|If I can't place in my age group, there's always SWAG.|
This year, the stars aligned and I found myself driving to the Galleria to run this race on what looks like a brand new course for the event that raises money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson's research.
Although I'd already downloaded the race's USATF certified course, I drove it after I exited on Cumberland Drive from I-75. And I was glad that I did. I remembered some of this course overlapped part of the Michelob Ultra 13.1 atlanta race that I ran in 2015. So I knew right away this run would be hilly.
What I didn't realize was how hilly it was in the last mile of the race, basically a double hill from Cumberland Parkway up Akers Mill. It turns out it increases 157 feet in elevation over a half mile.
When I pulled up to the 200 Galleria parking deck a little more than an hour before race start, there was a line of about 10 cars in two directions trying to get in. I was wondering if parking in the deck would be a mistake but once inside there was plenty of parking.
I then went up to the top/ground level of the deck and there were lots of vendors, mainly snacks and drinks as you might expect from a company that is a gas station and convenience store. There also was registration, which maybe ran 50-70 people long.
During this time, they offered up bibs to people who wanted to run without an official time, that shortened some of the line, even though the long line only took 5-10 minutes to run through before I had my race bib.
During this time some people with the Braves came by with a stack of hats and foam tomahawks. I got one of each and was happy I did so, because when I went to Braves Opening Day earlier this month I realized my old Braves hat (which was from a stadium giveaway) had started to show its age and I nearly bought a new one.
I was able to get out and do a 1-mile warmup, running down and then back up the big Akers Mill hill. Running slow, I didn't realize how hard of a hill it would be.
I'd timed my run to get back right before race start and soon we were off. My goal was to stay at a 7-minute or 7:05 pace for the first two miles to save myself for the last big hill. In doing so, a large pack of people ran up the first hill to Akers Mill and then down it to Cumberland Parkway, getting farther ahead of me. I decided to not try to chase, although I ran plenty fast during this time. My first mile was 6:53.
Near the end of Mile 1 and the turnaround, there was a taller guy with an unusual running gait who passed me. I passed him back on the uphill part near the turnaround and then on the downhill he sped up to pass me. I continued on a steady pace and passed him when the course went uphill again toward the Akers Mill intersection. In these kinds of races it pays to have a steady cadence and not try to gas and go with other people running.
After the intersection, the course went downhill a ways and then leveled out a little bit before the Mile 2 turnaround. (Mile 2 was 6:59) At this point I saw an older guy, shirtless, running ahead of me. At the turnaround cone I was literally a step behind him.
He sped up at this point but I let him go because I knew about the troublesome double hill ahead. At some point on this first part of the hill and before Akers Mill I passed him. Somehow in my mind I had him pegged as the guy I needed to finish ahead of to make my age group. I wasn't sure I'd be able to keep the lead.
The hill up Akers Mill was crazy. I looked at my watch and I was doing an 8:30, 8:45/mile pace, something that has not happened for a while. I wanted to quit but I knew that if I just got up to the top it would be downhill the rest of the way. I was gaining on a woman ahead and I told myself that they would have to pass "the first overall female" if they wanted to pass me (it turned out she did not place that way).
We turned back down toward the Galleria and there were three African-American men in front of us. Here it kind of gets fuzzy for me. I don't know whether we passed them or if they finished ahead of us but all I know is I made it down the hill, around the curve and then this guy who I saw way ahead in the race (at the time I thought he was the race winner, but he wasn't), came from the direction of the finish and ran back alongside the woman, to try to help her finish strong.
After Mile 3 the course goes straight and then makes the same 90-degree turn as it did in the start back to the finish. I'd been running alongside the two of them and the wheels were starting to fall off. But I was slowly passing the woman on the straightaway and for some reason, I turned to her and said "C'mon, C'mon!" to get her to keep pace before I passed her and finished.
I finished in 22:13 (7:43 for the third mile), with what my watch said was a 4:59/mile kick for the last .13 miles, something I've never done before. I was seriously woozy after the finish that people with the race tried to stop me and ask me if I was ok (I was).
I went to get a goodie bag near the registration tent and I didn't realize it until after the race, but it was filled with lots of snacks and treats as in the above picture! I picked up a few bags of chips, the water, and the Braves items but everything else was already in the goodie bag.
The announcer mentioned that people could check with the registration tent to see their times. So I did. There was a 35-year-old guy in front of me and he placed 25th overall and 10th in his age group. When it was my turn, she said I placed 22nd overall (they said 2,500 people were in this race) and 4th for my age group. (Edit: I placed 33rd of 1,453, I guess I misheard).
I was a little bummed but decided to stay in case it was a situation in which the Masters winner, etc. was in my age group and would bump me up to the podium. But it wasn't, and even worse, the announcer mentioned that 1st, 2nd and 3rd in the 40-49 age group finished with a race pace of 7:04/mile, 7:05/mile and 7:06/mile.
At first I was confused because my watch said my 22:13 was 7:06/mile but that was for 3.13 miles. For a 3.1 mile race, that is more like 7:09/mile. I haven't seen the results yet but I must have lost by 9 seconds or less (still an eternity in a 5K).
I didn't win my age group this time around but I felt extremely good in this race. I passed between six and nine people at the end of this race and am happy with two sub-7 miles. Who knows what will happen when I run that combination and do not find a 157' rise at the end?
As you may know, I'm a hill runner who is not fond of hills so I don't know what to think about running in this next year. But it was a wonderful family event for a good cause (raised $350K!) and the treats were really great!
Time: 8 a.m.
Temp: 68 degrees
Gear: Technical T-shirt, short (Atlanta Beltline Southwest 5K 2013), shorts, cep compression socks (green), Saucony Type A6.