Rollin’ Nolen race report

This road running race report of the 2nd Annual Rollin’ Nolen 10-miler presented by Beaman Toyota and NRC actually starts with tales of competitive road cycling from nearly 20 years ago when Meghann and I lived in a hilltop apartment situated on the Southeast edge of Nashville, literally with civilization to the left and countryside to the right. During my bike racing days, I explored lightly-trafficked country roads by turning right onto Cane Ridge Road then rolled over picturesque rolling countryside toward and beyond Nolensville before the influx of subdivision after subdivision making these highly-trafficked roads.

Fast forward to late Summer 2014 when we moved into an area I affectionately call “Smyrnolensville” because it’s equidistant from downtown Smyrna and downtown Nolensville. A detailed map calls the area Rock Springs, but that’s often confusing to people unfamiliar with the area though people know where Smyrna and Nolensville are. Easy mental map pindrop.

Our new house in a growing subdivision…confession, we’re part of the subdivision expansion into what was once a verdant expanse and subsequently two more cars frequenting the area…is also “civilization to the left and countryside to the right” currently so I had straight-from-the-driveway access to the same rolling hills where I previously biked with teammates and friends. This was definitely a selling point when considering this house build, and I’ve gotten my money’s worth from that geographic advantage.

This time, though, I’ve returning to these roads on foot more than on bike, rolling hills and long climbs and all. Greenways and flat streets are as boring as a treadmill to me. Given the option, I’ll always choose a hilly run over a flat run. Every time, and the hillier the better.

So when I learned of a new 10-mile race called Rollin’ Nolen, the name immediately intrigued me. Bonus points that the start/finish line is a mere four miles from my front door covering roads I’ve been running for 2–3 years now. Then I learned that the course was created by an ultra/trail runner (“of course it was!”) from our local running club (big shout out to Nolensville Running Club), and registering was an obvious choice. Plus….HILLS!

The inaugural race in 2016 brought an age group podium position (3rd place after a multiple marathoner and a full-length Ironman athlete) and set a baseline for time goal heading into this year’s second running of the Rollin’ Nolen. One year older, eh hem let’s call it more experienced, and several personal best times at  other distances this year, and this year’s time goal of finishing ~3 minutes faster than last year seemed like a challenge worth pursuing.

Until the crud and coughing fits moved into my respiratory system three weeks prior to race date. Thinking this cling-on would last a few day or a week at most, I tapered my training to aid recovery, but the crud lingered and lingered and lingered, keeping my weekly mileage below 10 miles per week (1/3 of my regular weekly miles) for those three weeks. As race week approached and the coughs continued, I accepted that this would be a “just run it” day instead of a “race it” day since a simple three mile run was a coughing-fit-gasping-for-air affair.

Then rain soaked the area over race week, and all forecasts pointed to a soggy event…until weather patterns changed last minute (“welcome to Middle Tennessee, if you don’t like the weather, wait a bit, it’ll change”) bringing the lowest temps we’ve had since Autumn rolled in.

Three weeks’ worth of respiratory cling-on combined with 39° temps at starting line saw me wearing three layers above the waist (short sleeve tee, long sleeve tee, windbreaker jacket) plus a buff around my neck so I could cover mouth and breathe warmer air, gloves, shorts and knee warmers (makeshift “man-pris”), and above-the-ankle wool socks, and I looked like a homeless trail runner. But I was cozy.

Time to suck it up, buttercup.

Race director Scott Alexander welcomed runners, then Amy Owsley sang the National Anthem, and off we went! I’ve decided this would be a don’t-look-at-watch race so I could focus on actual biofeedback and run by feel. After settling into a comfortable pace, my friend Kevin Harkins was on course near mile two and captured this hysterical photo showing that looks-like-a-homeless-trail-runner all bundled up behind a sunny woman in a tank top.

Go ahead and chuckle. I do too.

The jacket was tossed at the Mile 6 water station, and it was soaked. Which meant both of my shirts were soaked despite temps just above 40° so burrrrrrrr. Suck it up, buttercup; it’s race day, and the last four miles have the most hills. Clearly I need to do cold acclimation training.

Here’s where I wish I would have looked at my watch. Reason #1 is that I would have noticed that swiftly pulling off that soaked jacket would have bumped the stop button on said watch. Reason #2 is that I would have noticed that I was a wee bit behind last year’s time, and the remaining four miles would have been plenty to close the gap to beat last year’s time.

But, alas, I rolled across the finish line 1:47 behind last year’s time and missing my goal time BUT a decent enough time for 28th overall out of 172, and a 1st in age group placing, which is my first road finish atop age group standings in nine years. One year older than last year, 1:47 slower, but two podium steps higher in age group. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able run this race which has become a favorite (love these rolling hills on foot even more than I love them on bike), especially after extended respiratory issues. Big thanks to the race committee, sponsors, and volunteers for another successful Rollin’ Nolen which raised $7,000 for Nolensville High School’s track program.

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