The Peachtree Experience

Sounds like a bad band name. I ran the Peachtree yesterday. Metroblogging Atlanta readers gave me some great tips that really helped me out.

I woke up at 5 a.m., after a less-than-stellar night’s sleep. Early in the evening, the pre-4th fireworks and gunshots kept the dog barking and me awake. Why is it that people in East Atlanta consider any “fireworks holiday” – Memorial and Labor Day, 4th of July, and New Year’s Eve – an excuse to shoot off fireworks (and their weapons) for three evenings straight? I kept waking up every hour or so after that. I am not a morning person, but i didn’t even hit snooze when they alarm went off. Ate my breakfast, drank a cup of coffee, grabbed my stuff and headed for Inman Park Marta station. (The fact that one has to drive their car ten minutes to jump on a MARTA train is a whole ‘nother post.) I was surprised at how few people were there at 5:30 a.m. I saw one other runner in the parking lot, and a Marta cop. There were a few more once I made it up to the station. I was impressed that MARTA had a representative there to help people with their Breeze card purchases; it seemed to be moving along smoothly. (Yep. I said it. I was impressed with MARTA.)

I ran into some neighbors and rode to Five Points and then up to Lenox station with them. There were plenty of other Peachtree participants on the East line, and it only increased at Five Points, where the excitement became almost palpable. People were jammed in the train, joking and talking about their Peachtree experiences, which made for good entertainment. That was a godsend, because for some reason, people don’t know how to get on the trains and keep themselves inside enough to let the doors close at each stop.

When I got off at Lenox, I was amazed at the number of people walking around Buckhead at 6:30 a.m. I headed up to the Sheraton to meet my sister and her husband, who were not running, but were nice enough to hang out with me pre-race. I think sister just really wanted to see Clark Howard, who was emceeing the start for my Time Group. We walked up to Wieuca Baptist, where my group was being corralled. We got there just in time to hear the national anthem, and then two military jets (I am no plane expert – fast planes, no idea what kind) flew down Peachtree and right overhead, which was pretty cool.

Sister headed off to gawk at Clark and I moved around through my group, people-watching, and talking to strangers. I talked to a nice guy from Lawrenceville who was looking for his son and son’s girlfriend. I saw two people in kilts and one dressed like Richie from The Royal Tenenbaums, except that he was overweight with long red, curly hair. There were girls in bikinis, and people smoking cigarettes. (Later, i saw someone running with a beer and a cigarette, which was an odd sight.) About half of the participants were wearing something red-white-and-blue. This people-watching was fun for about 30 minutes and then I started getting really bored.

They corralled us with big signs at the front of our group that read Stop and Walk on alternate sides. When the sign finally turned to Walk around 8:15, a cheer went up throughout the crowd. We alternated between Stop and Walk two or three more times before we actually got up to the starting line. When we did finally cross Lenox Road, I could see Clark Howard up on the starter’s scaffolding. There was a HUGE American flag hung lengthwise by a crane over the Starting line.

Clark gave us a pep talk (the funniest part of this was that they told us that if the street sweepers came up behind us, just to move out of the way and let them go – thanks for the vote of confidence!) and then we were off. By “we were off” i mean that about 5,000 people walked very slowly up towards the starting line. I forgot to see what time I passed the Start line, but I did remember to turn on my stopwatch. I saw my sister a few seconds after passing the line and waved and she took video of me, which will not find it’s way to YouTube, because I run like a complete dork. She said that after our group passed the start line, Clark climbed down from the scaffolding and started running behind us. I don’t know if he does that every year, but it was fun to know that we had him in our group, and that he was pulling up the rear. As my husband said later, Clark seems very selfless. Clark for Mayor, people.

I could not believe how slllllooooowww people were. Note to self: Next year, do not check “Casual walker or runner.” Put in a qualifier time. If for no other reason, than to avoid the sitting around for an hour waiting for the thing to start. First of all, people may be planning to walk most of it, but why don’t they want to at least start out running from the Start line? And another thing: I know that it is all about the tradition, and the experience, and celebrating the 4th, but geez, people: What do you not understand about “runners to the left, walkers to the right?” It said that EVERYWHERE on the materials and instructions that came with the numbers, the announcers mentioned it while we were waiting, and duh, it’s just common sense. It’s not like the road is that crowded, either. Peachtree is at least four lanes the whole way! By far, my biggest pet peeve was the groups of five or six women, all walking abreast of each other on the left side of the road. It just seemed so thoughtless and inconsiderate. That being said, I reminded myself not to get my panties in a wad, and just took a really easy pace.

The good thing about being that far back is that so many people are walking that if you are even doing a 14 or 15 minute mile, you are passing people like crazy, which makes you feel like a badass, even if you are not one. It is also interesting how many pretty fast runners are back in that group, and I found that once the crowd thinned out a bit, i was running too fast for me, because I was not used to running with other people, and i had a tendency to speed up when running around them. After a while, though, i turned on my IPod (hearing other people’s heavy breathing is kind of freaky) and found a comfortable pace for me.

The roadwork was not as treacherous as they had made it out to be, but it was nice to know that they were organized enough to publicize it well. Overall, i was mightily impressed with all the organization for the race; They run it like a well-oiled machine. If there were any hiccups, they were not visible to me.

A lot of the actual running of the race is a blur to me, but I was struck by the sense of how weird it was to be running down Peachtree Street, this street that I have driven innumerable times in my life, but never taken for any distance on foot. It was cool to see a place that I liked to eat at when I worked in Buckhead or to pass a bar that I drank at when I was too young to be in bars. My mind was kept almost completely off the act of running for at least three miles. I just had to concentrate enough to pull up and around people who suddenly starting walking with no warning. It was weird to run right through intersections while the light was red.

There were bands all along the route – probably five or six in all, and they played the usual cover suspects (B52s, U2, etc. Songs that most people have heard.) When we passed a band playing “Love Shack,” many of the runners yelled along with the “Bang! Bang!” part of the song. There were a number of times that I saw things that put a huge smile on my face: 20-somethings drinking beer on the side of the road at 9:00 a.m. and giving the runners a thumbs-up; Kids with huge plastic trash cans filled with water, reloading their super-soakers to gleefully spray the participants; sweet signs rooting for individuals by name; and signs rooting for us all (I laughed out loud at “You are all winners to us!” and “Great legs!”) Passing by La Fonda and Fellini’s, all I could think was how good pizza and a beer sounded. The Holy Water spraying out in front of Cathedral of St. Philip was pretty popular with people, and tons of them moved to the right of the road to get a piece of it.

Some of the sights were more inspiring: A participant in a wheelchair making it up Cardiac Hill by sheer will. Two girls running with shirts listing their friends, dead and alive, who were victims of sickness. The blind guy doing the whole thing by himself with only a walking stick in front of him. He awed me – I was freaked about the huge crowd and I could see the crowd.

The first three miles in general were pretty easy, mostly downhill and flat. Water stops were well-marked and easy to get to on both sides of the road. The hills were more difficult, and the second, larger hill was kind of frustrating for me. Tons of people who were running or jogging just pulled up without warning on the hills, and I had a tough time navigating them. I decided if you can’t beat’em, join’em, so since the water was there anyway, I slowed down to drink mine. Oh, yeah, on another note: If you pour water over your head, and you’re wearing IPod earbuds, take them out first, because water makes them not work until they dry out.

After picking the pace back up and tackling those hills, we crossed over 85. One of my most memorable moments was cresting the hill and then crossing the bridge over the highway, Arcade Fire’s “No Cars Go” in my ear, and knowing how close I was to the park. The route after crossing 85 seems more crowded with spectators, and they were so supportive, yelling: “Almost there!” and “This is mile Five!” to the runners. There was almost a giddiness that overtook the runners after passing SCAD and coming into Midtown – you could sense people being less likely to walk, picking up their paces, and having a good time. Somewhere around Colony Square, they had opened a fire hydrant (um, watering restrictions???) and it was spraying halfway across the road, so I couldn’t avoid getting soaked, but it was kind of fun, too. When was the last time you ran through an open fire hydrant’s spray? A runner not far ahead of me yelled out, “There’s Tenth!” and whoops and hollers, and a smattering of claps resonated through the crowd of runners. As soon as I heard that, I picked up my pace, and others did, too. Rounding the corner at Jocks and Jills, there were plenty of partyers and participants drinking it up on the sidewalk. A couple were handing out plastic cups of beer to the runners (with a few takers!), and one guy was offering sips out of a plastic pitcher. Coming down Tenth, I was reminded of how much that corridor has changed since I lived on 8th street just off the park, long before kids and husband, or even pets were in the picture. Again, food beckoned as a I ran past Flying Biscuit and the photo booth came into view. For someone who doesn’t really like to have her picture made, that line of scaffolding holding photographers was a little disconcerting, but I think I actually had a big grin on my face as I came up on it.

They do a nice job of herding you through the finish, into the park, giving you water immediately, and then heading you on to get your shirt. I didn’t even have to wait very long for it. I headed over to Park Tavern to meet up with friends, who promptly gave me ice cold beer and patted me on the back. We all compared times and sightings of oddities and of other people we knew. Evidently, the faster you run, the drunker you get afterwards, because my friends in earlier time groups who finished in the 40-50 minute range had been there awhile, and there were pretty rowdy. The plus to having these fast-running friends is that they get there early enough to snag a table. I can’t remember the last time that I sucked down four beers before 11 a.m. on an empty stomach, but it did make the ride back on MARTA more fun.

One other thing that struck me: The park really clears out quickly after the race. I had somehow imagined that there would be a huge raging party in the park for the rest of the day, but it was fairly quiet by the time I headed back to MARTA. I am guessing all those tired hungry people had to go find something to eat. Did I mention the dearth of food at the Park Tavern? I was totally unimpressed with their “Ten dollars, all you can eat and drink” schtick. Obviously, to them, that means you pay ten dollars, start drinking beer, they put out not nearly enough food to feed everyone, then stop serving it as soon as the last time group shuffles in, and then people get so hungry they leave without drinking ten dollars worth of beer. Not me. I pocketed two and put them in that nifty Peachtree road race bag. That’s what it was for, right?

The scaffolding was coming down as I headed back up tenth. They were also giving away whole twelve packs of water and sports drinks. Too bad I was tired and taking MARTA; No way I could carry them all the way back, but I saw numerous large men carrying two twelve packs on each shoulder on the train.

As I passed the Finish line on the way back up to MARTA, it occurred to me: Honestly, I was a little let down by the experience of crossing the finish line. I had imagined it would be all Rocky/Chariots of Fire. It wasn’t. I think maybe that this event is not so much about the finish, but (yes, to be cliched) totally about the journey.

For anyone who has ever considered doing the Peachtree, but felt intimidated by the size or distance, I would say to take the plunge. It was fun, laid-back, and a great experience. I’m glad I finally did it – Who’s with me next year?

Oh, yeah. I didn’t take a camera, but lots of peeps did, including Atlanta Metroblogging’s Sabrina, who didn’t get to run, but captured some great photos from her perch at Colony Square. (Marines? Check. Fireman in gear running? Check. Bride and Groom? Check.)

Peachtree Road Race 2007 on Flickr.

6 Comments so far

  1. james (unregistered) on July 5th, 2007 @ 4:46 pm

    great report. glad to hear you had a great time.

  2. Annie (unregistered) on July 5th, 2007 @ 5:34 pm

    Thanks. Didn’t realize how long this was till just now. I’ll be surprised if anyone gets to the end of the post!

  3. Jam (unregistered) on July 5th, 2007 @ 5:35 pm

    Good report. Run a half-marathon and crossing the finish line will have a whole other meaning for you.

  4. Annie (unregistered) on July 5th, 2007 @ 6:54 pm

    Thanks, Jam. shhhh. . . I am considering working up to one if the knee holds up. But don’t tell anyone. :-)

  5. BTI (unregistered) on July 6th, 2007 @ 12:59 pm

    “(The fact that one has to drive their car ten minutes to jump on a MARTA train is a whole ‘nother post.)”

    Southern DeKalb county is sorely underserved by transit, despite having a high number of transit riders. The Beltline would stop on Glenwood less than a mile from EAV, which I think would be much closer to your house. It would connect at Lindbergh and you could transfer there to get to Lenox. I’d encourage you to take time and write those in power and tell them you want the Beltline transit to stay on track (the mayor would be a good start).

  6. Annie (unregistered) on July 6th, 2007 @ 1:34 pm

    You are right, BTI. The Beltline would be awesome and very useful for and well-received by my burgeoning area.

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