Atlanta Half-Marathon Recap

Well, with the support of numerous folks, I finished the half on Thanksgiving. All in all, it was a great experience. Who woulda thought running thirteen miles could be so fun? Not me.

The worst part about these things, honestly, has to be waking up in time to get there. The half started at 7 am (full at 7:30), and even though I live fairly close to the start, I had to wake up at five a.m. My loyal husband got up with me to drop me off, too, which seems really thoughtful, but probably just meant that he knew he’d get a few minutes away from his father-in-law first thing in the morning. Which, let’s be honest, played into my wanting to run for almost three hours on Thanksgiving, too. No one asking you on the race course how electronics work, or how to work the DVR, or why your tires are flat, or why you don’t ever rake the yard, or can you make the ringer on my phone work? I can’t hear it. (The answer to that one is: Deaf people cannot hear phones ringing.)

So, husband drops me off, in the dark of Chamblee, right near the Marta station. I immediately strike up convo with another female runner, walking by herself, and we headed over to the start. The drop-off was very organized, and i was impressed with the potties, water, and baggage areas at the beginning. It is also always fun to people-watch at the beginning of the race; People of all shapes and sizes. I used to assume that all runners were svelte supermodels and traditional-looking athletes, but the array of body types at a race is the same as it would be at the mall. The participants are all jogging around to warm up, other people huddling together looking sleepy, others fiddling with Ipods or gloves, or tying shoelaces. Friends and family are shooting lots of pictures.

I hugged my new friend goodbye and wished her good luck (Hope you rocked it, Monica!) and then went to find my corral. The corralling system is great. Your bib number correlates to the corral you are in. It was still dark at this time, although the sun was starting to light up the horizon over the Marta line. The corral is funny, because once people are in there, even if there are ten minutes left until the start, everyone faces towards the start line, much like people always face forward in an elevator. I never did find any folks I knew, but chatted with some fellow entrants until the streetlights went out and it was light.

The feeling of the race start is fun, because there is no gun (that I can remember hearing), just a slow shuffling towards the start, and people muttering, “Here we go.” The start is right around the area of Great Gatsby’s and Pig’n’Chik.

We started off on the race, and that first mile is strange. People are shuffling around, trying to find a good spot with other people their pace, except for the walkers, who don’t seem aware at first that some people job and even run from the beginning. The beginning is a little nerve-wracking, honestly. Not being a walker, i didn’t want to be over on the far right, because i would end up having to pull up when i came up on a walker, but being a very slow runner/jogger, I didn’t want to cause the runners the same problem. All of this works itself out after the first mile or so, and the crowd thins out, and then it is all much more enjoyable. I kind of feel like maybe they should just have a “Walkers Corral” that starts right after the last runner’s corral, but i guess that is me being picky.

Once i found a good spot, with a few like-paced individuals, I was a happy camper, and started taking in a little of my surroundings. It was definitely cold, in the mid 30s at the start and the first few miles. The sun coming up over Brookhaven was beautiful, and there was no wind to speak of, so all in all, it was pretty pleasant. The sun coming up glinted off the buildings of midtown and downtown whenever I spied them through the trees; One of the hardest parts of the race for me was seeing those buildings so very far off in the distance and knowing my own two feet had to close that distance.

It was right about this time that I heard a commotion. I pulled an earbud out (yes, I am an evil Ipod runner) and heard the call and response of eight marines. They were all in black, in two columns, and each man leading a column was holding a flag; One held the American Flag, the other the Marine Corps flag. (At least, I think that’s what it was.) The runners parted before them, making way so that they could run through without breaking ranks, without breaking song. The runners clapped as they went by, then closed the gap behind them. I was cheered by their song, but mostly thankful that I didn’t have to carry a heavy flag all the way to The Ted. I watched them for a long time until they disappeared over the horizon.

The course runs down Peachtree Industrial/Peachtree into Buckhead. The support from the community was pretty cool – people in Brookhaven and Buckhead were on the sidewalks, sipping coffee with poofy, sweatered dogs on leashes. Almost without fail, everyone i passed, spectators, race officials, and police yelled out a cheery “Happy Thanksgiving” whenever we passed. As we passed each mile, a few whoops and hollers would ring out through the crowd of runners. The course is pretty flat through Brookhaven and Buckhead, and I thought that having run The Peachtree before made the section of the course that mirrors that race mentally easy to run. The portion of the course through Buckhead also has what seemed like the most spectators, except for possibly the very end.

Running up Cardiac Hill past Piedmont Hospital is always a challenge, but i found the longer, more gradual inclines in Midtown into Downtown to be much more challenging. I felt a sense of elation running across the bridge over 85, right there at the Amtrak station. The course from the Amtrak station up to Tenth street was cold and shadowed by the taller buildings. I remember looking with interest at SCAD, The High, a huge King Tut advertisement, and all of the new construction near Peachtree and Tenth. I remembered my second date with my husband at the Indian restaurant that is no longer there. I thought about seeing shows at the old Cotton Club site. The Peachtree Road Race portion of the half was actually quite enjoyable.

There is something about crossing that threshold of Tenth Street that really got to me. That is where I felt tired, and a little bit doubtful of my ability. My nose ran like a faucet. I had taken my mittens off, but had to put them back on right around The Margaret Mitchell House, as it felt like I was entering a wind tunnel. I waged a bit of a war in my head over whether I should stop and walk for a while. I tried to focus on my surroundings as I passed preserved Atlanta landmarks: Rhodes Hall, The Fox, and The Georgian Terrace. I thought about some that are gone: The Stein Club and Backstreet.

Somehow I continued on (although i did walk a bit through here) and then snapped quickly out of it as I crossed the bridge over 85 (again!) into Downtown. If I had thought Midtown was cold, the air barreling down Peachtree from downtown almost took my breath away. I was amazed at the number of people who started walking up the incline between the bridge and Baker St. I ran on, energized by the buildings towering over me: I had run from Chamblee to Downtown Atlanta. On my own two feet.

The downtown portion is cold and even more shadowy, the sun unable to make its way down to the street level. I thought of Pink Pig trips as a kid, I ran past the touristy Hard Rock Cafe area and the big hotels. I thought of how strange it was that a tornado ripped through downtown and how lucky Atlantans were to be spared something more catastrophic.

About that time, I started keeping an eye out for a friend volunteering as a marshal; he was supposed to be around Forsyth and Peachtree, but he wasn’t there, so looking for him and his wife kept me occupied all the way up to the turn off Peachtree onto Williams St. By this time, I knew I was in the last mile, I knew I could make it, and I wondered at the burst of energy I got. The sun was shining down on Williams St., too. I found my friend.  There is a short hill up to the top of Williams, and my friend had suggested that attacking the hill at this point would result in passing tons of people who stopped to walk here. Sure enough, I could pick a few off. There was a little confusion at the top, as they split the half and full marathon runners at this point. I navigated the split and then it was off across the bridge back over 85 (again!).

This portion was actually a lot farther than I felt like it would be. It was fun to run down towards the finish, under the Olympic rings, past the torch, but it just seemed longer than I thought it would. Also, i am a self-conscious runner and there was quite a crowd on this portion of the race, the participants thinned out, and there were lots of people yelling out at me specifically (“You’re almost there, black and orange!”)

As I came down to the finish, a friend was yelling my name, and i heard the loudspeaker calling out the names of some of the finishers, which I thought added a nice personal touch. After crossing the line, a little farther down, volunteers handed out finisher’s medals and mylar blankets. The parking lot to the left of the course was full of finishers, and there was plenty of joyful meetups, lots of water and snacks, and free Weather Channel gloves! (I love me some free stuff.) Oh, and potties. Thank god for potties. I warmed up and then gave my mylar and a banana to a homeless guy who asked how the blanket worked.

Overall, my race experience was fantastic. I felt like it was very well-planned, a safe and challenging course, with wonderful volunteers. My only criticism would be the location of the race expo the two days before. You have to pick up race packets at the Intercontinental in Buckhead, which would be easy if I hadn’t had to drive and if I didn’t have kids in tow; The elevator from the parking deck (five dollars to park!) was overcrowded and slow, there was a line backed up into the parking deck of people waiting to get on, and there were no obvious stairs to take. I would highly recommend taking Marta to Buckhead station and walking over. Once inside, though, the race packet pickup was well-organized and flowed quickly.

I think I will do this race again in the future. There is nothing quite like the privilege of using your own feet to power yourself all the way from Peachtree Industrial to Turner Field. How many people can say that they have seen so much of Atlanta on foot, moving along Peachtree for so long without having to worry about getting run over? My favorite parts of the run were seeing the sun come up over my beautiful hometown, of seeing every crack in her pavement, of feeling her buildings tower over me, and seeing her inhabitants come out to welcome her runners with joyous Thanksgiving Greetings.

I think maybe i will have to do another one of these races. Perhaps the Ing Half in March? It would be interesting to compare the routes, and see more of Atlanta’s nooks and crannies by foot. Who’s with me?

2 Comments so far

  1. james hervey (jeherv) on December 1st, 2008 @ 10:59 am

    congrats half-marathoner!!!! maybe you should go for 26.2???

  2. annie on December 1st, 2008 @ 6:12 pm

    Thanks, james! I am thinking I might try 26.2 if I can ever get some of this weight off. Won’t be spring, for sure. You would think training for a half would help lose the weight, but it appears that NOT EATing is the key. Who knew?

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