“Are you from Tennessee? Because you’re the only ten I see.” Each time I picture this neighboring state, this cheesy platitudinous pickup line invades my head. I originally considered a different and nearer half marathon in Georgia, but with its online registration closing at an unexpected time and price increasing prior to my receiving a clear answer to a question, I instead added my name to the wait list at the Strawberry Plains Half Marathon on January 30, 2021, in the titular location of Tennessee, nearly a four-hour drive Northeast of my temporary Atlanta residence, and almost immediately was notified of an open spot and to complete registration. While debating whether or not I should, I had three or four consecutive dreams the following morning of thinking I signed up but worrying what if I did not, making me more eager to just do so when I woke up, not to mention this would be my first race in the Volunteer State. I registered past noon, washed running clothes, booked a motel, and drove up to Knoxville, all the day before the event.
The organizer’s course video that displayed breathtaking sceneries enticed me, and, even though previous participants have spoken of the vast hills, I accurately predicted the 25-degree start would significantly aid me in overcoming the challenge. Here, I noticed the Atlanta hills I often loathe have been training me for such a course, as I never felt overwhelmed by even the steepest climbs and my pace remained consistent throughout. I continued to chat with and cheer on fellow runners and even volunteers and staff, which boosted my own energy, albeit one may think talking incessantly while running would play an opposite role. After keeping my music volume low enough to be able to hear everything around me for most of the race, I put my earphones in my pocket towards the conclusion to focus on the moment. At the very end, a lady in front of me, who practically maintained the same gap with me for 90% of the run, mistakenly went through the cones when she had to move forward slightly farther before turning left and to the finish. Usually, when one runner goes the wrong way, those behind follow, but here, likely because I had no distraction of music, I was aware and went the correct way; if I would have followed the lady, although the distance would not have really changed, my perfectionism rooted in OCD would have eaten me alive, so I feel extensively relieved for understanding the placement of cones and having studied the course video multiple times.
Considering the constant rolling hills and elevation gain of 607 feet, I am finally content with my official time of 1:54:08, as this proves to me I am gradually regaining my old speed from pre-COVID-19. After receiving a lengthy amazing complimentary stretch and being taught one method of self-stretching from sweet young therapist Ashley, conversing with runners (even one from Lincoln, Nebraska!) and volunteers, and checking out of my motel, I made sure to treat myself a product of Tennessee since I traveled this far and decided on Cracker Barrel Old Country Store prior to driving back to ATL. Spontaneous? Yes. Regrets? Not one iota.