crossing the finish line in 1:55:16, albeit sufficient for gold in my age group of 30-34, I felt somewhat irritated knowing my time would have been in the 1:54 or even 1:53 range without this fiasco, supported by my Garmin that reads 13.22 miles. I again explained this issue and what I did to another one of the race directors, who too confirmed I was “fine,” and two fellow half marathoners separately overheard and revealed they did exactly the same, complete that leg to the turnaround twice during the second lap after missing it the first time. I was just relieved, like they were, I could somehow salvage a race I thought I butchered.