It’s finally time to discuss the most anticipated race of the year, the Peachtree Road Race. It’s an Atlanta institution that is so popular, not everyone gets in to run, even though there are 60,000 entrants, which make it the world’s largest 10k. First tip – you get guaranteed entry with Atlanta Track Club membership, which pays for itself with “free” events, discounted events and discounts at local running stores. Right now the ATC is doing a new member special where you get 18 months for the price of 12 and that means you have guaranteed PRR entry for 2017.
I chose Expo delivery versus mail delivery of my bib because I enjoy shopping race expos and getting free stuff, so on Saturday, the little one and I headed down to the Georgia World Congress Center to get my bib and check stuff out. Little did I know the walk from parking to AC was going to be training for Monday when arriving shortly after noon. I think I’ve determined the yellow lot is an easier walk than the blue lot as well. From the entrance, there were signs welcoming us to Expo and then we got in a long, but moving line to get in. Security now does bag checks, reminding us how much our world has changed, but I’ll take an extra few minutes if it means being safe. Upon entry, a volunteer was handing out drawstring plastic bags, and I knew it was going to fill up quickly. The first stop was getting my bib which was organized in groups by bib number. Lucky for me, no one was in line in my number range and I zipped right through. I was curious to see the bib and after getting off the main path, we looked at it and my daughter was most amused by the sparkly peach. She’s like me and likes her bling. The first area we walked into after bib pickup was a Mizuno/Big Peach area with lots of cute shirts and other race related items. The kiddo knows me and found magnet that doubles as a bottle opener, so I resisted the cute shirts (for this year) and we got in a long line to pay that moved quickly.
Next stop was a quick one at the Whole Foods table for a super cute freebie reusable PRR bag. I heard they were limited, so I was thrilled there were still some left. Next up before I could forget was the ATC booth because they had the commemorative medal that I added to my registration. It felt weird to get it before the race, and the only reason it came out of the packaging was so the girl would see it. At this point we started to hit areas with spin the wheel freebies and the kid loved spinning the wheel and filling up her bag. Shopping highlights were the “I run like the winded” tank for $10 from One More Mile, the red, white and blue shoe poms from Sparkle Athletic (who was sold out of the red, white and blue ruffle skirt, making that temptation disappear), and a Run Georgia Christmas ornament. I also invested in a cool towel because of the expected high temperatures on race day. On the way out, we checked out the 11Alive weather truck which was fun for us both. I’m super excited for this race despite a yellow alert for heat the day before. Aside from the heat, I’m looking forward to seeing what the Peachtree is all about. I was ridiculously excited considering the heat scared me.
Race day starts bright and early at 6am from Downtown Atlanta (long story short, we were at a hotel, not typical for me on local races) and I started making my way to the Peachtree Center Marta station by 6:30. And I was loaded down with my hydration belt carrying 20 ounces of water, fig bars, a banana, my cool towel and another bottle of water. I was not taking the heat lightly. After watching a red line train stop and go, I hoped the gold line train wouldn’t already be super packed. It was packed, but I squeezed on along with a few others. It only got more crowded until we couldn’t fit anyone else on at Lindbergh. Thank goodness runners are cool people or my claustrophobia could have bee a lot worse. I got off the train shortly after 7am hoping I would make the Moms Run This Town group photo and I did make it by seconds. Now it’s 7:10 and my wave didn’t start until 8:25. I thought I would have plenty of time to meet up with a friend a few waves behind me. But there was still some walking to be done and then I found some much needed porta potties which had a super long line. Mad respect for everyone who stopped for the anthem. Shortly after this, as I was patiently waiting, I realized the sweat was at epic proportions and probably washed away the body glide I liberally applied less than two hours earlier. This did not bode well. And then I decided to hit the water table so I could drink water that wasn’t in my hydration belt and get my cool towel started before I got super hot. Finally, I was ready to meet my friend, but then wave M was right by me. So I jumped in with my people and started moving closer to the giant flag at the start. Things were starting to get real as we inched closer to the start line.
And soon the flag that hangs over Peachtree was there and it was go time. I set a 15 minute mile pace goal, which I thought was going to be impossible in the heat. I made sure to not start out super fast since the first half of the race has more downhills. I also saw all the shade on the left side of the road and broke my rule to stay with that shade. I was passed a lot early on, but was able to settle into my line once we got more spread out. I was seeded based on a much faster time, but I’m guessing most others were, too. I knew water stations were about every mile, but a shout out goes to the first unofficial water stop on the left, a Trader Joes. I was not turning down water. Soon mile 1 was in the books and I felt great and pace was well below the 15 minute mile, but when I hit the first official water stop, I took a few sips of water and then dumped the rest over my head, after removing my one in ear ear bud, of course. One of my running inspirations is Shannon Spake, who you may know from ESPN and soon to be Fox Sports, and she runs triathlons and she had mentioned dumping water on her hear during a recent tri. Aside from temporarily frying my Apple earbuds later in the race, despite taking them out of my ears, it was the best decision ever for keeping cool. This first water stop was where I saw conditions were bumped from yellow to red. Yeah, I thought the pace goal was to toast and finishing was going to be the accomplishment.
But, I felt great and was pacing great on the downhills and enjoying the amazing crowd support. Between the big dog with a sign that read “free hugs” and the “all toenails go to heaven” sign, I was amused and staying motivated. A few high fives helped, too. At some point, I willingly ran through my first water spray getting soaked, which also helped combat the heat. Mile 2 was done and the downhill really gets good here. RunKeeper was saying I was hovering around a 14 minute mile pace, ahead of goal, but still on the easier half of the race. After mile 3, the biggest challenge of the race loomed in the form of Cardiac Hill. For the unfamiliar, Cardiac Hill is a hill that rises about 12 stories in only 3/4 of a mile. I had been running the entire time, aside from water stops, but knew the heat was going to make running Cardiac Hill impossible. Before I hit the 5k split, I respected Cardiac Hill with some walking. But, I was at a 14:01 pace (43:31) at the 5k split, so things were great. At one point, one of the best comments happened on Cardiac Hill from a fellow runner which was “where a community of runners becomes a community of walkers.” She spoke the truth. Luckily there were flat-ish parts of the Hill and I ran those, but I walked a good chunk and I’m okay with that.
Soon enough, I had survived Cardiac Hill and we were getting even more crowd support. More groups were out supporting, many with treats and more water. I took a full bottle at this point and it didn’t see the next mile marker. My favorite group here was the Muslims for Peace group handing out treats and high fives. Given all the is happening in the world, this was a bright spot that I wish everyone could have experienced. Soon after mile 4, we were crossing 85 and getting into Midtown and I was seeing the benefit of pacing myself as I was now starting to weave among more walkers. Midtown was home to more signs such as “you think your legs are tired, you should see my arms,” “free motivational ass slaps” and my personal favorite, “hurry up. the Kenyans are drinking all the beer.” And there was another water spray, so I stayed soaked.
Mile 5 was done and so were the worst hills and the last water stop was upon us. I learned that Peachtree water stops are almost must walk sections as the course is littered across the entire road with discarded cups and it goes on for a bit. I continued weaving among walkers thrilled that I was still going strong. Soon it was time to make the turn onto 10th which ended up being torture as it was closing in on 10am and there was no shade. I just focused on keeping moving knowing the mile 6 marker was up near the park and only .2 was left. A slight uphill threatened to kill my momentum, but when I topped that hill and saw how close the finish line was, I gave one final push finishing in 1:30:47 which was a 14:37 pace. Despite the insane heat, I beat my goal pace.
Then we were herded into Piedmont Park for post race goodies, so I got in line for a bottle of water, a snack box (that was much less impressive than the Women’s 5k) and my finisher t-shirt. Finishers t-shirts are a huge thing and there is a contest for the design and the winner isn’t revealed until race day. I voted every day for the design that I loved the most, Heart and Sole, but I did like The Hustle, too. I squealed out loud when I saw Heart and Sole was the winner! My next goal was a patch of shade at the ATC member party at Park Tavern. I got in a long line for a tiny chunk of bagel (not worth it), but did get a super cold bottle of water. I should have attempted to find indoor space for AC and cooling down, but I hate dealing with super crowded spaces and the outdoor option seemed like a good idea at the time. After thinking I had cooled down enough, I decided it was time start the trek to Marta as I was ready for a shower and to collapse into the hotel bed for a bit.
I moved significantly slower and was following the herd down Monroe and turned on 8th street heading back. I had already stopped a few times for a rest, but was trying to keep moving. About 4/10 of a mile in, a giant uphill loomed and after starting up the hill, I started to feel nauseous, so I immediately stopped and sat down in the shade. A sweet man, asked if I was okay, even ehen he clearly wasn’t either, and after a few scary minutes, the nausea passed, but I then got tingly fingers. I knew these were classic heat stroke symptoms, so I drank my water, and assessed the situation. He checked on me before he headed on and I assured him I had a plan coming together. Once I mapped the rest of the walk, I knew I wasn’t walking another 7/10 of a mile as it was already over 90 degrees. Luckily the family was downtown, so I called my husband with a suggested meeting place a block and a half away as 8th was closed to car traffic. It took him a lot of time to get out of the hotel deck, which gave me time to feel better and commiserate with another runner, a woman I was guessing was in her 60s that was feeling rough, but she continued on to Marta after a couple of minutes. When I started the block and a half walk, I passed more people resting in the sidewalk and then I passed a man being attended to by EMTs with an I’ve of fluids. I may have felt bad, but it wasn’t that bad.
Blasting AC in the car, a shower and some sugar helped me feel much better. I was able to enjoy the rest of the day and get some relaxing time in. Despite a scary ending to my race experience, I can not wait to do it again next year. And I’m going to have a heat back up plan in place if it’s that hot post race next year.