Zooma Nashville Half – I came, I ran, I finished!

I am a runner, it stills seems crazy to say! Just a few short years ago if you had told me that by 2015 I would have completed 4 half marathons I would have thought you were nuts. But here I am – a runner!

When I severely strained my IT band during the Halloween half in 2013 I was sure that another half was out of the question and maybe running as a whole. Largely because of the fear I had about getting hurt again, I worried that my I would never get my legs back to running shape. After some physical therapy and the doctor’s blessing to start running again I cautiously ran, I think my longest run was only like 4 miles for about a year. Then I got the itch – the half itch. I had been running with little to no pain and I was feeling sluggish because I wasn’t full on training or working out. Just a run here or there. When I had convinced myself that a half was a good idea I decided that I needed to travel for this one. I had done my previous 3 half marathons in St. Louis – 2 of them Rock n Roll’s.

As I scoured the internet for a good fall race I came upon the Zooma racing series. The tagline is Run. Laugh. Celebrate. Zooma prides itself on the fact that it’s run fully by women – run for women by women. I liked the sound of that, especially since my sorority alum group had just started a partnership with Girls on the Run in an effort to build strong girls. As usual when I get excited about something I dove right in and began to plan my race-cation! Zooma offers races in several cities across the country and Nashville caught my eye. It’s only a 4-5 hours drive from St. Louis and we have family that lives just outside of Nashville, the perfect opportunity to eek in some family time.  With the location chosen I  began to look for ways to connect this with my other passions. One of these is my sorority – Gamma Phi Beta. As I mentioned Girls on the Run is our philanthropic partner, GOTR offers a program called SoleMates. SoleMates are men and women who pursue individual or team athletic goals, such as completing a road race or triathlon event, to raise money in support of the Girls on the Run St. Louis mission to empower girls for a lifetime of healthy living.  100% of the funds raised by GOTRSTL SoleMates directly supports participants.

Race location and registration – check
SoleMates registration – check

Two big things checked off the to-do list. Now what about that pesky knee/IT band- was it ready?? Just to make sure I went back to physical therapy. I wanted to make sure I was training correctly so that I could continue to be injury free. To further enhance my training I also hired a running coach. He put together a 16 week plan to get me on track to run the half. It was a good plan for me and it kept me going.

I had my good runs and my bad runs. My endurance was low at first because I had taken almost a year and half off from running and training. But I knew I could do this, sometimes I had to dig deep to find the reassuring voice that told me so. I created my mantra – Go Big or Go Home! I kicked myself into high gear fundraising for my SoleMates campaign and I hit the pavement 5 days a week with a run. This meant lots of 5:30am alarms and weekends spent doing the long runs.  Then just like it was race weekend! I was excited and I felt as ready as I could be. Off to Nashville I went – with a quick stop over in Clarksville, TN to see my sister and brother in-law and darling niece of course.

I arrived in Nashville Saturday afternoon and checked into my hotel – which was right across the street from  a cupcake shop! I promise I only stayed at that hotel because it was the preferred race hotel and they were offering Zooma runners a discount. I guess it was just fate!

I was eager to get to the race expo to pick up my packet and check out the vendors. The expo was not at the hotel I was staying at, this was a little annoying. I would have thought the preferred race hotel would have housed the expo as well. Luckily it was only about a mile walk from my hotel and served as my light exercise session on my training schedule.

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One of the things I had not factored in was that this race series is a small one. There were less than 500 people running the race. I was used to racing in larger race series where there are close to 15,000 or more runners. When I arrived at the expo I was surprised to find it tucked away in a smallish ballroom and there were only 4-5 vendors there, most from local running stores or fitness places. The good news was that I saved some money, I was thinking I might find some new running gear or running tool that I just had to have. I found the registration table and told them my name. Another surprise was that I was just given a random bib number, I was used to a pre-assigned number bib that I had my name printed on it and told me what corral I would be starting in on race day. This wasn’t a huge deal but it was start to sink in how small this race was. My packet consisted of a technical race shirt, a pair of running socks and a sample tube of whitening toothpaste all in a reusable bag with the Zooma logo.  The bag was nice, perfect for taking my lunch to work. The shirt and socks were also good quality but I was expecting a little more. The website totes the race packet as being valued at over $50.00. I didn’t think this was accurate. There was also a virtual race bag but most of the deal were for massages and fitness classes in Nashville.

Although the expo was small they did offer a course preview session done by one of the founders of Zooma. They also had a talk  on “How to Maximize Performance – and Enjoyment – on Race Day” with Dimity McDowell. This was cool to me because I listen to her running podcast! It was super cool to see her in person – and I even asked a question during the Q&A section of her talk. Just a little bit of running geeking out! Once I found these they were super cool, the location for both of the sessions was behind some pipe and drape at the check-in table. I saw someone else walk behind so I followed their lead. Had I not seen them do that I might have missed the sessions.

After I got back to the hotel from the expo I unpacked and made sure I had everything I needed for race day.

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My running outfit: GOTR SoleMates shirt, compression shorts, compression socks, Gamma Phi Beta headband, running shoes
My tech: Soleus GPS watch, arm cuff for my phone for music, headphones  and body glide to prevent those blisters
Since I was running this race on the same day as my sororities Founder’s Day celebration I made a special sign to have with me at the start line. I sent some pictures to one of the organizers for the day to let everyone know I was thinking of them even though I couldn’t be there.

Once my mind was content that I hadn’t forgotten anything I headed to downtown Nashville to meet up with a St. Louis friend who was in town for the Blues vs. Predators game. Just another example of how small the world is! I live about 10 minutes from this friend but rarely see her in St. Louis, we both travel to Nashville for different reasons and end up hanging out!

After a late dinner and whiskey with the husband it was time for bed. Yes, you read that right, I had whiskey on the rocks with my dinner. I am an Irish girl after all! It was a small glass and helped me to calm my nerves so I could sleep.

Then it was race day!!! The race didn’t start till 8:00a.m., which was nice, I didn’t have to get up super early and I was able to enjoy some breakfast at the hotels complementary breakfast buffet.  A few last carbs and a banana to get my muscles going.

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Pre-race photo before leaving the hotel.

I took an Uber down to the start line, it was a 2 mile walk from the hotel and I wanted to save my legs for the race. There was supposed to be a warm-up done by Orange Theory fitness but when I arrived I wasn’t able to find it. I did my own stretches and kept myself moving because it was in the 40’s at the start of the race and I was in my shorts and shirt. I knew I would warm up and didn’t want to deal with layers or gear check.

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As everyone began to line up I noticed there weren’t any corals or even a special area for half marathoners vs the 5Ker’s. Yes, you guessed it everyone starts at the same time. This was incredibly annoying, I got stuck behind people that were just out for a leisurely 3.1 – I am running 13.1 people move out of the way! I wish they would have started the half marathon first then the 5K.  To top it off it  started with a hill, ugh! But the rest of the course was pretty flat and the scenery was really beautiful. However, it was an out and back course so at one point as you are running you see runners who have already made the turn. I mean I know they are ahead of me I don’t need that reminder. I have never been a fan of out and back courses.

I was using my running app to help me track my pace, but mileage wise it didn’t jive with the mile markers on the course route. I was hitting miles on my app about .30 before hitting them on the course. My watch had some signal issues so it was off on total miles as well. This threw me off a bit and was more annoying than anything.

Zooma is only a half and a 5K – no full. This cuts down on the amount runners on the course. There were several long stretches where I only had a few people around me. I am used to having large groups of runners around me. To me it’s more motivating to keep running to keep pushing when I have runners around me. Without a number of runners or even spectators I did find myself walking more than I usually would have. The spectators were in large groupings and for the most part were cheering on specific people – like the girl in front of me who was running her 50th half! Other races I have done have more course support and cheer stations- which are huge motivators. Speaking of course support, the Zooma website listed that the water stations on the course would have Cytomax sports drink. As a result I trained with Cytomax so my stomach could handle it on race day. However, the sports drink on race day was Gatorade – lemon lime- not my favorite Gatorade flavor. I took both the water and the Gatorade, I wanted to refuel my electrolytes as much as possible.

I made my final push for the finish line, excited that my knee and IT band were feeling great. They say your name and the city you are from as you cross the finish line. I gave the photographer at the finish line a big smile and 2 thumbs up. These are the best finish line photos I have ever had – and huge perk they are free!  I had done it! I had overcome my injury and completed 13.1!!!

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Official finish time was 2:37:32 I was hoping to finish under 2:30 but I will take this time – hey I wasn’t last! Always a plus.

I got my medal and headed to the post race party. The medals were nice and have a detachable charm at the bottom that you can wear as a necklace or add to a bracelet. The Zooma is also sparkly blue. No bad words about the medal – can’t you tell from my excitement below!

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I was glad I did another half, I needed to prove to myself that I could still do this. Would I do another Zooma race? Probably not. It just wasn’t the race experience I was expecting, maybe because it was so small and I wasn’t used to that. The atmosphere just wasn’t what I wanted, maybe other locations are different.  The big questions now is what will be my next half? I highly suspect there is another in my future, not sure if it will be St. Louis or if I will do some research and find another destination race. You will just have to stay tuned.

A big thank you to everyone that donated to my SoleMates campaign and/or sent me encouraging words throughout my training and during the race. I appreciate your support so much!

~E

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