Sunday, March 17, 2013

Publix Georgia Half Marathon is Done!

The Georgia Half hilly could it be?   These now infamous words have passed my lips before.  In fact, I said it ahead of each of the last four races.  First, before running the Jackson MS race in early January.  Hills?  In Jackson MS?  Who knew?!   Even the race organizers apologized for all of those hills. 

Then I said it again before the race in Baton Rouge LA.  There are no hills in Baton Rouge.  It's on the Mississippi River flood plain.  But I didn't know that the race organizers had a surprise up their sleeves. 

And I expected some hills in Birmingham AL, but what I didn't expect was for the route to purposely seek out the hilliest part of the city and send us there.  I declared this my hilliest race ever - and my stats at RunKeeper confirmed this with a "greatest elevation climb on record" attaboy - and I naively thought that nothing could top this for hill climb. 

I was wrong.  I hadn't run the Columbia SC race yet.  It was relentless.  There were no flat stretches on the Columbia race course at all!  Worse, the steepest climbs were in the last 4 miles of the race.  My RunKeeper account confirmed this, sending me a message that essentially said, "Forget that last attaboy we send you.  This race is now your hilliest." Well, not in those words, but it did declare the Columbia race my "greatest elevation climb" so far.

Then there was Atlanta.  I lived and worked in the Atlanta area for a year.  I know what the city looks like.  And in fact, I expected this one to be hilly.  I expected it to be the hilliest of all the races I'd done so far.  I was correct.  RunKeeper agreed:
RunKeeper "attaboy" for the Atlanta Half Marathon
On race day morning I walked out of my hotel and down Luckie Street to Olympic Centennial Park in the pre-dawn darkness.  The park was a sea of runners, milling about, stretching, chatting.  The floodlights overhead were dazzling and disorienting as I tried to get my bearings.  Barricades blocked what I thought was my egress from the park toward the street, where I needed to make my way to my corral.  I kept walking, skirting the barricades and eventually made it to Baker Street and then turned left toward Marietta Street, where the corrals were lined up.

I had only a short time to wait before our corral started moving forward.  But we were corral N, with 13 corrals ahead of us and O and P behind us, so we had a slow shuffle toward the start line and then eventually we were passing under the green and white balloon arch and on our way! 

The first mile or so is a blur.  The mass of runners, negotiating the city streets in the dark, kept my focus on my immediate surroundings and my footing, making sure I didn't stumble or jostle anyone.  The skies lightened finally and everything around me came into focus.  A long gentle downhill stretch with an uphill ahead provided a stunning view of the runners, filling the street curb to curb and ahead as far as I could see, disappearing over the crest of that hill ahead of me.  It's a scene not always afforded the runners in a race.  It's one that I witness every year that I do the Houston Marathon, as the first three miles take us up the Elysian Viaduct and then down the other side, with 20,000+ runners filling the 6-lane wide roadway from curb to curb and snaking up and over and down the long causeway.

As I ran along, I had no idea where I was, relative to the downtown area.   But then I realized we were running past the Martin Luther King National Park and I suddenly knew exactly where I was.  I'd visited this park on my motorcycle a couple of years ago, getting the national park stamp for my 5th IBA National Park Tour.

A couple of miles later we faced our first major uphill climb, heading toward an area called Little Five Points.  At the top of the hill, a raucous group of folks manning the water station really helped get us up the hill.  We had a short respite before the torture began again, as we turned left and headed up another long steep hill toward the Jimmy Carter Library and Museum.  We were rewarded with a long gentle and gradual downhill.

But before the route led us back to downtown Atlanta, it took us up another hill to the Georgia Tech campus.  Finally we had the skyline in sight and I could see the CNN building off in the distance.  One more mile to go!  Unfortunately, all of that one mile was uphill.   At this point I was doing a lot of walking, but every little depression or flat spot, I broke into a run.  I was perilously close to not bringing this in under my self-imposed finish time goal and I desperately didn't want to do that.  I had a pitiful finish time for the Columbia SC race the previous weekend and didn't want a repeat pitiful performance. 

Then we were on the final stretch...I could hear the announcer, I could hear the crowds, and I could see the CNN building directly ahead of me.  I knew there'd be one last turn just before the Olympic Centennial Park, so I couldn't actually see the finish line.  Just a couple of tenths of a mile to go, and then I was at the turn...and then I could see the finish line ahead.  The hill leveled out and I broke into a run again, heading for the finish.  A quick look at my Garmin watch and I knew that I'd pulled it off. I was under my mental cut-off time, the line that demarcates a "pleased with my time" and "not pleased with my time" finish.  But just barely. 

As I crossed the finish line my thoughts were, "This old girl did it!  She ran two half marathons - hilly ones at that - on back to back weekends."   The young man putting the medal around my neck was genuine in his words of congratulations and I thanked him profusely for being there and volunteering to make the race such a great event.

The Atlanta hills:

1094 foot total climb!  The greatest elevation climb for me to-date.

The medal:

What the 50 States-50 Half Marathons map looks like now:

Next up for half-marathons:  Carmel IN and Louisville KY, both in late April.


  1. Wow, that is quite the elevation change. Good job on another finish. Cute medal too with the shamrock.

  2. And I always heard GA don't have any mountains to speak of :)

  3. Love the pictures of you smiling and running. Thanks for the update.