The weekend began well. Darcy and I drove up to Atlanta early on Saturday, excited about the race and staying downtown. I have done this race 3 times and always enjoyed the course. Yes, I know it is very HILLY but as a flatlander I have always appreciated the challenge. And yes, I knew that the weather forecast called for rain on race day, but hey, we have no control over the weather. I was prepared with an assortment of clothes to get me through.
After all, this race was to be #200 for me – and I was ready, or so I thought. We arrived at the Embassy Suites at 12:30 pm. Here I will mention the name again – Embassy Suites in downtown Atlanta – as a precautionary note; stay here if you dare. I was not surprised that our room was not ready so early; that was okay. We left our luggage with the concierge and headed to Max Lager Grill for lunch. Then we were off to the expo at America’s Mart Atlanta. My first disappointment was relatively minor; the expo was much smaller than in previous years and Publix, the major sponsor, had no coupons and no food samples. The tee shirt was a fluorescent lime green, short-sleeve tech, with a small picture on the front and Publix logo on the back. The shirt was so ugly that I didn’t even bring it home with me. Likewise, the poster for the race. And the backpack had the Publix logo on it and nothing about the races (full, half, and 5k). I use these little backpacks a lot but why in the world would I want to advertise a big grocery store on my back? The backpack also did not make it home with me. Okay, so the expo was a disappointment but still not a big deal. After all, this was race #200. I was excited. We walked back to the hotel to check in.
WARNING! What follows is the long tale of our crazy hotel ordeal. Skip the next couple of paragraphs if you want to read about the race.
It was now 2:30 in the afternoon and official check in time was 3. The room was still not ready so I told the desk clerk we would wait in the lobby until 3 o’clock. At 3:02, I asked again for our room. I was again turned away. Apparently housekeeping hadn’t cleaned our room yet. So we waited. And waited. And waited some more. I stood by the desk waiting and listening. I saw that others were also turned away. Hmmm – something must be wrong here, I thought.
Finally, a different desk agent motioned to me that they had found something for us. We retrieved our bags and made our way up to the 6th floor. Our room faced Centennial Park. We started to unpack. It was then that I heard the thump thump thump of bass sounds coming into our room over loudspeakers in Centennial Park. Hmmm – what is going on? I had asked for a quiet room; I always ask for a quiet room. I made this reservation 8 months ago. How will I ever get any rest with this noise? Back down I went to explain the problem and ask for a different room – any room that was quiet, maybe one facing a cemetery. I was told that there was a weeklong concert to be held in the park and that the noise would continue throughout our 2 night stay. There was no other room available, at least not one that was clean. I offered to clean the room myself. Give me a dirty room and I will take care of whatever mess there is. No, that would not be feasible, I was told. There was a room on the opposite side of the atrium that faced a roof. But it was not clean. Yet. I said we would wait, in the lobby, until it was clean.
Now it was approaching 5:30 pm. I had begun the day at 4 am in a great mood. As the day wore on, I was getting tired and when I am tired, I get cranky. The hotel’s happy hour had begun so I lined up to get a glass of wine while we waited. I began to get my clothes ready for the race, pinning my bib to my mesh vest and pulling out of my suitcase the clothes I planned to wear. I ignored the strange looks I received from others in the lobby. On the evening before a race I usually turn in around 7 so I can get up early to have my coffee. I made a contingency plan to dress in the ladies room in the lobby if need be. Finally, a little after 6, we were told our room was available. At last! – We went up to the 2nd floor and, after finishing the last of my preparations, I fell into bed exhausted. A further note about the hotel – we had stayed here 3 times on previous visits and was treated very well. I realize I was not the only person who was waiting an unduly amount of time for their room. I also realize that in the big scheme of things, this was a really small issue – but I can say all that because I am now at home and well rested. If you are thinking of doing this marathon, I would suggest staying at one of the many other hotels around the area.
Now on to the race! The Georgia Marathon follows a wonderful course, taking runners and walkers through historic Atlanta sites like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthplace, the Carter Center, and the campuses of Agnes Scott College, Georgia State University, Emory University, and Georgia Tech. The neighborhoods, especially Decatur, usually get into the race scene with funny signs and lots of spectators. Well, this year the signs were up but the constant rain kept most of the spectators indoors. The non-stop roller coaster hills are hard on the quads but it was fun (in a masochistic way) to deal with them, especially since most of my races this year have been essentially flat.
I rose early, had my bread and coffee, dressed, and walked outside about 20 minutes before the 7 am race start. The race begins on Marietta Street, right near several hotels, and ends in Centennial Park across the way, so logistics are easy. Because of the rain, runners and their supporters were huddled in various building entryways. The corrals, even 15 minutes before the race, were deserted. Finally, someone sang the national anthem and people began to filter into their respective corrals. I expected to have to wait about 30 minutes until my corral, next to last, would cross the start line, but fortunately the announcer said that there would be no wave start this year. That was a good idea, and I am sure it was due to the constant rain. Several years ago I did the Country Music Marathon in Nashville and had to stand in my corral for 45 minutes in a driving rain. I was glad not to repeat that situation.
It took about 6 ½ minutes for me to cross the start line. The never-ending hills began right away and I walked up them and, whenever I could, ran down them. The rain was constant but not a deluge and the temperatures were in the mid-50’s so it was not freezing cold. I kept my eyes on the ground, partly to avoid potholes, and partly to keep the rain out of my eyes. The half marathon splits from the full at mile 7, and just as the half people turned left I heard my name called. It turned out to be Scott, a fellow Walking Board contributor. It was great to see him again. During the race, I saw Malissa, another friend and a Darksider. She’s a strong runner but occasionally gets winded in the later miles, so we kept leapfrogging each other throughout the race.
I have to admit that by mile 15, my legs were starting to scream. Running downhill started to hurt, so I just kept a fairly steady walking pace going up and down the hills. There were timing clocks throughout the course and I could estimate that I was on pace for a finish around 6 hours. The thought that this was marathon #200 kept propelling me onward. By mile 20, the 6 hour pace group passed me and I struggled to keep up with them, moving ahead when they slowed to walk and falling behind when they ran. At mile 24, I got a second wind and moved past them for good, and when I saw the finish line ahead of me, I ran the last few yards. Sure, my hamstrings cramped up right away but it was worth the pain to finish in 5:57:58! As I crossed the finish line, I hoped that the announcer would call my name out but he evidently was on a break just then. The music was so loud that I never saw or heard Darcy shout at me, so I walked, slowly, to get my medal and hunt down some food. Finally I saw my husband waving to me and we walked to a table way at the other side of the park to pick up a bag of food and check my results.
At that point, I just wanted to shower and change into some dry clothes. Darcy and I celebrated by having dinner at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse right in the lobby of the hotel. After a good night’s sleep, we left for home early the next morning.
Some things to note about this race:
- It was a good idea to dispense with the wave start. The first few miles were a bit crowded but at least we were moving instead of getting soaked
- The police and volunteers were terrific – traffic control was never a problem and the volunteers were are most enthusiastic supporters
- There was real stuff to nibble on the course, including jelly beans, orange slices, pretzels, and cookies, as well as Carb-Boom and the usual water and Gatorade
- Be prepared for the hills – if you can’t train on hills, just take them slow and easy. If you don’t like hills, stay away from this course
- The course time limit is supposed to be 6 ½ hours but the finish line remained open for almost 7 hours and there is even a pacer for extreme back-of-the-packers. As long as you finish with that pacer, you can finish the race and get an official time and medal
- The post-race food was abysmal – you would think that Publix, THE major supermarket chain in the southeast, would be able to offer more than a banana, a generic granola bar, and a bag of pretzels.