Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Peachtree Road Race---DNS

If you live in Atlanta, it is nearly impossible not to have some connection to the Peachtree Road Race. With 55,000 participants, you either are doing it yourself, or know someone doing it, or know a volunteer.

You must plan ahead to get in this race...most of the time. Race applications are submitted in March, and if you want to get into the coveted time qualifying groups, you must run another ten K within a prescribed range of times. Of course there are those that buy numbers, those that get numbers from vendors such as Nike and Waffle House, and even those that have been brave enough to try and use a number from a previous year.

For me, I submitted my application and got my number, 10120, yet was unsure that I was really going to run until Monday morning when I got up. 10120. My lowest Peachtree number to date. It sounded familiar, leading me to sort out all of my race numbers to see if by chance I had it before. No such luck I found.

So as I left the house, heading to the start of this race, for the first time alone, I had time aplenty for self reflections. In the past I had groups of people come from out of town to run, or hooked up with my local friends to ride down. This year, with my uncertainty, I kept it simple and singular.

Many of life's little problems I saw the cause of as I headed to the Brook haven MARTA station to park. Literally, I only had 4 turns to make out of my house to get to the place I would park. Piece of cake. That is, until you catch every light but three red on Peachtree Parkway, which becomes Peachtree Industrial, which becomes Peachtree Road which becomes Peachtree Street, all in due time, of course.

Cursing the DOT as I sat at first one light and then another, as each turned red as I approached, to see no cars coming out of the side streets, I wondered how this could be. But it was still early, and I had a race to run. Besides, what option did I have?

Parking at the Brookhaven Marta Station, I grabbed my breakfast(poptarts, unfrosted), took a final sip of my coffee, grabbed the sunglasses, put on the race number and snagged a water bottle and began walking out of the parking lot. Poptarts are not the most fulfilling breakfast. And to be honest, these were disappointing. These pair of nutrient deficient treats were not frosted...which really frosted me. I had no guilt tossing the second into the trash as I began my warmup jog to the starting line.

I was not the only runner there so early, but I was the only one running. And it was apparent quickly to me that the humidity was tropical. I was sweating before the first half mile had clicked away. Past the Kroger where I once turned around on a long run once before the Peachtree. Past the Brusters and the Starbucks that I sometimes treat myself to after ventures into Buckhead.

Soon I was approaching the staging area for the runners. I knew this because I came to the first bank of port o johns. Thinking preventively, and with no line yet, I thought it best to stop and use the facilities. You know you are early when you step in and you are the first to use the unit. I thought being early may just have some advantages. Just do not make a habit of it.

Off to the start to find some friends that were meeting in front of the Crate and Barrel. That has become the de facto meeting spot each year. From there you can see it all. The volume of people streaming past pick up exponentially as the minutes go by. For many of us, this is just a big group run, an event. For others, it is their exercise for the year. It will be the thing they discuss with pride and joy of accomplishing for the rest of the year. They will wear their prized T-shirt with a smile on their face and know they did something most others in the Atlanta area thinks is just crazy.

I was there to run. I am not sure why. In the end I never am. But in the staging area, surrounded by so many people that seem to share a common interest, was comforting. 55,000 people all headed in the same direction is a neat thing to experience.

My heart is always warmed when I realize how many good friends I have made running. For a person such as me it is often easy to forget. So as I entered the coral for our time group, and I see my friends Reggie and Jeff and Rhonda and Susan, and meet some of their friends, I feel good. We even talk about the fall marathon we might choose and training together. I realize how I do sort of miss that.

Soon, it is close to 7:30 am, and the runners begin pushing forward. Everyone says good luck and we are ready. We will all of course end in the same place and it will only be 50 minutes or so before we are all back together and talking about how we did and what we experienced.

I bent over and turned on the pod for my Nike Sports Distance monitor. There is always a sneaking suspicion that the distance is not accurate, and on race day, it is a chance to see just how accurate it is. Changing the setting so I could perform manual splits at the mile marks, I was ready.

Somehow, I tend to forget what 55,000 people really look like. Just the 4000 or so of us packed in within my corral were amazing to say the least. Yes, there are a lot of folks that enjoy the same things I do, I can remember thinking.

Peachtree Road is 6-7 lanes wide throughout the Buchhead area, where the race begins. As the race starts, I find myself frustrated that the fastest pace I can run here is 7:53 per mile. My goal was 7:15's. That is what I get for socializing. Just have fun, I tell myself. I was already soaked with persperation, even at that pace, and I really had nothing much else to be doing. So I did have fun.

The mass of runners began to spread out a bit and I was able to weave through the traffic of bipeds. Some people were so ambiguous as to their pace or direction, that I thought certainly I have seen them driving their cars the same way. I was able to negotiate my way to just right of the center line and there I stayed as best I could, moving left or right to pass when needed.

Mile 2 came in at 7:02. There I go. I was feeling better now and barely breathing beyond the norm. Thinking to myself to control the pace and save it for Cardiac Hill, I just let the slope of the road pull me along. I watched the sides of the road, looking at the spectators who rang the cowbells and screamed encouragement to complete strangers. The smiles on the faces of children as they held out their hands to high five anyone within reach. This was a day where complete strangers were not feared. At least while running south on Peachtree.

Mile 3 makes the big swing down to Peachtree Battle. On the way I can look to the McDonald's on the left. Yes, that is where I ate three cheeseburgers and a fry and a large diet Coke for so many lunches. Hard to believe I have come so far. And yet I have so far to go.

Next is the church where I saw my friend Kari and her husband Zach get married, and then Peachtree Battle, where I so often went to browse at books, and imagine what paths my career might take. I still have most of the books I ever purchased from there. I can even tell you which ones they are. Of course those stores are gone physically. But in my mind they will live forever.

Mile 3 was at 6:49. Distance according to the watch:1.002 Miles. I know this because I can look at my data from the race. I have lots of data on my running. I doubt you care, but I was as fast as 6:11 on that mile. I know it though.

The hard part was now ahead. The slight breeze I had enjoyed suddenly disappeared as the road changed it's direction. Now there was no cooling effect to be found. I was hot. In my head I could only think of the runner I happened on who had a stroke the previous Monday while running. I did not want that to be me. This was not a race I wanted to set a PR on, or a race where I had something to prove, so I just ran and tried to not beat myself up so much as I can in those spots.

Cardiac hill is the toughest part of the route. A steep hill 3/4 of a mile in distance, followed by a rolling upward road after that point. I stopped and got water and poured some over my head. Wow, I still turned a 7:49 mile. Sometimes I even smile with myself.

Running out the rest of the race, I had many things running through my head. There is a lot of uncertainty about many things in life. But you can know with absolute certainty that on July 4th, at 8:15 am, you can come out here to the fifth mile of the Peachtree Road Race and see people reach in and do something that is beyond themselves. Something that their friends will say is crazy. Something that people will remember doing the rest of their lives. Mile five was at 7:35. I should have taken longer. I have a lot to think about.

At the start of mile six, I grabbed some more water and poured it over my head again. Then off to the finish where I could reflect on some other things, and see how everyone else did. The photoshoot was up ahead, and the picture at the top of this page is from that moment. Captured forever. I can compare that photo to another I have from my first Peachtree, 6 years ago. The smile is just as big on my face, I am soaked to the core as I ever was, and my number this year was just half of the one six years ago. The watch today is more sophisticated. My running shoes are more appropriate for my running style. I am not running in tennis shorts. And my mp3 player is not on my hip with 96mb of memory, but on my arm with 512mb. Oh yeah, and I look damn good today, in better shape than ever. But that is just my opinion.

Mile six was leisurely at 7:46, and I did not care. I felt good. The last stretch towards the finish, I sped up, and finished at a 6:26 pace. For July 4, 2005, that was good enough for me.

Later in the day, I tried to check my results. Nothing showed up. Others I knew were there but not me. So I wrote them, and asked why.

The response to me was that if I provided a reason for not crossing the start mats, then they might consider adding me in. I wrote back that I had. I even gave the bib numbers of the runners I started with. One of my friends even emailed on my behalf. I received no response from that.

I have always feared not finishing a race and seeing DNF after my name. This is something I had never contemplated DNS. To understand the irony would be to know that I wrote the Peachtree in 2000 and asked why didn't they have chip mats at the start of the race? The answer was humorous, but apparently they realized they should.

I will not fault them. Technology has it's moments. My Nike software shows I ran 6.22 miles, and that I started at 7:31.23 am. You can pretty much tell the hills from the change in pace on the graph. I know I started. There are other things that I have started in my life that no one else knew. But I did.

And I know I finished. For me, this year, this time, that will have to be sufficient. I will choose to be happy with that. If they doubt that I did what I set out to do, that is their loss. It will not be mine.


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