Heather said : Karen and I travelled to the US for America’s Thanksgiving holiday to visit our friends Bill and Dianna who live outside Atlanta. Dianna and I started our running careers back in 1999 when we both lived in Houston and this was the perfect opportunity to run another race together.
Thursday 22 November started bright and clear, warmer than usual for the time of year, but not so hot as to be inclement for running. We’d checked in to the recommended race hotel the night before and been round the Race Expo to pick up our race numbers, wicking quality long sleeved race t-shirts, and goody bags. Then there was time for a wander round the Expo, buying a few gels and being tempted by holiday discounted running apparel.
The Starbucks in the hotel opened at 6am and we queued up with a bunch of other runners to order our tea, coffee and instant oatmeal, complete with “fixings” otherwise known as brown sugar, nuts, dried fruit and instant carbs. The Scots in the party went off to trace down some salt and soon everyone was happy.
We drove out to Turner Field, the home of the Atlanta Braves baseball team, and parked about a km away from the start line. Early excitement involved a car crash immediately behind us as we were turning into the parking lot. A gigantic Yukon truck smashed into the front end of a not quite so gigantic SUV which pulled out into a lane of traffic without looking. Crunch! We were shaken but not hurt, and glad no one else was, apart from a lot of metal strewn about the ground.
And so to the race itself. As it was Thanksgiving Day, the crowds were considerably smaller than other big city half marathons – only about 10,000 people showed up for one of several races – the half marathon or 5K for adults and the Mashed Potato Mile and Gravy Gallop for the under 12s and the under 7s.
I got into my corral (second last to start) and met up with the volunteer pace team from the Atlanta Track Club. My aim was to go out and enjoy the run, not worrying about time, but if I could finish inside 2:30 I knew I’d be happy. There were about a dozen others wearing the 2:30 signs on their backs and 3 pacers each holding a 2:30 sign on the end of a stick. We set off under the Olympic Rings Arch from when the Olympics were in Atlanta in 1996, and headed in the direction of downtown and the Golden-Orbed State Capitol building. Atlanta is surprisingly undulating and this was definitely a distinctly humply course. I’d managed to leave my GPS watch back at my friends’ house charging up, so had to rely on heart rate and how I was feeling to tell what my pace was. I trotted off at what I hoped was a nice steady pace, and I’m sure all the Sunday long runs with ERN had helped me get in the right groove.
The pace team were following a run 10, walk 1 minute protocol so after a big beeping sound the entire group started walking en masse. This didn’t really suit my race plan so I just plodded on at my same old pace.
The course wound through a beautiful urban park – Piedmont Park – and past the historic Oakland Cemetery, where Margaret Mitchell of Gone with the Wind fame is buried. With my new found appreciation of cemeteries after Murdo’s excellent Remembrance Run, I resolved to come back and visit the graveyard once the run was over.
I had left the 2:30 pace group at about the 3 mile marker but come 10 miles and they’d caught up with me again. I tried to fall into step, although with a few steep hills, I was struggling to keep my running pace even. It wasn’t too long before we were passing the State Capitol again and were just 2 k from the finish line. I burst into a 100m dash finish with the usual red faced extreme effort and short stagger as I hurled myself over the finishing line and had a ‘moment’ to recover while some kind locals asked me politely “are you alright, ma’am?”.
We met up with Dianna, Bill and Karen who had brought some beers from the car to start the carb reloading immediately. After a lovely hot shower we headed out to a wonderful local restaurant for Thanksgiving dinner. A plateful of turkey, cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, green beans and cornbread stuffing followed by chocolate pecan pie or pumpkin and ginger cheesecake and we were thoroughly stuffed.
I would highly recommend the Atlanta Half Marathon as a very well organised race (which drew on 1,200 race volunteers) and which followed a pleasant and interesting course. Atlanta itself has much to offer – from the modern icons of the “World of Coke” and the CNN Tower to the civil rights history of Martin Luther King’s birthplace and church where he began preaching, and the national historic site where he is now buried; the Jimmy Carter Presidential Library, and not forgetting plenty of civil war history and Gone with the Wind antebellum homes and reminders too.