Friday, April 8, 2016

Race Report: Publix Georgia Marathon

Yikes, the elevation.
I registered for the Publix Georgia Half at the expo for the Peachtree 10K back in July of last year, with the option to upgrade to the full, which I decided to do a few months ago.  I was warned ahead of time about the brutal hilliness of the race, but I decided to soldier on through and ensure that with this race, I would have the state of Georgia checked off of my list of states for where I've done full marathons.

Not feeling it...
Lifetime Fitness had been in charge of the event for several years, and in December, it was announced that the Atlanta Track Club had acquired the event from them.  The course would stay the same, but a lot of the branding and the logistics of the race would change (for instance, the expo was smaller and there were more people in each corral).  I arrived late Friday night to the Atlanta airport, where I was picked up by my running mentor Dave Grudzien, who lives about 45 minutes to the northeast, in the city of Lawrenceville.  I slept in the following morning while Dave went off to run a 10K race nearby (where he actually took 1st in his age group!) and then we headed off into downtown Atlanta to attend the expo at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Upon arrival at the Congress Center (which, mind you, is HUGE.  It is the third largest in the US, only smaller than Chicago's McCormick Place and Orlando's Orange County convention Center), we were greeted by hundreds of cheerleaders.  Apparently, there was a cheer competition happening at the same time as the marathon expo (which, according to Dave, is very common).  It was kinda like Toddlers and Tiaras meets Dance Moms meets Prancing Elites Project.  In any case, we got to the Hall where the marathon expo was, and the bib pick up set up was much like Peachtree - angled booths, just as you come in... While there were several booths set up for the half marathon, there were a grand total of TWO for the marathon.  We weren't going to have a huge field for the full 26.2 miles!

The day before, as the
finish is being set up
After picking up our bibs, we moved into the main part of the expo, and it was... TINY.  Probably only twenty vendors overall.  I stopped at a massage therapist booth, and took advantage of a 15 minute massage from a massage therapists' services since I had been complaining of tight shoulders the day before; it was an OK massage, not really up to par to the messages I usually get in NYC, but it relaxed me a bit at least.  After literally getting through the expo in a matter of minutes, Dave and I headed off to grab some lunch over at the food court in the CNN Center, and then walked over to Centennial Park to see if we could kill time for the rest of the afternoon at one of the attractions surrounding the park.  We went over to the World of Coca-Cola and were immediately met with absurdly long lines; we stopped into the gift shop to look around, then decided to head over to the College Football Hall of Fame Museum, one of the newest attractions in downtown Atlanta.  The museum was actually quite fun, and made some great use of technology, while providing a thorough look at college football since the early 20th Century.  I was very happy to see a lot of emphasis on Michigan football throughout!

With Ali and Dave in our Aliglasses!
After our tour through the museum, we headed over to dinner with several friends from various running clubs, but mostly the 50 States club, a club I had decided to leave late last year. It was a fun gathering, catching up with several people (Jascia, Ali, and Cozette, in particular) I hadn't seen in several months!  After dinner, Dave and I headed back to Lawrenceville to turn in for the night, as we were planning on getting up VERY early in the morning to leave and secure our pre-paid parking in the lot near the north side of Centennial Park, steps away from the start and finish line.

Ready to take on 26.2!

My bib + kit, plus my Gibblers for the race!

Crowded startline race morning
We were awake at an ungodly hour, and then headed off to downtown Atlanta, and luckily, traffic was minimal getting to the parking garage.  We parked and then rested for about half an hour before braving unusually strong winds in the corrals on the west side of the park.  We met up with our friends from dinner the night before, as well as Jim (celebrating his 50th half!) and Brian.  At 7am, we were off, and we took off down Marietta Street NW, running through the downtown area and in the direction of Georgia State University.  Almost immediately, there was a little hill, and then we took off down an intense downhill, as we turned onto Piedmont Avenue.  We headed north on this street for a little over a mile, experiencing the start of some pretty evident rolling hills.  Along the way, Cozette passed me by, as I took a walk break, as did Dave.  We passed the mile 2 mark, turned onto North Avenue and then turned again onto Central Park Place NE, passing many homes in the historic Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, before making our way across the Jackson Street Bridge, offering us a nice view of downtown Atlanta, just after mile 3.

Brian, Jim and Jim!  It was cold... BRRR...

From the Jackson Street Bridge
We continued on through the Old Fourth Ward, at one point passing the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site, as well as many important landmarks pertaining to the civil rights leader.  We turned onto Auburn Avenue, passing by the Ebenezer Baptist Church, where King was baptized and where he and his father both served as pastors, as well as The King Center for Nonviolent Social Change.  We turned right onto Randolph Street, then found ourselves on Edgewood Avenue for a mile and a half, running through the neighborhoods of Inman Park and Little Five Points.  Somewhere along this road, a fellow runner tapped me on the shoulder and admired my "Gibblers" - my multicolored Pro-Compression Socks made famous by actress and long distance running aficionado Andrea Barber, who plays the iconic Kimmy Gibbler in the series "Full House," and its current spin-off "Fuller House."

As we made our way further into Inman Park (from Edgewood Avenue, turning onto Euclid Avenue), the houses began to become a bit more grandiose and elegant, many restored to their Victorian grandeur. We then turned onto Moreland Avenue, then made our way through the crowded uphill into Freedom Park toward the Carter Center Museum and Library.  I began to feel anxious, as I really needed to pee, but decided to wait until after mile 7, when the half marathon split off.  We exited Freedom Parkway (passing a delicious jellybean aid station), and then proceeded down North Avenue, where in a matter of time, the half course split off from the full who would continue eastward.  I finally felt less crowded in, as there were far less marathoners at this point in the course - even spotting Jascia, who had caught up to me.  I scanned the distance for a port-a-potty, but none was in sight, so I decided, "whatever, I'm a boy," and decided to pee against a park tree anyway.

Palm Sunday services...
We kept going on North Avenue until the road ended, and we turned right, as we skirted the edge of Candler Park.  Thankfully, the crowd support in this area was really strong, and it helped us pull through as we rounded the mile 8 marker, crossing over the multiple speed bumps in the road, and making a turn onto McLendon Road so that we could run along the bottom edge of the park.  We then turned onto Clifton Road up to mile 9, before a stretch on the very green Ponce de Leon Avenue.  At one point, we made a slight turn right past Deepdene Park and onto Lake Road, as we passed churchgoers assembling during an outside Palm Sunday mass, an interesting juxtaposition to the marathoners running by. After passing the mile 10 marker, we made a slight right turn onto Ridgecrest Road, before hitting DeKalb Avenue and the tracks of the Blue Line tracks of the MARTA above.  We went on a screaming downhill as we made our way southwestward toward the bottom of the hill, where waiting for us were a quintet of Chick-fil-A cows waiting to give out high fives.  We rounded the corner under the underpass onto College Avenue on the other side, and made our way up a slight hill before heading eastward into Decatur.

Having prepped myself by checking out the elevation profile, I was anticipating miles 11-15, as this was going to be considered the most "steady" part of the race - still with some small hills, but for the most part, a gradual downhill that would take us from the highest part of the course to the lowest.  This was also the section through the city of Decatur, a well-off intown suburb located just east of Atlanta.  For the next four miles, marathoners were entertained by signs placed eery 50-100 feet, where each sign would help complete an inventive rhyme about the city, complete with running puns and jokes.  Not only that, but there was a great amount of crowd support along the roads in Decatur.   After mile 12, we reached Agnes Scott College, where the course detoured into the circle drive near the college's entrance, and where students held a fun cheer station to celebrate runners as they went through their campus.

Fun signs along the course in Decatur...

We then took Commerce Drive into downtown Decatur, passing Decatur First United Methodist Church and a cheering congregation (who may have just gotten out of their Sunday service) when turning onto Ponce De Leon Avenue. Somewhere along the way, we hit the halfway point, and I was still feeling good.

Coming upon Emory University...
Over the next couple miles, we went into North Decatur seeing much more of the same, and then after mile 15, we came upon Emory University's campus, the third college campus that the marathoners would pass by or pass through over the 26.2 miles of the Georgia Marathon.  But as we passed through campus over the next mile, I realized how devoid of students the campus was... Dave had mentioned the course went through areas of Emory's campus that students didn't seem to frequent, and he was right - but I was still surprised, nonetheless... it's not like it was Emory's spring break either. (Note: upon further investigation, Emory's spring break ended over two weeks before the Georgia Marathon. So where were all the students?!)

Massive trees in Druid Hills
As we exited Emory's campus, we came upon the area that I may have actually dreaded the most out of the race because of the anticipated hilliness.  Miles 16-19 made one very large zigzag through the neighborhood of Druid Hills, and in a fairly affluent part of the neighborhood, where we ran down streets at the the bottom of tall hills with ginormous mansions sitting atop them.  But while I feared the hilliness, there really wasn't much of that in this area.  In fact, it was actually a really gorgeous backdrop, with lots of huge trees creating a canopy over the street.  We ran down Lullwater Road, returning to Ponce de Leon Ave for a short period of time, before running up Oakdale Road, a turn onto Decatur Road, and then down onto Springdale Road.  Throughout this time, I took a few walk breaks, just taking in the beautiful sights around me, and also paid attention to my fellow runners - there was a trio of Team in Training gals who were having a blast running their first marathon, and I played a little leap frog with them, as well as running into Jascia for the second time in the race.

Sissy that run on Park Drive!
We finally made our way out of Druid Hills cutting eastward through the neighborhood of the Virginia Highlands, inching ever so closer to Piedmont Park at about the 21.5 mile mark, where I was anticipating the Phidippides cheer stop where Dave said he was going to be when I passed.  Somehow I thought it was at mile 20, and I just kept wondering when the park was finally going to appear in the distance.  I was getting a bit impatient - I started to interact a bit more with the cops manning the intersections, telling each of them how their city was too damn hilly. We passed a water stop manned by Emory students (there they were!) and then made our way to mile 21, where once more, there was still no entrance to the park.  Then again, we were finally on Park Drive, and this is where the half marathon route and marathon routes rejoined each other, as a partition was put up in the middle of the road - but the half runners had been long gone by then.  We crested a hill and I passed some ladies giving out water while Single Ladies was playing, so I stopped and gave them a little choreography while passing some time...

Overlooking the Active Oval Loop

Me arriving at Piedmont Park
(Photo by Dave Grudzien)
And then finally, there it was, the entrance to Piedmont Park, and there was Dave with camera at the ready!  He had made his way to that point via MARTA just to see me pass by.  Of course, I tried to do it with a flourish with the accompanying music playing over the speakers at the cheer station, and then of course, my legs were like, "what are you doing? just keep running!" and decided to start to cramp on me.  I massaged it out quickly, and of course kept going - I still had 4.5 miles left!  Just ahead into the park, we did a tiny little out and back around to the top of the park's Active Oval Loop, and hit the 22 mile mark.  We kept running through the park, taking the path out to Midtown, surrounded by folks who were just going about their business like it was a normal day, not like there was a marathon going on or anything.   We exited the park, heading uphill on 12th Avenue and ran clear up to Spring Street, where we made a left turn, taking us south and then west into the fourth and final college campus on the route, the campus of Georgia Tech.

The Georgia Tech Yellow Jacket!
We ran down Techwood Drive, and past the impressive Bobby Dodd Stadium, then turned right onto North Avenue and Tech Parkway, along a stretch that seemed to be the biggest hill of them all (really, not... I was just so damn tired of all the hills).  We were welcomed by a giant inflatable Yellow Jacket at the mile 25 mark, and then from there it was still more or less a climb, heading up Marietta Street back toward Centennial Park for the last 1.2 miles to the finish line.  It was a STRUGGLE BUS, but I made it to the finish, completing my seventh lifetime marathon and third in 2016 in 5:18:10, faster than the downhill, mostly flat, and exhaustion-inducing Phoenix Marathon, but easily the hilliest marathon I have run up to this point.  Truly, that elevation profile was a killer, an EKG chart-like profile of epic proportions.  Dave met up with me after I rested my feet, feeling a little chilly from the wind blowing through the park, and then we headed back to Lawrenceville to get food (mmm... Zaxby's), get myself packed, and then headed back down to the city for my evening flight back to NYC.  With that, I had another marathon under my belt, just checking 'em off like it was my job.  It was just the first of my crazy hilly races I'd have to endure over the next several weeks...


Dave and I in Centennial Park... and me with CRAZY hair!

That statue is trying to copy me....

Victory Headstand #1 at the "Gateway of Dreams" statue

Victory Headstand #2 with downtown and the SkyView Atlanta in the background

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