All right folks. Brace yourselves. I am definitely about to go all Triumph of the Human Spirit on you. And I got a little windy here, too; you'll have to settle in for this one.
Last weekend in Atlanta, was, without a doubt, one of the greatest days I've had to date. Why, you ask? Isn't Atlanta hilly? And weren't you running 26.2 miles all over said hills? Yes and yes. But I'd do it all again in a heartbeat. Maybe not tomorrow, mind you, but soon. Soon.
Jay, Joy and I left Greenville on sunny Saturday morning, heading south on I85 for even sunnier Atlanta. We checked into our hotel, picked up our numbers at the expo, had lunch, and then headed out to drive the course to see what was in store for us.
The course started above, right outside of our hotel room on Marietta Street downtown. From a nerves standpoint, knowing that we basically got to get up and roll down to the start was comforting- no 4 am alarm clock, 45 minute bus rides, or 3 hour waits in 30 degree temperatures for the cannon blast. You just walked to your corral, listened to the national anthem, started your watch, and off you go.
We headed out of town on Marietta to drive the course, knowing that we would encounter a few hills along the way. Many trips to Atlanta and the elevation chart on the bottom of the course map indicated as much, so we were at least somewhat prepared for a few up and downs.
With regards to our scouting mission, let me just say this: had we not driven the course, I would have been a very, very poor sherpa for Joy in her first marathon experience. I probably wouldn't have maintained my sunny demeanor. And I probably would have thrown myself down on the ground at mile 23 and absolutely refused to go. another. step. up. hill.
But we knew what was coming, so we all sucked it up, readjusted our expectations, and headed out to dinner to a great place called Max's Coal Fired Pizza. We ate like marathoners, which is to say like truck drivers, cavemen, and animals. It's one of the downfalls of the taper-you eat like a behemoth and aren't running nearly as much and therefore feel like a beast. It's unfortunate, but true. Ask any runner. This feeling, however, doesn't stop us from mass consumption.
After ordering, our waitress came back to the table and said "You ordered a margarita pizza, correct? Not a margarita?" Her puzzlement must've stemmed from the fact that on top of a pizza, I also ordered a bowl of spaghetti.
With dinner behind us, we headed back to the hotel where we met up with AK. After devising a plan for the morning, we all headed to bed, a good night's sleep thwarted only by crying babies and the noisy Germans in the hallway at 2 am. But it was the night before a marathon...who actually sleeps then anyway?
We ran up through Little Five Points, a groovy place surrounded with beautiful homes.Next we ran down and around the Carter Center, below,
Here we are pre-race, looking fresh and ready to go. I rarely wear a hat, but given the fact that my pony-tail holder broke the last time I was on the treadmill leaving me to look like what I imagined was a stallion but more likely was like a slow, sad, unkempt mare, I decided to go for the hat. I wore the fanny pack too-didn't want to disappoint my legions of fans.
We started at 7 am, still in the dark with a beautiful moon in the sky. Around mile 4 we passed Martin Luther King's birthplace, pictured below, as well as the Ebenezer Baptist Church where he was pastor.
and then through lovely Candler Park, home of one of my favorite restaurants, the Flying Biscuit. It was here around mile 7 that the half-marathoners split from the marathoners. After the first seven (hilly) miles, they were jubilant to break away from us, knowing they only had a 10k left and we had a lot more than that to go.
The homes in Candler Park were beautiful, but the hill at mile 8 was not. Sadly, I can't find an accurate photo to let you know the scope of it, so you'll have to trust me. We turned the corner and started laughing, such was the magnitude of this hill. It wasn't the first or last one we'd face that day, but right after summiting this one in particular Joy took an "Emotional Inventory" and so far, all three of us were happy and enjoying the race.
The next significant landmark was Agnes Scott College
and then onto the halfway point in downtown Decatur, below. I am in love with Decatur. The people here were so kind and encouraging, and the marching band at mile 13 was perfect. So many people came out to cheer for the marathoners-kids set up water stops and handed out gatorade, water, and candy, and another couple with their young daughter were out in their yard playing Born to Run, probably for the 30th time that day.
Next we ran through Emory University, where a small pep squad of high schoolers cranked out a few cheers for us.
And after Emory, we headed down hill and onto Lullwater in Druid Hills where the homes were absolutely stunning. Several folks were having lawn parties here and one crowd in particular was standing behind a large hedge, the tops of their shoulders and their chilled mimosas barely visible. They were just hidden enough from view that it was slightly awkward, like they had something good going on they didn't want us to see, and we had to stand on our (cramping) tippy toes to see them. But you better believe I was looking, wondering what they were doing and why they weren't giving us mad, mad props for running mile 18 past their house. I may have even said so. I can't be sure.
They were only slightly more civilized than the three dudes throwing down beers sitting in folding chairs at the edge of their driveway on Los Angeles Avenue in the Virginia Highlands. One of my favorite transactions of the whole day happened here:
Dudes, to cute young girl walking up driveway next door, who's obviously been running: "Where have you been?"
Cute young girl: "I ran the half-marathon."
Dudes: "The half-marathon? And they gave you a medal for that?"
Virginia Highlands, predictably, was hilly. Have I mentioned this already?
I have no idea who this stunning young couple is, but when we ran through the next portion of the marathon, miles 21-22 through Piedmont Park, pictured below, a cute couple was having engagement photos taken so I thought I'd put these two in for a little spice.
When we came out of Piedmont Park at mile 23, we knew the hill up 12th Street was formidable, and had prepared ourselves for the worst. After running 23 miles of hills, however, this one just seemed like one more hill, another notch on our belt, another story to put in our future metaphorical race bag. So we started up, knowing this was not the last hill, but that it was the biggest one left in the final 5k.
We ran briefly on Spring Street, above, and then through some industrial parts of the city before heading into Georgia Tech, the final university on our marathon tour of Atlanta. With the exception of the child--I mean college student--who'd set up his generator-run DJ equipment halfway up the hill across from the water stop at mile 24.5, it was deserted. I couldn't hear the music over the generator, but kudos to him anyway for being out there.
The final mile, ironically, was relatively flat-quite possibly the only flat-ish stretch of the whole day.
The last 400 yards was not flat, but at that point we were all so happy to be coming into Centennial Park and making the turn for the finish line that it really didn't matter. It had been a great party, but it was time to wrap this thing up.
Jay, who finished the race in 3:38 and thus had already showered, eaten, read the paper, packed up all of our stuff, eaten again, gotten a massage, and toured the CNN building, managed to take this photo of us coming up Marietta at mile 25.5, despite the impending arrival of my fanny-pack, which as you can see is about to be airborne. I really didn't want it cramping the style of my finisher's photo.
Marathon Super Star!
When I returned home from New York last November, AK and I were chatting one afternoon after carpool, and she said something funny to me that struck a chord; she said she'd felt like she'd taken me down a dark hallway, lifted back a curtain, and revealed to me a strange, three-headed dog.
It made perfect sense.
Running a marathon, it's like that. Why on earth would you commit hours and hours of your life to running, to something that causes blisters and stress fractures, to something that requires such focus and intent that it is, quite literally, like tunnel vision, like being in a dark hallway with only more running at the end of it? And why would you run 26.2 miles of hill after hill after hill when you could be back at home, relaxing and watching CBS Sunday Morning and having coffee?
It's a little weird, and a little freaky, and a little three-headed dog-ish. Sometimes it doesn't make a ton of sense. A 5k? Sure. A 10k? Definitely. A half-marathon? Yes, we can! But the big dance, the 26.2, it can seem outlandish at times, it can make you question your sanity.
But then you lead your sister-in-law/best friend down the dark hallway and watch her stare the three-headed dog in the face, watch her conquer her first marathon with grace, humor, and power, and you think, yes.
This is it. This is why.
Photos courtesy of Google Images and my awesome new iPhone