Monday, August 19, 2019

Race Report: Invesco QQQ Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon

When we last left off, I had just completed the Route 66 Marathon in Tulsa, Oklahoma, culminating a years-long challenge of completing 50 states of national anthems sung all over the US and one for marathons. I left Tulsa on Sunday night, flying to Atlanta to stay the night there with my friend Winnie, as flights back to New York that maximized my time post race in Tulsa with friends and family numbered few.  I made it so I booked a flight early the next morning from Atlanta back to New York to work the Monday through Wednesday before Thanksgiving weekend.

Since 2015, I've always scheduled an international race for Thanksgiving weekend, as flights internationally manage to be decently priced compared to domestically thanks to the holiday.  In 2015, I went to Curaçao; followed by Florence, Italy in 2016; and Osaka, Japan in 2017. The plan this year was to run the Maratón Internacional de Panama in Panama City over Thanksgiving weekend, and I had yet to make my travel arrangements about a month before the trip.  It was only after talking more with Winnie, and a bit more research that I realized that Delta had direct flights down to Panama City from Atlanta on Thanksgiving night that were actually pretty reasonable (another tip, when you travel ON the holiday itself, flights are even cheaper!), which made it possible for me to potentially run the Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon in Atlanta put on by Atlanta Track Club, where Winnie works.  She even put in a good word for me, got me a bib for the race, and managed to nab me the national anthem gig for the race as well. Even better, I'd find out a couple weeks before the race that I'd do double duty, also singing "God Bless America" prior to the 5K that began about 15 minutes prior to the half at the same startline.  Score!

Ultimately, Winnie would house me Sunday night only to do the same for me on Wednesday night to start an epic long Thanksgiving weekend. It was a rough few days, as I had been feeling under the weather since coming back from Tulsa (perhaps running in 30° wet and windy weather may have contributed to it?) and got some antibiotics to combat the nastiness that made my throat feel like it was being constantly punched. So after an early dismissal from work on Wednesday, I took of from JFK and flew down to Atlanta, where I got on the MARTA train to take me back up to the station nearest to where Winnie lived, where she picked me up, we grabbed a quick bite to eat (YES to sub sandwiches at Publix!) and then headed back to Winnie's apartment so she could get as much shut-eye as possible before her super early wake up to head to the start to prep for the race.

Reuniting with local friends!
My friend Jim was also running the race, as well as our friend Brian, so with logistics for the race morning, I had him get my bib for me as well as arrange for him to pick me up on Thursday morning so I could get some rest as well (and not have to leave with Winnie.) They picked me up at around 5:45, and we made it to the parking lot near the race start at Georgia State Stadium by 6:15.

A Thanksgiving day distance race has had a long history in Atlanta.  From 1981 to 2009, the Atlanta Marathon was considered the longest distance race of several turkey trots held on Thanksgiving Day across the country. In 2010, the marathon moved to a date in October, and in its place, the Atlanta Track Club put on a Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon & 5K, the largest half marathon on the holiday in the country.
With Winnie before the race start!
Staying warm inside Jim's car, and now having Jim's friend and coworker Jessie (another runner) join us, I notified my contacts as well as Winnie that I was onsite, and came out, finding another friend, David, before heading to the start to sing "God Bless America" for the 5K at 7:25.  15 minutes later, I'd sing the national anthem before the half and then begin the run. It was a chilly morning in the low 40s, though still warmer than the weather we had for the marathon in Tulsa.  I was feeling considerably better than the last few days, and felt good about my singing - though still had trepidations about my running.  But by 7:45, we were off and running.
 
Singing "God Bless America" for the 5K start
 
Singing the "Star Spangled Banner" for the Half Marathon start

Our startline on Hank Aaron Drive
From the startline on Hank Aaron Drive, the main street between parking lots, we took off northward under the scaffolding-esque Olympic rings archway and  tower that held the Olympic Cauldron at Fulton Street into downtown Atlanta.  We would be returning this way for the finish, so I took off, maintaining a solid pace for the first mile as we made our way on an overpass over the mishmash of highways where I-20 and I-85 connected. Up ahead, the Georgia State Capitol and its golden dome gleamed in the brightness of the morning sun.  We passed Liberty Plaza and entered downtown, before turning left onto Decatur Street, the "Main Street" through Georgia State University's urban campus, built into the heart of downtown Atlanta. My first mile clocked in at a nice and steady 9:13.
Running up Capitol Avenue into downtown Atlanta
The Georgia State Capitol
CNN Center
Past the district of Five Points (whose name refers to the convergence of Marietta Street, Edgewood Avenue, Decatur Street, and two legs of Peachtree Street), we continued on along Marietta Street, head northwestward making our way past such notable downtown Atlanta locations such as the CNN Center, Centennial Olympic Park, and the College Football Hall of Fame. We hit the second mile of the race just before passing Ivan Allen Jr. Boulevard, reaching it in 10:07. This next stretch of Marietta Street, roughly 1.3 miles in length linking Downtown to West Midtown was only recently redeveloped, with a smattering of new buildings mixed in with the more industrial surroundings it long had encouraged. A woman I was running next to, who I found out was running her first half marathon, found her family cheering along a sidewalk here, which was really nice to see. Before long, the mile 3 mark had passed, which I did in 9:33.  I managed the first 5K in under 30 minutes... not bad!
Street art along Marietta Street
Running through Atlantic Station
At Northside Drive, we turned right, following the northbound lanes as we made our way alongside the western edge of Georgia Tech Unversity's campus into the neighborhood of Home Park.  Northside Drive was actually a nice steady downhill, so I managed to speed up, dipping my moving pace for the latter half of the 4th mile to below 9 minute pace. We turned right onto 16th Street into the upscale residential/commercial neighborhood of Atlantic Station, running past an IKEA and then eventually making our way down 17th Street and its main retail and office space complex known as The District. After making our way on the overpass over the "Downtown Connector" of I-75/85, we hit the 5th mile and then turned right onto Spring Street.

Symphony Tower on 14th Street
Spring Street took us southward until we were directed to turn left onto 14th Street, where we reached our first real hill of significance of the race. 14th Street has a number of tall skyscrapers, including Symphony Tower, a 41-story office and retail glass building, notable for its sweeping fins extending upwards from its north and south walls; as well as One Atlantic Center/IBM Tower, the third tallest building in Atlanta at 50 stories and 820 feet in height.  My GPS went a bit nuts through here, and the largely uphill terrain forced me to walk a bit, but eventually, we made it to Piedmont Avenue and the 14th Street Gate into Piedmont Park, Atlanta's peaceful and serene urban park, one I've gotten to run through in each of the three distance races I've run in Atlanta so far.

Piedmont Park
We ran just under a mile through Piedmont Park, first crossing the 10K timing mat (a 1:01:29 split for me), then making our way around the northern edge of the Active Oval. From the pathway, we then returned to the main roadway through the park, taking Charles Allen Drive alongside the eastern shore of Lake Clara Meer, the 11.5 acre lake at the park's center. We exited the park at the Charles Allen Drive Gate, turning right onto 10th Street on the park's southern edge, running westward.  10th Street, which ascended uphill (and into one of the hilliest parts of the race), formed the northern boundary of the Midtown National Historic Register District, the largely residential part of Atlanta's Midtown consisting of historic wood framed bungalows. We turned left at Juniper Street, heading south for about 1 3/4 miles as it turned into Courtland Street through the neighborhoods of Sono and Peachtree Center. The hilliness here made my mile 8 split the slowest of the entire race at just under 11 minutes, but I managed to return to a 9 1/2 minute mile for mile 9, just before we turned left onto John Wesley Dobbs Avenue to head east of downtown.

Running down Courtland Street
After taking the underpass below the Downtown Connector, we were on Irwin Street running through the historic neighborhoods of Sweet Auburn and the Old Fourth Ward.  To our right was the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Park, encompassing King's birth home, Ebenezer Baptist Church & his final resting place.  At Randolph Street, we turned right, curving around Edgewood Avenue to Bradley Street before we reached Decatur Street.  At Decatur Street, we turned right, running adjacent to the above ground MARTA rapid transit tracks of the Blue and Green lines, reaching the 11 mile mark as we turned to Grant Street, where the King Memorial Transit Station was located.

We ran south along Grant Street for a block before reaching Martin Luther King Jr. Drive, where we turned right, passing a few loft-style apartment buildings (some that were once factories), when in the distance we began to see the golden dome of the Georgia State Capitol once again.  After crossing the Downtown Connector for the last time, we made our way around the Capitol building, before turning right onto Capitol Avenue, to head back down toward Georgia State Stadium to the finish line.  I glanced down at my watch and observed that it was 1:59:31 as I hit the 12 mile mark; I felt confident that I'd be reaching the finish line in approximately 2:10 to 2:15.
About to come through the arch for the finish!
Official photo from the Invesco QQQ Thanksgiving Day Half!
Official photo from the Invesco QQQ Thanksgiving Day Half!
Victory Headstand inside the stadium
After passing the archway for the last time, we ran between the parking lots toward the stadium, where we would turn right into the finish line that sat on the 50-yard line.  Originally built as Centennial Olympic Stadium in 1996 to serve as the centerpiece of the 1996 Summer Olympics, the stadium was converted into a baseball park to serve as the home of the Atlanta Braves, known as Turner Field.  The Braves played there from 1997 to 2016 before moving to SunTrust Park at the Battery Atlanta for the 2017 season, and the facility was eventually purchased by Georgia State University, which rebuilt the stadium a second time as Georgia State Stadium, designed for American football. I crossed the finish line in 2:10:43, with some 1,000 feet of elevation change!

Thanksgiving dinner!
After getting my customary headstand photo inside the stadium, I waited for friends to finish their races, which weren't too long after me; we each grabbed a small box of pie waiting for us as we left the stadium.  I joined Jim and Brian back to Jim's house, where we all could get a much needed shower before heading off to get lunch.  We headed into Midtown where we went to Cowtippers Steaks and Spirits, and I was thrilled to actually have a “real” Thanksgiving meal on Thanksgiving Day, with turkey and all the trimmings, and pumpkin pie!  With all of my stuff with me already, Jim then took me to the airport, as I had a flight scheduled that evening from the Atlanta airport to head off to Panama to continue my running tour for the long weekend. I was happy to have some warmed up legs, ready to check another country off my list!
Another medal!

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