Saturday, March 26, 2011

You Gotta Get Up to Get Down.

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?
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.
We ran up through Little Five Points, a groovy place surrounded with beautiful homes.Next we ran down and around the Carter Center, below,
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

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Kels, love this. Your analogies make me lol! So true re. 3 headed dog and eating like cavemen!! Your pictures are phenomenal-- love the r engaged couple!..you and Joy look so much like sisters w hats on!! I couldn't sleep the am of your race so I went to an am mass and prayed for yall. Wow, so many hills...

YOur post reminded me of a simple pleaure of mine: watching tourists delight in what can become the ordinary...sometimes on the commute ill see visitors taking pictures on the subway or of a random park bride or street fair and realize I'm not stopping to smell the coffee as I would on my own travel!! I love your running perspective in more ways than one!so proud of all 3 of u and yay for who babysat ;)

p.s. 'john Paul' marathon seinfeld episode was on tonight. So. Darn. Funny. If u are a nyc marathoner 3 headof
ds and all
Thansk for this!

joy said...

Well what else is there to say? All the details were covered. It was a great day! I took emotional inventories from time to time to check to make sure everyone was having fun. More likely, to reassure I was still having fun. It was non-stop stories and laughter the whole way. Occasionally, someone would slow down (I’d like to say speed up, but I am telling the truth here) to listen to us and join in. I really wasn’t sure I would actually enjoy my marathon while it was happening. After driving the course Saturday, I wasn’t even sure it was even possible. I thought the enjoyment of a marathon might take time to soak in like the way mothers tend to gloss over all the less-enjoyable details of the actual birthing process to only recount the good parts of the story for each child’s birth at a much later date(the drugs, the smiling baby, the jewelry). But I was in such good company with Kelley and AK, and they had an incredibly believable “sales job” of fun set out before me. I was already polishing my medal before we started. I certainly don’t remember looking like I did in the final miles like I did in that shot Jay took of us closing in on the finish line. I look like I need some medical attention or a walker or a crutch. In my mind I was striding like a gazelle with a huge smile on my face. My faithful sherpas herded me physically though that day, but more importantly they herded me emotionally. My sparkling personality dulled a bit in the final miles as my chit chat died down to a few grunts here and there. But all AK and Kelley would keep saying was “Isn’t this great?” “This is soooo Awesome!” or “You are such a rock star!” So I could not hear the voices in my own head saying “Good God is that another hill?” or “Can’t you go any faster, this would all be good and over if you could just make that happen faster!”. I never felt slow that day(even though I was), or that I was not going to finish, because my spirits were always up. I will never forget the feeling of accomplishment of finishing my first marathon, but I probably will forget all the bad parts. Actually, I already have. I owe an incredible debt to Kelley and AK for helping me enjoy the day and reach my goal. I highly recommend bringing them along for your first marathon wherever that may be! Thank you so much! I love you Kel!

Aunt tiz said...

Took me two days, but I read the whole thing. Congrats to all three of you for conquerin the hills of Atlanta!

JL said...

oh my goodness...that was a fun, beautiful tour of atlanta! (for me...in my chair)
and...is Aunt Tiz Peggy's sister??...she just made me lol...just like Miss Peggy!
love you-JL

tommyday said...

SOOOOOOOO proud of you JOY! What a day! Kelley you too. You two are not gonna make me cry! Oh yeah, and Jay too.