On March 22, I ran the Georgia Marathon. It was the third time I did this race. I also ran it in 2012 and 2013. This was another late addition to my race schedule. I was originally keeping this weekend open in hopes that Deb and I could travel to Europe for the Barcelona and Rome Marathons.
When I’m looking at races, one of the things I look for is easy logistics. How easy is it to get to the start? How easy is it to get back after finishing the race? Are there hotels near the start or finish? The best case is a race that starts and finishes in the same place and is within a few blocks of a hotel. It’s even better if the expo is also within a few blocks. What could be better than that? How about if there’s transportation from the airport to my hotel, so I don’t need to rent a car?
The Georgia Marathon has all of that convenience. The race starts and finishes at Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. There are a number of downtown hotels that are close to the park. The expo is also nearby. Finally, you can catch a MARTA train at the airport and be downtown in about 15 minutes. I even had a MARTA Breeze Card leftover from a previous trip.
The first time Deb and I traveled to Georgia, we did some sightseeing in Atlanta. One of the places we visited was Centennial Olympic Park. I like starting and finishing races there. It’s the Atlanta landmark that’s most familiar to me.
There are lots of direct flights between Minneapolis and Atlanta. I originally booked a flight that was scheduled to arrive at 2:49 on Saturday afternoon. The expo went until 6:00, so that gave me enough time. A day or two before my trip, I visited the MARTA website and found out that they doing track maintenance, so there wouldn’t be as many trains between the airport and the downtown area. Not wanting to risk being pressed for time, I checked to see if I could get onto an earlier flight. The earlier flights still had seats, but to switch for free, I had to wait until Saturday morning.
Deb usually wakes up before me, and Saturday was no exception. When I woke up, I found out that she had already called Delta to get me onto an earlier flight. I left Minneapolis at 9:00 and arrived in Atlanta around 12:30.
I stayed at the downtown Doubletree. When I got there, it was before the advertised check-in time, but I was able to get into a room right away. After checking in, I started walking to the expo … or so I thought. Without checking, I assumed the expo was at the Georgia World Congress Center, where it’s been held in past years. It was actually at AmericasMart. I got as far as Centennial Olympic Park before bumping into my friend Angie, who sent me in the right direction. As long as I was there, I stopped at the park. They were already starting to set up for the race.
There were several other Marathon Maniacs at this race. The club has a pace team, and they were helping out with the pace groups at this race. I stopped by their booth at the expo to say hello and pose with a few of them.
The pace team was just heading out for a late lunch, so I tagged along and had an appetizer. Later, I had dinner at Nona’s with more Marathons Maniacs, including several members of the pace team.
The forecast was for temperatures in the mid-50s throughout the morning. Normally, that would be ideal running weather. Unfortunately, there was also a 75% chance of rain. That’s not ideal. Mid-50s with rain can feel cold. Not knowing for sure how much it would rain made it tricky deciding what to wear. If I dressed for rain and then the rain stopped, I could overheat.
I’m sure some of my friends wonder why I fret so much about what to wear. I’ve run over 200 marathons. You’d think I’d have this figured out by now. The problem is that I don’t have much margin for error.
I get cold easily. If I don’t dress warm enough, I can easily get hypothermic. I also usually gun for a fast time. Being overdressed, even slightly, can cost you several minutes if you start to overheat. The obvious answer is to dress in layers. Adding or removing layers during a race, however, takes time. For me, one minute can mean the difference between a good race and a disappointing race. I wanted to break 3:30, but I knew I wasn’t likely to do so by a wide margin.
When I woke up, it wasn’t raining yet. I initially opted to dress as I normally would for mid-50s, but also wear polypro gloves and a waterproof hat. I planned to bring a keep a plastic rain poncho in a fanny pack, just in case.
I was about to leave for a group photo in the park when I saw Angie post that it was raining. I looked outside. It seemed pretty wet. This looked like more than drizzle. Realizing that the rain, if anything, would increase, I changed clothes. I put on a long-sleeve polypro shirt underneath my T-shirt. I left the rain poncho behind, but got a trash bag to help keep me dry while I was walking to the start.
Changing clothes took too much time, so I missed the group photo. On my way to my start corral, I bumped into a few Marathon Maniacs, including the 3:30 pacers. I lined up with them and discarded my trash bag a few minutes before the start.
Although it was raining, it wasn’t raining very hard. About a mile into the race, I realized I was going to be way too hot wearing that polypro shirt. I took off my gloves and tried to live with the shirt. The pace felt pretty easy, so I wasn’t in any immediate danger of overheating, but it only got worse.
Our first mile was on the easy side, but we gradually worked into the right pace for 3:30. The early miles includes lots of short hills. I tend to run downhill faster than most people, so I got ahead of the group on the downhills and let them catch up on the uphills. Easing up on the uphills not only helped me conserve my energy, but also kept me from overheating.
After four or five miles, it became apparent that I couldn’t run the whole race the way I was dressed. I felt like it was 80 degrees. I asked one of the other runners to hold onto my gloves, hat and sunglasses, so I could change clothes on the run. First I took off my T-shirt, which had my race bib. Then I took off the polypro shirt. I slipped on my T-shirt to free one hand, and then I was able to tie the polypro shirt around my waist. Finally I put on my sunglasses and hat, and I tucked my gloves back under my waistband. I managed to do all that while keeping up with the group, but it wasn’t easy.
For the next few miles, I was more comfortable. Then my hands got cold, so I put my gloves back on. Putting on wet, tight-fitting gloves while running threw off my stride a little. We were just beginning a long gradual hill, and I started to fall behind the pace group.
Even when I was done putting on my gloves, I couldn’t catch up. I told myself I would catch up the next time we ran downhill. I had to wait. The middle miles have several long gradual hills. This was probably the longest one.
When the course leveled off, I still couldn’t catch up. I started to wonder if I was just having a bad day and wouldn’t be able to maintain this pace. When I reached the next mile marker, I saw that I actually ran a fast mile. The group was just running faster. That continued for the next few miles. I was actually running too fast, but I was falling farther behind. Knowing I was on pace made me feel better.
Although the race starts and finishes in Atlanta, it also goes through Decatur for a few miles. All through Decatur, they put up sequences of signs with silly rhymes, reminiscent of Burma Shave signs. Normally, Decatur is also the area where we get the best crowd support. I saw a few small groups of spectators with umbrellas, but the cold rain kept most people indoors.
I reached the halfway mark in 1:43:23. I was well ahead of my target pace, but the group was barely within sight. Over the next few miles, I got to be almost three minutes ahead of schedule. Finally, I saw that I was gaining on the pace group.
The rain was picking up, and I was also noticing some wind. Earlier I was hot. Now I was freezing. I only had about 10 miles to go, so I had to tough it out.
I gradually got closer to the pace group. At times, I thought I would catch them. Then we’d start up a hill, and I’d have to slow down so I wouldn’t wear myself out. I finally caught them around 18 miles. They had a few fast miles in the middle of the race, but had since slowed down.
We were now in the Druid Hills neighborhood. Every part of this course has hills. Here, they were shorter, but steeper. Running downhill, I could speed away from everyone. Running uphill, I would conserve energy and fall back. On average, I was keeping up with the pacers, but I had to find my own rhythm on the hills.
At 21 miles, we went by an aid station staffed by students from Emory University. They cheered loudly. Actually, they screamed. I was reminded of the Wellesley College scream tunnel on the Boston Marathon course.
With the worst of the hills behind us, I was planning to stay with the pacers for the rest of the race. Then Tony reminded me that I could place in my age group. Realizing that a time under 3:30 was probably what it took to place in the top three, I picked up my effort.
The last four miles are mostly uphill, but it’s fairly gradual. I had a cushion of almost three minutes. Breaking 3:30 was no longer in doubt, but I wanted to finish strong in case an age group prize was on the line. Running uphill, I gave up a little time, but I was able to limit the damage.
As I got closer to downtown, I started to recognize the buildings. At the 25 mile mark, I could see I was starting the last long gradual hill. I knew from experience that it goes all the way until the last turn, where you can see the finish line. My legs were sore, but I fought all the way. I finished in 3:28:05. After getting my finisher medal and a much-needed heat shield, I waited for both 3:30 pacers to finish.
I was cold and wet, so I stayed in the finish area just long enough to get a bottle of chocolate milk and my snack bag. The main sponsor of the race is Publix, and they hand each runner one of these mini grocery bags with post-race food.
After getting cleaned up, I checked the race results and saw that I placed third in my age group. My closest competition was Tony, who I had forgotten was in the same age group. Tony finished fourth, even though he wasn’t trying to run fast. Later, I joined some of the pacers for lunch.
This race was harder than I remembered. I knew it was a hilly course, but there were more tough hills than I realized. I’m relieved to have been able to break 3:30, after struggling in my last few races. I’m also relieved to have endured another cold wet race. Hopefully my weather jinx will end soon.