Wednesday, July 6, 2016

PRR - Peachy Road of Remembrance: Peachtree Road Race (7/4/16)

Mile 5 or so

Race: Peachtree Road Race
Location: Atlanta, GA
Distance: 10K
Goal Time: 39:00
Actual Time: 41:29

Tuesday morning, Urvi and I sat on the MARTA train heading back to the Airport.  I watched the industrial areas south of Atlanta whisk by.  The occasional graffiti atop a car parts warehouse interspersed small patches of urban jungle overgrown by kudzu.  I was thinking about my life and where I’d come from and to where I was going…

As many of you know, my reintroduction to road running was October 2009’s Maine Half Marathon.  Since that time I have achieved many things.  I have run 10 marathons, from my first Bay State to my own holy grail – Boston Marathon – not once, but twice.  Through it I’ve made fantastic friends that share a sense of competition and adventure.  And, I’ve met my beautiful wife.

But my original introduction to running was a generation before and 1180 miles south.  I lived in Midtown Atlanta and at ten years old decided that I was going to run the Peachtree Road Race.  I don’t know what my training was like but I remember running with my mother.  I ran several of the little training races put on by the Atlanta Track Club in Piedmont Park.  (I also ran the InmanPark Festival’s 5k, where I won my first age-group award.)  The Peachtree has always been integral to my my life and my running.

1984 Peachtree Road Race
The Peachtree was not only important to me, it was integral to the Atlanta running and non-running communities.  The Peachtree was (and still is) the gold standard of road races in Atlanta.  Its history (starting in 1970) mirrors the history of running and road racing in the US.  From 110 fast runners in 1970 to 60,000 elite, sub elite, recreationally competitive, recreational and first timers in 2016. This year had 250,000 spectators also.  As an Atlanta native, all that I have done in running was incomplete until I returned to the Empire State of the South and ran the Peachtree.

I don’t know what I ran the Peachtree in 1984 or in 1986. I know they were both around an hour.  58 minutes?  But I had bigger, faster goals for 2016. 

But alas, goals are but broken skeletons laid waste by the 3-H club of the Peachtree Road Race – Heat, Humidity and Hills.

The day before, the race organizers announced that the heat and humidity placed the race under cautionary “Yellow” conditions.  They suggested running slower and modifying your goals for the heat (77 at the start) and humidity (75%). 

Our hotel was only three quarters of a mile from the start.  I figured it was would be a nice warm up.  But as soon as I left the hotel, I realized it would be rough.  I was “warm” pretty quickly.  By the time I got to the start line, my shirt was already soaked. 

I was in the seeded corral and we were going to start with the elite men right at 7:30.  I had a game plan and decided not to deviate from it despite the “yellow” conditions.  I ran the first mile right at 6:15 and then sprinted a bit to keep the next two miles between 6:10 and 6:15.  The 5k mark was close to the apartment I lived in when I was in kindergarten (the Benihana is still there 37 years later).  I hit the halfway point at 19:14.  I was right on target.

This is when the third H really comes into play. HILLS.

The next two miles are basically uphill with some respites here and there.  Cardiac Hill carries you up to 3.65 miles (and the Piedmont Hospital).  I started losing pace as soon as Cardiac started.  But once we got to the top, I was comfortable going downhill again.  I managed to do the mile and a half from 3 to 4.5 at 7:10; that was okay, but not what I wanted.  I knew I’d have to get faster if I would really get it.

Then it goes back uphill to the Peachtree/West Peachtree fork.  By the time we reached the High Museum and mile 5, I looked at my watch – 32:45.  I can still get a PR if I run the last 1.2 miles in less than 7:10.  Oh wait…that’s under six minute/mile – I’m not doing that. I still tried to put in everything I had and try to get down to 6 minute miles.

But that wasn’t happening.  It was a little more uphill to 10th Street. 

We took the left off Peachtree and onto 10th Street.  I knew how far it was and how much I had left in the tank; a lot of the former and very little of the latter. 

Throughout my run, the heat kept climbing.  By 8:30 the heat was so bad, the organizers changed the conditions from “Yellow” to “Red.”  (“Black” would be the next step and stop the race.)  Urvi and Sonia each ran half of their race under “Red.”

It never got to Red while I was running, but Yellow was bad enough.  The run down 10th Street was one different for me.  Usually, I’m passing people who are burnt out at the finish in the last quarter mile.  Today, I was the burnt one.

Sonia still managed a Personal Best!  Urvi had a personal worst.  And, I had a personal moment.

As an Atlanta native, I can call myself a runner again.  This second time around, I finished the Peachtree!

Sonia, me and Urvi in Piedmont Park after the Race
I hadn’t been back to Atlanta – other than my Grandmother’s death – since the early 90s. Everything was familiar, yet alien.  Memories from the sights of the houses in Inman Park to the distinct squeal/whine of the MARTA train ignited nerve cells for brief seconds.    And I was carried into hazy memories that were almost like a past life.  Also I was brought into a new Atlanta I never knew. 

Throughout the trip, I took Urvi around to experience my Atlanta and the new Atlanta.  I took her to the Varsity in all its glory and shame.  We visited my old apartment building (long since razed) in Midtown, and had a beer on the deck of Henry's Tavern that now inhabits the building Charles Walker used to run his theater lighting company from.  We walked around Inman Park and saw my two old apartments and visited the restaurant in Little Five Points, the Porter on the site that was Mellow Mushroom

Peachtree Center Station

What'll ya have? What'll ya have?
But we also rode the new Atlanta Streetcar and sampled the new Atlanta beer scene.  We stayed in the new New Buckhead (after the boom of the Nineties and the bust of Aughts).  Urvi and I went to Treehouse in Peachtree Hills, and Sonia took us to the hip Cypress Street in Midtown.  And, we saw Mauricio at a pub in Lenox.

New Atlanta Streetcar

Mauricio, Me and Urvi
As I sat on the MARTA heading back to the airport and watching the warehouses and train tracks and kudzu, I contemplated the race, the city, the past, the future.  Barring work travel or weddings, this would probably be my last trip to Atlanta.  My family is long moved on from the city and "My Atlanta" is now nothing but snippets of memories that are almost black and white 8mm scenes – obscured behind smoky clouds of time. 

This was probably my good bye to my native city.  It’s not sad but it is a deep sense of fleeting nostalgia.  I’m happy to have returned and to have done it with Urvi.  I’m happy to have experienced the Atlanta of the past 30 years that I never knew.  I’m so happy to have said good bye by running with Urvi and Sonia and 60,000 of my next closest friends. Good bye, Atlanta and thanks for one last trip down Peachtree.

King Center