Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Race Report: Jeff Galloway 13.1

When we last left off, I had just run my fastest marathon of 2016, only a mere 1 minute and 16 seconds off of my PR.  We were in Kiawah Island, South Carolina, and were barely there for 14 hours before we were back on the road, as we were headed west to Georgia.  Sunday morning would bring us the Jeff Galloway 13.1, a race that friends from the Atlanta area considered having the flattest course of the half marathons within Atlanta's city limits.  That is saying a lot because Atlanta is notoriously hilly!

With two cars - mine and Donna's - we caravan'd over to Charleston airport to drop off my rental, and then got into Donna's car to join her and our friend Andrea on a 5 hour drive to Lawrenceville, Georgia, where we would be staying with our good friend Dave for the night before the half marathon.  It was a fun drive, as we were entertained by Andrea's punny jokes the whole way there.  We also made stops to eat some absolutely necessary southern-style fried chicken from southern US mainstay, Bojangles.

Pre-race with fellow FRNY!
We arrived in Lawrenceville in the evening, and already there waiting was my friend Brenton, who I had connected with Dave back in November during the expo for the NYC Marathon.  Brenton is a FRNY member who relocated back to his hometown of Birmingham, Alabama, and I convinced him to come to Atlanta to do the race.  We worked out logistics and he came down to Lawrenceville to stay with Dave, too.  We called it an early night, as we had to drive about 40 minutes into Midtown Atlanta early in the morning and to find nearby parking.

The morning came quickly, and I stretched out my tired muscles from the near-PR setting marathon the day before.  This race was not going to be fast at all, and in fact, I decided that I was going to treat it as my victory lap for running so strongly in my last marathon of the year.  We drove into Atlanta, and parked near the startline, close to the Hyatt Atlanta Midtown.  We would meet friends Deb and Cozette at the Hyatt, but at the same time I could pop into the VIP breakfast that was happening in the hotel's restaurant.  It was a very cold and frigid morning, so we opted to stay as warm as possible indoors before having to go outside and get started with the race.

Singing the anthem
(official photo by Jeff Galloway 13.1)
The Hyatt is quite literally right around the corner from the startline at 11th Street NE and Peachtree Walk NE, so we took our time getting ourselves there until we absolutely needed to. 
With the race starting at 8am, we made our way outside about half an hour prior, and found the start stage, where I got to chat with Jeff Galloway himself before singing the anthem.  The corrals took over each of the three streets leading to the intersection, with the start arch on the other side.  I sang the anthem, making it a good one since it would be my last one of the year.  A few days after the race, I'd get an e-mail from my contact with the race, and it noted a review of the race that they had received, which included the following: "One last note, the dude you had singing the National Anthem was incredible. It was a classic, beautiful rendition. Even as cold as we were at the start, this was an awesome start to a great race."

Club photo at the startline (official photo by Jeff Galloway 13.1)

With Jeff Galloway himself

Running along Central Park Place
After I sang, we were off, immediately running downhill on 11th Street, losing 57 feet of elevation in about 1/4 mile, before turning right onto Juniper Street NE.  We'd continue for about 3/4 of a mile on a gradually uphill Juniper (gaining back all that elevation we had just lost) before turning left onto Ponce de Leon Avenue NE.  My sore legs still managed a 10:30 first mile, as we headed eastward, and then turned right onto Argonne Avenue NE, which turned into Central Park Place NE as we passed North Avenue NE.  The surroundings quickly became more residential (and gradually uphill, yet again) as we made our way through east Atlanta's Old Fourth Ward neighborhood, an area we'd familiarize ourselves with over the next four miles.

Early miles along Juniper Street
Cold enough to wear the full balaclava

Downhill along Freedom Parkway
We turned once more, left onto the Baker-Highland Connector, which we'd follow for two short blocks, before getting onto the expansive four-lane Freedom Parkway.  It was a nice downhill as we progressed eastward, running underneath what appears to be a tunnel - an underpass that seemed to be underneath an unused overpass for a never-built road.  We took the next "exit" which was actually the "Freedom Parkway East" that took us right past the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum and Carter Center.  We followed the roadway up to the intersection where Freedom Parkway East, Freedom Parkway, and North Highland Avenue all met, and where an aid station was located, before getting onto the sidewalks that form part of the Freedom Park Trail.  This sidewalk, another nice downhill section, would take us straight to a part of the recently developed BeltLine trail system.

Running down the Freedom Trail toward the BeltLine

Entering the BeltLine
The BeltLine is a former railway corridor that, once finished, will form 33 miles of redeveloped tracks and rights-of-way, that is planned to include a neighborhood-serving transit system (likely streetcars); footpaths for non-motorized traffic, including bicycling, rollerskating, and walking; and the redevelopment of some 2,544 acres, through the expansion of existing parks and the creation of new parks.  Additionally, multi-use trails will continuously encircle the central part of the city, promoting redevelopment. We would enter the Eastside Trail of the BeltLine off of Bernina Avenue and Elizabeth Street, where the trail would go underneath the Freedom Parkway overpass and curve its way northwestward into the Virginia-Highland neighborhood.  All in all, we would run about 1.5 miles along the Eastside Trail, being able to admire the beautiful public art and the views of the Midtown skyline in the distance, notably with the Ponce City Market in the foreground.

Midtown skyline with Ponce City market in foreground

Public art along the BeltLine
Running through Virginia-Highland
The course then took us on a section that ran through the residential streets of Virginia-Highland, an affluent neighborhood with many bungalows and historic houses from the 1910s to the 1930s.  We came off of the trail just past Monroe Drive NE and Virginia Avenue NE, then ran toward Ponce De Leon Place NE, where we turned right.  At that intersection, we could see runners coming in our direction that were turning right onto Park Drive NE (the continuation of Ponce De Leon in a northerly direction past the street we were on), and in fact, one of those runners I saw as I turned was Brenton!  He looked to be having a good that race, as at that point in time he was two miles in front of me at mile 8.25.

Running through the rolling hills of this neighborhood was tough, as I was reaching my tiredness stage from having been up so early that morning.  I dropped to a walking pace as we made our way down Ponce De Leon and turning left onto St. Charles Avenue NE, until I was able to regain back my endurance, running longer stretches as we turned left again onto North Highland Avenue NE, and then left again back on Virginia Avenue NE.  We took the right onto the curvy Park Drive, then made a left onto Monroe Drive, before we emerged on the southeastern corner of Piedmont Park on 10th Street NE.

We hugged the demarcated shoulder of the westbound lane of 10th Street as we made our way along the perimeter of the park, toughing it out on this gradual uphill.  We turned right onto Piedmont Avenue, and then followed the western edge of the park northward.  Along the way, I ran into friend and local Atlantan Jessie, and we ran together for the remainder of the race, at that point with only 5k left in the race.  We took advantage of the steady downhill that finally greeted us as we were halfway along the northeastern edge of the park, before we were directed to turn into the park from Monroe Drive, and follow the pathways to the finish, deep inside the park.  We made our way through the park, curving around the Dog Park and the Park Tavern, using the paved paths and seeing people way on the other side of The Meadow heading toward the finish, eventually making our way around Lake Clara Meer to the finish line near the Sydney Lanier Monument and The Greystone at Piedmont Park.

Official photo of me finishing from Jeff Galloway 13.1
I crossed the finish in a respectable 2:36:18, not bad considering my tired legs.  I celebrated inside the Greystone, where a delicious brunch was offered to VIP runners, before returning outside to see friends who were either finishing or participating in photo ops with Jeff Galloway himself.  Once all my friends trickled in, we headed back into Midtown near our car, grabbing a bite to eat at Henry's (and having a celebratory drink!)  We stopped at Jeff Galloway's running store Phidippides, where I donated my running shoes to close out the year, before heading back to Lawrenceville to shower up.  Not long afterward, we headed to Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson Airport for our flights home, glad to finish a big weekend of races and for some, like myself... excited to finish the year out strong!

Victory Headstand with the skyline of Midtown

Donating my worn out shoes!

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