The 6th annual Publix Georgia Marathon was held on 3/18/2012. I was fortunate to win a contest from 26.2 Quest for a free entry into the event. Had I not won that entry, I seriously doubt that I would have run this race. Although Atlanta is relatively close to Knoxville (about 3.5 hrs), I already have the state of Georgia for my quest to run marathons in all 50 states.
In terms of Marathoners, it wasn’t a huge race (1873 marathon finishers), however, with the multitude of Half-Marathoners, this was the first race where Starting Corrals were used. Not anything bad or good, just different.
Since the race starts and finishes in the middle of downtown atlanta, right inside Centennial Park, we decided that it would be best for us (Me, My Lovely and Talented Wife, The Elder and The Younger) for us to stay at one of the Host Hotels. This means that while we get a group rate for our stay, it is still way over our price range. However, being convenient to the CNN Center (Food), Georgia World Congress Center (Expo) and Centennial Park (Start/Finish & Playground) made it worth the extra money.
Directions to The Omni hotel were okay, but there wasn’t super clear directions on where to park to check into the hotel. It might have been all the congestion with the traffic, but we were caught up in traffic that took us about an hour to go about 0.25 mile. When we finally found where we needed to go, it flowed pretty well and we were able to check into the hotel and get to our room.
While we were sitting in traffic right in front of the Georgia World Congress Center, we could see runners walking with over-sized drawstring fabric bags. Sure enough, when we got down to the Expo for packet pickup, all of my race stuff was in one of those bags. The Expo itself was okay. There seemed to be plenty of vendors selling their wares. However, it seemed arranged too close together, so the walking areas were cramped and the place was overall noisy, making it tough because of the auditory sensory overload. Jen took the kids out of the main area where it was so noisy until I was done getting all my stuff.
That night, I prepared for the race by putting the HUGE runner’s bib onto my shirt. I think I can use the bib as a sail for a sailboat, it was so big. The nice thing about having a runner’s bib so large, they printed our name at the bottom. Little did I know that having “TERRY” printed on my bib would be handy on race day. I had only cheered people with names printed, taped and/or written for people to see on their shirts, never having done that myself.
One of the perks of being a racer staying at The Omni was that we received a voucher for a “Power Pack” race breakfast consisting of a gluten item that I couldn’t eat (muffin I think), banana and water. The Marathon Maniacs were taking a group picture at 6:15am just across the street, so I grabbed my stuff and headed for the photo op. After the picture, I wondered to Corral G to wait for about 1/2 hour before race start.
I hadn’t planned on holding on to anything while running, but I decided that since the temperature was forecasted to be in the mid 70s when I was expecting to finish, I wanted to have extra water available in between water stops. In what seemed like a short period of time, the corral began to fill in with runners, like water filling a basin. Not wanting to be on the edge of the corral so I wouldn’t have to fight with the curb or the corral fencing, I moved to the middle.
The corrals had been arranged so that there was a walk way between the corrals. With about 5 minutes until race start, they “broke” the corral setup and everyone was able to move forward to get ready. Then, the gun went off.
The first part of the race, both Marathoners and Half-Marathoners are together and it’s quite congested. It wasn’t until about Mile 2 that there was some separation but it was still crowded, just not on top of each other. The fact that the 1st 2.5 miles are a net downhill, so most runners are going to run faster and the fact that it’s just after the race start, the excitement of the start exacerbates the issue. By mile 4, the pace was set (about a 9:40 minute per mile). At Mile 7, as the Half-Marathoners turned left, one of my fellow marathoners commented that it’ll get lonely with all the “traffic” of half-marathoners on the course. I replied that is true but we also lost their momentum.
Now while more people do make navigating the course a bigger challenge, there is a peloton effect that happens. That is, the larger group of people begin to pace off of each other and moves together more like one body as opposed to lots of individuals. While not always the case, this effect can make a faster pace seem easier.
When I put down my finish time on my registration form, I filled in a PR time of 4:04. Since Atlanta is south of Knoxville, I knew it would be “warmer” than Knoxville. However, the unseasonably warm March that we had made the thought of a 4:04 finishing time unrealistic. I had no time to train in temperatures warmer than 55F. Temperature at race day started in the mid 50s and climb to mid 70. Ironically, it was WARMER in Knoxville than in Atlanta on race day… go figure!
My pace of about 9:40 minutes per mile seemed like a good pace. It was comfortable, but I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to handle it later in the race especially since the sun was rising in the sky and no clouds around.
Running through Decatur was FUN! They had groupings of 4 yard signs that rhymed with the last one saying “DECATUR!”. It was nice to see the whole community backing the marathoners by posting these signs along the course. It gave us something to read! HA! And since you could see the signs from a distance, there was some anticipation on what the next grouping would say. You definitely knew that you were in Decatur, that is for sure! However, all of my energy stayed in Decatur because I started to slow down.
I tried as best as I could to just walk through the water stops, but it was getting warm and I had to cool off. My mile pace times clearly show my slowing down until about Mile 22 when I found a good run/walk ratio. I was having a difficult time remembering some of what was happening out on the course which is one problem of writing the race report so late after the fact.
So, I went to Google Maps – CAREFUL: Pun Ahead – so that I could jog my memory about what was going on during those miles. Even getting down to the Street Level and following the course, I don’t remember much. I remember going through Emory University around mile 15.75 or so. And I kinda remember the golf course around 16.5-17 but other than that, I don’t remember much until about 21.5 when we entered Piedmont Park. So I was mentally “checked out” while I was trying to recover and find a pace that worked.
Looking back at my split times, it seems that while I was “checked out” from Miles 16-21 I averaged near a 12 minute per mile pace. Once I got back into the race, I slowed down to a 12:30ish minute per mile pace. This was a combination of intentional walking and running. The last section of the course didn’t have much in the way of shade, just a few trees here and there with the occasional tall building.
As I left the Georgia Tech area (Around 24.5), I remembered enough of the course map that the route would be going through downtown after the final water stop at 25. I made sure to get as much liquid as I could through that stop. The nice thing about the Georgia Marathon’s water stops was they were long. It seemed that you could walk, get some water and still have the opportunity to get more before you left the area. This provided me the ability to hydrate with some water and Gatorade at each stop, even filling the bottle that I was carrying.
Once the course turned left on Marietta St, it was straight on this road until the last turn to the finish line. It was at this time that I began my final approach to the Finish Line checklist. With a mile to go, it is easy to think that you can plow your way from here to the finish line after all, it’s “just” a mile. However, reality sets in an you must obey the limits of your ability given the current situation. The first thing that I do is take a mental inventory of aches, pains and energy levels.
My legs hurt, but not terrible. I wasn’t worried about them, maybe give them a stretch with about a 1/2 mile to go and I’d be set. My biggest concern was my energy level. I was now in full sun with no reprieve and my water bottle was about empty. I’d have to ditch it anyway, so the problem was to balance the energy that I had left with distance left in the race. This leads me to the second step of my Finish Line Approach.
Once I have an inventory of what I have to work with and issues to handle, I then look to see what runners are ahead of me that I think I can over take before the Finish Line. At this point, there were runners here and there but no one that I “had” to pass. Usually, I set goals of who I am going to beat… who looks like they might be in my age group (even though I don’t look like I belong in my age group) and use them as motivation.
The third thing that I do in my Finish Line Approach is determine at what point I am going to open wide and start sprinting to the finish line. I am what is called a “Kicker” and it’s not because I have played soccer most of my life. A kicker is someone who an increases their level of exertion at the very end in an effort to pass tired or slower runners ahead of them.
The Georgia Marathon Finish Line is set up so that at mile 26.1, there is a left turn to the finish line. Most marathons I have completed, you are able to see the timing clock with about 0.2-0.3 miles to go but in this situation with a shorter distance, I couldn’t use that as my trigger to go “full throttle”.
What I decided to do was use the building on the corner of the last turn as my trigger. When I first started to pass it, I would increase my stride and start to drift to the middle of the road so that I could take a wider turn. This way, I could make a wide enough turn so that I could see more of the last 0.1 of mile sooner and to use the bank of the road to help with my momentum since turns, by nature, slow a runner down if taken too sharply.
Once in the middle of turn, I then began to widen my stride more and focused on the clock. Since there wasn’t anyone in front of me, I didn’t need to go full out but kept a nice pace into the finish line.
I finished in 4 hours 35 minutes 22 seconds and given the heat and sun, I was pleased with my performance. The distance from the actual finish line to the medals and chocolate milk (yum!) seemed pretty far but I am going to chalk that up to “relatively” far because of my perception from exhaustion and not actual distance.
I would definitely run the Georgia Marathon again, maybe I could score another free entry by being an official pacer. Who knows. The course was challenging enough and if it wasn’t for the unseasonably warm weather, I think that I would have been closer to 4:10 finish time.
After the race, I met Jen and The Kids at our appointed meeting area and found out that one of our friends, Seth, is a Marathon Maniac as well. What is even crazier is that in the group pre-race picture, he is standing right behind me!