May 6, 2017: Quarry Crusher Run Atlanta

The Vulcan Materials Company opens some of their quarries to the public for "Quarry Crusher Runs", in metro Atlanta, Birmingham (AL), Columbia (SC), Maryland, San Antonio (TX), and San Diego (CA).  The race series apparently began in Columbia several years ago, and was first run in Atlanta in 2016.  Originally I was due to run a hilly 10K in Tucker this morning, but due to low registration, the 10K was cancelled a few days ago.  The 5K was still on, but I wasn't interested in another road 5K.  The organizers of the Tucker race very kindly provided a refund, so I decided to join friends Brian Minor and Beverly Ford at the Quarry Crusher run.  

The Vulcan Quarry is in Norcross, between Interstate 85 and Meadowcreek High School, which is the high school for our residence.  Meadowcreek HS was also the recipient of race proceeds, and quite a few Meadowcreek students participated in today's race, proudly wearing blue Mustangs shirts.  I arrived about an hour ahead of time, signed a waiver and picked up my bib, and then had plenty of time to explore.  In driving into the quarry, the parking area was at least 100 feet below the surrounding land.  A few dozen of the Vulcan employees were on the site to show off their machines and vehicles.  Andrew let me climb up the Caterpillar 992K loader, a massive machine weighing 238,000 lbs, which is so heavy that it must be transported to the site in pieces.  The Cat 992K costs $1.7 million, and is capable of moving a load of 25 - 30 tons of granite.  Andrew said that he typically uses 330 gallons of diesel each day.  
Sense of scale: Andrew (above) is 6'4" tall;
I'm 5'10"

After a few warm weeks, we have experienced an unexpected cool spell, following some heavy storms two days ago.  The temperature was predicted to be below 50 deg F, and windy, so I decided to wear tights and two shirts.  My plan was to shed a layer after warming up, but it was quite windy and cool this morning.  I really didn't want to risk getting chilled during the race, and wasn't sure if it might be colder at the bottom.  As we lined up for the start, the other runners around me wore everything from jackets, to as light as tank tops and shorts.  One man in front of me was wearing no shirt and just light shorts.  I had warmed up earlier on the first quarter-mile of the race route, and knew that the running surface was a hard-packed dirt, which felt firm enough but also very forgiving.  Given the recent rain, there were a few soft spots particularly along the sides, so I decided to wear trail shoes.  The trail shoes are heavier but also have a nice tread, plus I haven't worn them all that many times.  
About 5 minutes before the start
The race route was 660 feet down to the bottom of the quarry, and then returning to the surface, in a total of about 3.72 miles, about 6 kilometers.  They advertised up to 10% grade in sections.  Then there was a Double Crusher Run, 7.44 miles, just $10 more.  I decided to pass up the discounted second trip, just hoping to return to the top on the first trip.  I didn't really have a time goal for the race, not having any experience with a 6K distance, or the down-and-up nature of the race, but I did want to have a good experience.  I set my heart rate monitor with high at 170 bpm, low at 155 bpm, and resolved to immediately take a walk break if the heart rate went too high, and likewise speed up - or return to running at 155 bpm.  
Ready to begin?!
The announcer set a cheerful and positive tone as we gathered for the start, introducing a teacher from the Gwinnett County schools to encourage our race, and then we bunched up behind the starting line.  The airhorn sounded!  It took about 20 seconds for me to reach the starting mat, and then I took off.  As soon as we began going downhill, I left myself speed up, but was careful to let gravity do most of the work.  Once we got into the quarry bowl, I didn't notice any wind at all.  The heart rate monitor was beeping "Heart rate too low" and so I tried to increase the pace.  However, I never managed to get above 153 bpm in the first mile, 7:10 elapsed!   One memorable sight from the first mile was a little waterfall, from an underground spring that had been broached.  I was generally passing people on the way down, occasionally running to the left side of the path where the dirt was a little mushy.  With the trail shoes, I had no trouble moving quickly on those surfaces. 
As we ran deeper into the bowl of the quarry, I tried to speed up a bit more, to stay under a 7 min / mile pace, but my legs were moving about as fast as they could move!  I had finally managed to silence the heart rate monitor as I reached 163 bpm in one of my fastest stretches.  As we made another turn going down another level, I saw the waterfall again, now cascading down 100 - 200 feet of rock face.  I wasn't that far from the bottom when I encountered the lead runner on the return trip.  He seemed to be running about as fast uphill as I was running downhill, for what it was worth.  At the bottom, there was a flagpole that we ran around, and then a water stop.  I grabbed a cup of water and drank most of it on the first walk break of the race.  I needed only 13:23 to get to the midpoint of the race, 1.86 mi.  
Elevation map over time (not distance): below 600 ft, the Garmin signal
must have bounced off a wall of the quarry, as I didn't jump
straight up a 350 foot cliff.  I estimate that we were
slightly above 200 ft elevation at the bottom of the quarry. 
I began running again, and almost immediately felt the difficulty of going uphill.  I had been careful not to tire myself out going downhill, but now realized that the second half was going to be quite difficult.  As I passed the two-mile mark (14:31 elapsed), I checked my heart rate monitor, saw 169 bpm, and decided to take a walk break before the alarm had sounded.  I walked for about 60 steps, approximating a 30-second walk break, heart rate dropped to 160 bpm, then I began running again.  After each walk break, I felt strong again for a moment, and passed several people, but then felt that I needed to take another walk break much sooner than I would in the marathon.  But I was staying under the 170 bpm mark, and decided that strategy would be fine to finish.  I ran for a couple of minutes straight in one relatively level section that I had hardly noticed on the way down, but for most of the way I was alternating run-walk with fairly even intervals.  However, my average pace wasn't too slow.  I took another cup of water at a second water stop, then returned to running as I finished mile 3 in 11:31, 26 minutes elapsed.  
Heart pace vs. pace vs. elevation map.  Looks like I took 17 walk breaks on the return trip.
At least I was moving quickly as I reached the finish line! 
Very shortly after passing the 3-mile mark, the same lead runner passed me going downhill in the second leg of the Double Crusher.  I guess that meant that I was no more than 1.4 miles behind him.  Knowing that I didn't have much further to go, I wanted to lengthen the running segments a bit, but it was really difficult.  Amazingly, I wasn't pushing my heart rate above 170 bpm.  I was trying to keep up with a woman in a yellow shirt that I had caught up to at the bottom.  She and I seemed to alternate taking our walk breaks, and she would start running again just as I would catch up to her.  The quarry staff were driving spectators down the race route in small carts, and when I saw a camera I tried not to stop running until I had passed the photographer.  Finally I could see that there was only one more long stretch to reach the top.  I seemed to recall that the grade wasn't as steep in the last half mile, and I was able to run for longer, although didn't completely eliminate walk breaks.  However the woman in the yellow shirt opened up more of a lead - she won her age group - and I never caught up to her again, as she outran me by about 20 seconds on the clock and 10 seconds chip time.  
Other runners approaching the finish line, photo taken well after I had finished
Near the top, the Caterpillar loaders came into view.  I realized that was the turnaround point for the Double Crushers, and that it wouldn't be far to the finish line.  I took one last walk break and then ran past the Caterpillars, and picked up a little more speed as the route flattened out.  I saw Brian out of the corner of my eye and heard him shout, "You can beat 35 minutes!"  Indeed he was right, as I crossed the finish line at 34:50, 34:28 chip time.  In a nice touch, the announcer called out names as we finished, "Welcome back, Frank McDonald!"   Journey from the center of the earth, indeed! 
54th out of 535 finishers, 6th out of 37 age group.
Not bad for a race run without expectations, other than
staying out of the medical tent!
85 more runners completed the Double Crusher.
I grabbed a bottle of water from a volunteer but initially missed getting a medal, but when I realized that, I circled back to collect my bling!  I seemed to quickly recover and circled back around to join Brian as he waited for Beverly.  Shortly after Beverly's finish, the winner of the Double Crusher raced by, under 48 minutes.  It turns out that he is a student at Meadowcreek HS and also won last year's race! 
Heavy finishers medal!
Brian won 3rd place in his age group.  For his efforts, he received a rock!
I was very impressed with every aspect of the race.  It was a unique experience to see the inside of a quarry, and to talk with the machine operators.  The atmosphere was fun, but the race was chip-timed at the start and the finish, and our individual results were available at a tent within minutes of finishing.  In addition to the carts bringing spectators in and out of the quarry, there were several other carts manned by staff along the way, and if a runner had trouble finishing, I'm confident that they would have been driven out quickly.  Fortunately I didn't see anyone needing assistance at the medical area.  I'll definitely run this event again.  The question is, will I try the Double Crusher next time?!
Brian and I hangin' around after the race

April 29, 2017: Beat the Street for Little Feet 5K

2016 course time: 25:23 

Last year I ran this nice fundraiser race, and was a little disappointed to post a 5K time over 25 minutes, which I attributed to the temperature.  This was just 3 weeks after setting my 5K personal record of 23:52, which still stands, with regard to certified courses.  I waited to sign up for this race until the last day for early bird registration, and decided that I wanted to try it again.  This race features a short but relatively steep hill in the first mile, and most of the third mile is uphill, but now that I know the route, I thought that I might run it better and smarter this year.  
Looking down from the top of the hill on Adams Street,
taken about 15 minutes before the start of the race. 
I parked at the DeKalb County Courthouse around 7:15 am (free parking on weekends and evenings) and warmed up with about 1 mile jog to the Oakhurst Cooperative Preschool.  After stretching a bit more at the school, I decided to explore the first part of the route, running to the top of the infamous Adams Street hill.  It was just as steep as I remembered it, but I was glad to have that image in mind, and it helped to know ahead of time what pace I wanted to run up the hill without wearing myself out before the 1 mile marker.  
The other runners were finishing pre-race stretches as I completed my warmup run.
I made it back to the school just in time, as the warmup stretching exercises had concluded, and walked with the others to the starting line on Mead Road, in the same place as last year's race.  After a few announcements, the starter stepped to the line, and immediately after "On your mark..." the pistol sounded.  I settled into a comfortable pace around 7:20, just relaxing and letting my legs move me as smoothly as I could run.  Turning right onto Adams Street, and immediately heading uphill, I took short steps, running on feel, just focusing on getting to the stop of the hill in two blocks without burning myself out.  My heart rate monitor did not sound until I was at the very top of the hill, and went silent as soon as made a right turn onto Hill Street.  In fact the elevation continued to rise slightly leading up to the mile 1 marker, but by staying relaxed, I felt comfortable and got ahead of a few runners in this section.  I decided to forgo the water station at the mile 1 marker, 7:35 elapsed.  
The route was identical to last year's race. 
The second mile along Oakview Road was a nice gentle downhill section, very easily run.  I  seemed to get ahead of a few of the people that were running with me, and was keeping up with a few runners immediately in front of me.  I was running around a 7:30 min / mile pace, and amazingly the heart rate monitor was silent.  After a while I checked the Garmin (two clicks to the heart rate) and I was holding steady at 170 beats / minute, with the alarm set to go off above 170.  I just continued to run, feeling fairly good, enjoying the silence of the heart rate monitor.  I was running the tangents and passed one fellow on a left turn, brushing the cones in the center of the road as I ran the shortest possible route.  Near the end of the second mile, there was a slight increase in elevation, which was enough to trigger the alarm, but now I was close enough to the finish where I wanted to maintain speed, 7:34 for mile 2, just over 15 minutes elapsed. 

I ran an 8:30 min / mile pace up the first steep hill.
I slowed down a bit more going up a longer hill
on Sisson Avenue (beginning of mile 3),
but managed to speed up at the end of the race! 
The beginning of mile 3 was a mild but steady uphill over the course of a few blocks.  The heart rate monitor was sounding, as I tried to keep up with the runners in front of me.  I checked my pace in the first half of the third mile, frustrated to see 8:30 min / mile on the watch, but not feeling that I could go any faster.  However, I felt that I might be closing on the runners in front of me ever so slightly.  The road flattened out for a moment, I picked up a little speed, and finally caught up to the runners in front of me, now just a few feet behind.  

Turning onto College Avenue, the road was definitely uphill heading to the East Lake MARTA station.  But having run this section in the marathon last month, and on many occasions with the Big Peach Decatur group on Thursdays, I ran with confidence, passing the runners in the group that I had been following, and catching up with a young boy and an adult who were running together.  I'm not sure if they were father - son, in fact I think that they probably were not, as they were not looking at each other as they ran.  Near the MARTA station, near the top of the overpass, I passed the adult.  The boy sensed that I was right behind him, and he put on a burst of speed!  He momentarily pulled out a few feet ahead of me, but he was unable to maintain his sprint.  I just kept on plugging away steadily and passed him at the very top.  
I'm very proud of these splits!
Four years ago when I began running, I couldn't imagine running this fast.
Now it was slightly downhill or level for the rest of the race.   I was determined to stay in front of the people that I had just passed, and took advantage of the favorable elevation to put on a kick of my own, accelerating from an 8:15 min / mile pace to 7:30 min / mile pace.  The FINISH banner was in sight from a couple of blocks away, even before passing the mile 3 mark at just past 23 minutes, 8:12 for mile 3.  I wondered if I could break 24 minutes?  As I neared the finish line, I could read 23:45 on the clock.  I continued to run as fast as I could, but let up just a bit when I accepted that I wouldn't finish before the clock ticked over to 24:00.  However I was still motivated by the fear of being passed at the very end, and managed one last bit of acceleration to cross the finish line at 24:06 on the clock, 24:08 on my watch.  

This is from the start of the 1 mile race.  I barely outran
the boy in the green shirt in the earlier 5K race! 
I kept walking for several minutes, completely winded and just trying to stay upright until my heart rate and breathing could slow down a bit.  Although it wasn't a personal record finish, I was ecstatic that I had finished more than a minute faster than last year, under similar conditions (66 deg F in 2016, 70 deg F today), and that no one had passed me after the first mile or so.  After I had recovered a bit, I decided to wait around for the awards ceremony.  I felt that there weren't that many finishers in front of me, and was hoping that I might have placed in my age group.  It took awhile for the results to come in, while  children ran the 1 mile race followed by the tot trot in the parking lot.  

As the race is a fundraiser for the Oakhurst Cooperative Preschool,
the tot trot is the headline event,
coming after the opening 5K and subsequent 1 mile races!
Shortly after all of the children had completed the tot trot, it was time for awards.  When the MC announced that only age group winners would receive awards (no second or third place awards), I figured that I was unlikely to win an award.  The kid that I had barely beaten in the 5K won the 11 - 15 male age group.  Then I learned that I had outrun the women's master's winner by about 10 seconds.  When they called out the 50 - 59 male age group winner, "Frank McDonald", I was a bit surprised, but absolutely delighted.  As I walked up to accept my award, the MC announced that I finished 15th overall, a big surprise!  Last year I was fourth in age group, and 31st overall.  As Captain Curt Walker says, it's about who shows up!  But if I had run today's time in 2016, I would have placed 2nd in age group, and also in 15th place overall (thanks to Active.com, for permanently posting those results!). 
The awards are mounted on a piece of wood:
the front with the race logo, and the back with the winner's official result!
It was very nice to win an award.  But even if I had not won anything, I felt great about how well I had run today's race.  Any disappointment about slowing down in the third mile completely disappeared when I checked the elevation stats at home, and saw the net elevation increase of 81 feet in the third mile.  In fact the finish line in this race was 18 feet above the elevation of the starting line.  

Today's race was my fifth 5K of 2017.  Each of those races has been completed in less than 25 minutes!  Next Saturday, I'm running Eric's Fit Lab Run Walk Crawl 10K, through the hills of Tucker. 

April 23, 2017: Run 4 Your Life 5K

 

About 8 years ago, the IT specialist in the Emory chemistry department, Brian Adams, took a medical leave to receive a kidney transplant.  He recovered strongly and returned to our department for a short time after the surgery.  However the Emory IT administration regularly moves its personnel around to different departments, and I didn't keep up with Brian after he moved.  More recently, Bonnie and I have become friends with Beverly Ford and Brian Minor, initially meeting in the Tucker Running Club.  We were on a double date last summer, the night before the Hotlanta Half, when Beverly told us that she had donated a kidney to her brother several years ago.  When Beverly mentioned that her brother worked in IT at Emory, and she told me his name, I realized that I had known him - small world!  Since then, we have reconnected with Brian Adams on a few occasions, most recently at a party to celebrate the engagement of Beverly with Brian Minor - he proposed at dinner after the Publix Georgia Marathon and Half Marathon in March.  Brian Adams is doing well, working with the Emory Department of Music in recording student recitals.  Beverly fully recovered long before we met her.  
Brian Adams and Beverly Ford, recipient and donor!
Earlier this spring, Beverly and Brian told us about the Run 4 Your Life 5K sponsored by Donate Life Georgia.  They formed Team Green, which we were happy to join.  We set aside our favorite green running shirt for today's run, which we had received at our first trail race in August 2015!   Team Green drew 8 runners to today's event.  Brian and Beverly arrived with a large "Donate Life" flag.  We asked if they were going to run with the flag, Beverly didn't think so, but I encouraged Brian to consider it - and I told him that I might have a chance to keep up with him if he ran with the flag! 
Team Green is ready to run!
The weather forecast had predicted thunderstorms overnight into the morning, with 80% chance of thunderstorms at 9 am, when the race was due to begin.  I was concerned that the event might be canceled if there was lightning.  However, I didn't hear any thunder overnight, and when we stepped outside this morning to leave for the race, the streets in our neighborhood were dry.  Weather.com persisted in forecasting that storms would begin at 7:45 am, but when we arrived at Piedmont Park around that time, the sky was only partly cloudy, the sun was up in the east, and it looked like we would have a nice morning.  After picking up our bibs, I warmed up by returning to the car, exchanging my running rain jacket for sunglasses, and ran back to the starting area, for a warmup mile with Brian.  But by 8:30 am, the sky had become cloudy, and the wind had picked up a bit, with occasional rain drops in the air.  I decided to run back to the car, leave the sunglasses behind, and came back wearing the rain jacket.  Unfortunately I was a little warm, but decided that I would run with the jacket. 
The volunteer apologized when she gave me the bib - I assured her that I wasn't superstitious. 
Shortly before 9 am, the runners lined up behind the starting mat.  Brian was holding the flag - he claimed that it wasn't that heavy, so he was going to run the race with the flag!  He and I lined up together about 20 feet behind the starting line, leaving plenty of room for faster runners to line up in front of us.  I told the runner next to me that I was only trying for 25 minutes, so faster runners should move up in front of me.  But no one stepped forward!  Finally, the race director made initial announcements, and it was clear that she was about to start our race!   I motioned to a group of young men / teenagers that they should move up, but they didn't step forward until Brian and I also moved up to the starting line.  The race director counted down, "Three, two, one, GO!" and we took off!  

I knew that it was a mistake to start out in front, as several other runners sprinted past in the first 10 seconds.  I tucked in behind Brian's left shoulder, and matched his pace fairly well for the first mile.  I was running far too fast, sub 7 minute mile for the first half mile, and slowed a bit as we began going uphill on the west side of the Active Oval.  As the race continued past the mile 1 marker, Brian appeared to gradually open a bit more of a gap on me, although I could always see the flag!  Volunteers were manning each of the many turns in the route, so it was probably impossible to get lost, but I knew where each turn was coming as I watched Brian with the flag make the turn shortly before I arrived.  I was a bit concerned when someone passed me wearing a yellow shirt, as he looked like he might be in my age group!  But I was still in contention for second place age group. 
The race was held entirely within Piedmont Park.  Mile 1 went clockwise
around the Active Oval and then around the lake, mile 2 was a loop going
counterclockwise around the Meadow, and mile 3 mostly retraced
the route going counterclockwise around the Active Oval. 
A couple of young men wearing the race T-shirt had sprinted past me and Brian in the early going.  To my surprise, they both stopped about 12 minutes into the race, as one of them retied a shoe, and Brian and I passed them!  Then a moment later, here they came again, at what I estimated was a 5 minute per mile pace.  Somewhere past the 2-mile mark, they both stopped again.  I think one of the guys was badly winded (as if I wasn't!), the other was running more slowly and looking back at his friend.  Brian shouted as he passed them "Don't let the flag beat you!"  I remained silent as I passed, not wanting to egg them on, but I was determined to make them work for it if they tried to pass me again.  In fact I never saw them again until after the race!  Late in the third mile, I heard steps behind me, but it was a different young man.  He said something encouraging as he passed me, I don't quite remember exactly what he said, but I looked over and said "At least you're not in my age group!" as he pulled away.  
The hills were not as difficult as in yesterday's race.
It also helped that it was cloudy and a little cooler this morning! 
Although I could hear cheers at the finish line, it seemed to take forever to get there!  But as I reached the finish line, I didn't hear anyone coming up behind me, crossing at 23:59.  Brian Adams captured my finish on video, although unfortunately it doesn't seem to show on this platform.  I checked my watch after the finish line, 3.08 miles, so I kept jogging a little longer until the watch read 3.11 miles, stopping the watch at 24:18.  That was one of my faster 5K times!   My mile splits were 7:21 (too fast), 7:55 (just right), 8:08 (running low on gas), and about 7:30 min/mile pace for the final push. 

We watched and cheered as the rest of Team Green finished, first Richard and Nikki pushing a stroller with Greyson, age 2; then Beverly, Angelic, Ntumba, and Bonnie.  I had thought that the route was originally a bit short, but some of the later runners reported that they recorded distances of 3.11, 3.13, and even 3.2 miles.  So perhaps it was my Garmin that was off a bit!   Before the awards presentation began, the arts director of DeKalb County shared that he was an organ recipient, a gift that had saved his life.  The race organizer then announced that the largest team was Gabe's Gang, bringing 73 participants, many wearing team T-shirts with a photo of Gabe, who had died as a young man in December.  His family donated his organs, and his mother accepted the trophy for bringing the largest team.  It was a bittersweet moment, with Gabe's mother and the race director trying to hold back tears, as the rest of us gave the biggest applause of the day. 

Several of us in Team Green had a feeling that we had a good chance to win age group awards.  Indeed, Nikki and Richard won bronze and silver in their age groups!  One of the young men in the race T-shirt that we had passed won bronze in the male 14 - 19 age group, after which I said to Brian, "Now I'm gonna be disappointed if I don't win something!"  The young man who passed me near the end won gold in the male 20 - 29 age group.  The older man wearing the yellow shirt who had passed us early in the race was a surgeon who had performed successful transplant surgery on one of the speakers!  Brian and I were trying to guess the doctor's age - I thought that he was just a few years younger than me, still in my male 50 - 59 age group, whereas Brian thought that he might be in the male 40 - 49 age group, in which case he had beaten Brian.  We joked about going up and asking him his age, but before we could ask the inappropriate question, the awards were announced for the male 40 - 49 age group: The doctor won gold, followed by Brian winning silver.  After announcing the female 50 - 59 age group winners, they called my name as the gold medalist in the male 50 - 59 age group!   I haven't seen the final results yet.  I'm hoping that I ran the fastest of the grandmasters (age 50 and up), although that will have to wait for publication of the official results.  

I really like the medal! 


I was concerned about running two races on the same weekend,  but I'm happy to report that I'm not too sore this evening.  I had a great time in both races!  Today's race was also well-organized, on a nice route in the park without any competition from vehicle traffic, and I look forward to doing it again in future years.  Although my driver's license has identified me as an organ donor for decades, this afternoon I also registered with the Donate Life Georgia website.  I encourage you to learn more about organ donation, and  to register yourself if you are inspired to donate.  

April 22, 2017: Refuge Coffee 5K Run

I've always felt a kinship with refugees, given my family history, which I've written about in an earlier installment of this blog.  The families must work hard to establish themselves in their new American home, which is often very distant from their countries of origin, not only in miles but also in culture.  The older generation makes great personal sacrifices, so that their children can enjoy the American dream.  That was definitely the case for my grandparents Rudolf and Elizabeth Kefer, who were stateless at the end of World War II.  They had the opportunity to immigrate to the United States in 1950 through my great-uncle Ed Zamola.  As a child, I remember how hard my grandparents worked, so that my mother Cecilie and my aunt Mira, who were ages 14 and 16 when they arrived, could put the horrors of the war behind them, and rebuild their lives in the United States. 
At the entrance to town on Ponce de Leon Avenue, driving west from Tucker
Metro Atlanta is home to immigrants and refugees from virtually all parts of the world.  The city of Clarkston shares a border with our town of Tucker, along the Stone Mountain Freeway, and has become home to many refugee immigrants to Georgia.  One of my Chem 222 students this semester, a business major with career interests in medicine, works with the Emory Impact Investing Group, which makes small loans to support new business ventures in Clarkston.  You may have heard of Lost Boys of Sudan, some of whom were resettled in Clarkston, or the Fugees soccer teamor the Fugees Academy, a school for refugee children who have been unable to attend school due to war or displacement prior to arriving in Georgia.  I'm reminded that my mother could not attend school for three years during World War II, when children her age would have been in elementary school. 
logo on the race T-shirt

Earlier this month, Priscilla Hammond in the Tucker Running Club told us about the Refuge Coffee Run.  Although I'm running another 5K race tomorrow, Priscilla told us that we could still register for the race on Thursday, and I decided to sign up, as the race was close to home.  Several other Tucker Running Club members also registered.  Last year 278 runners finished the race, and I heard that the year before, it was even smaller.  But today there were quite a few more people waiting to start (587 finishers!).  I had arrived early enough so that I waited less than 10 minutes at bib pickup, but as the 9 am start time for the race approached, quite a few people were still in line for their bibs, so the start was delayed for about 20 minutes.  While we waited to begin, a member of the Tucker City Council took the photo below.  
Four of the Tucker Running Club representatives:
(l-to-r) Robin Mitchell, me, Lindy Liu, and Priscilla Hammond.
Robin won the female masters title this morning,
and I believe that Lindy set a personal record! 
After warming up for a couple of miles in a short-sleeved T-shirt, I ran back to the car to apply some sunscreen and to change into the Tucker Running Club singlet for the first time this season.  The temperature was beginning to rise and the sun was feeling warm as it rose into the cloudless sky.  As we gathered for the start, there were so many runners that we did not all fit in the space between the start-finish line and the booths for the festival to follow the race!  Some of the runners had to gather to the right of the start, and join in after those of us near the front had cleared the start-finish line.  Fortunately I had taken a spot along with the other Tucker runners in the photo about 50 feet behind the starting line, and hopefully none of the faster runners were impacted. 
I started my watch a few seconds before crossing the starting point. 
With the soundtrack to AC/DC's anthem "Thunderstruck" pumping us up, we counted down to the start, a trumpeter blew his horn, and we took off, crossing Ponce de Leon Avenue and the railroad track that passes through the center of Clarkston.  The first few blocks were fairly crowded, but once we reached Norman Road, I reached my target pace, just under 8 min/mile.  In fact I was probably moving faster than that, as the first half-mile was downhill, until we reached a small lake in the middle of town.  I was careful to run easily, knowing that I would have to run back uphill at some point to return to the start-finish line.  The one-mile mark was in front of Jolly Elementary School, after which we tuned into the neighborhood for a moment, then back onto Otello Avenue heading north.  The second mile seemed to be mostly uphill - was happy to confirm that when I checked my Garmin results afterwards - but I took shorter strides and managed to keep up with most of the others.  I took a short walk break at a water stop shortly before the 2-mile marker.  After the water stop, we left the street and moved onto the PATH Foundation trail, a concrete and asphalt walkway that begins in downtown Atlanta and extends (with a few unfortunate breaks) to the base of Stone Mountain, 19 miles to the east.  The trail was nicely shaded and I picked up a little speed.  It helped that we were past the highest point of the race and on a gentle downhill section.   
In the last half-mile of the race, I began to feel a bit tired.  I was running by myself for much of this section, unable to gain on some runners about 50 feet ahead, but not being passed.  I could see a few blocks ahead the intersection where we turned right to return to Refuge Coffee.  Although it helped that the volunteers were cheering us on, my race pace began to go downhill as the final section of the race went uphill.  Then as we turned right, crossing the railroad tracks, a young man raced past on my right.  I tried to accelerate, then another young man passed, also on my right.  The volunteers were encouraging us to finish as strongly as possible.  I didn't manage to catch up with the guys that passed me near the end, but they did spur me on to finish a bit faster than I would have on my own.  I saw 25:03 on the clock as I reached the finish line.  Knowing that I had started about 15 seconds after the official start, and had also started my watch some seconds before crossing the starting mat, I was very happy to have broken 25 minutes on a warm morning.  
A volunteer was handing out medals - but she was standing so close to the finish line that I had not slowed down enough - I barely managed to grab the medal while gasping "Thank you".  It wasn't until a few minutes later that I realized that the medal was on a small circle of wood, onto which was pasted a section of a map, showing the place of origin of one of the refugees involved with the race.  S/he was from the border area of Russia near eastern Ukraine, near Rostov-on-Don.  After the race, there was a generous selection of fruit, water, ice coffee, donuts, and pastries.  I will neither deny nor confirm that a donut may have been consumed.  
A unique finishers medal! 
I was pleasantly surprised to see the official result, where I finished 47th out of 587 finishers, although I certainly thought that there were many more people ahead of me in the first mile of the race.  I was 8th among 63 male masters, and 3rd of 8 in the 50-54 age group.  The chip time of 24:51, while not one of my fastest times, was certainly under my goal of 25 minutes.  I was delighted to have run each mile within 12 seconds of the 8:00 min / mile pace.  The mayor of Clarkston, Ted Terry, finished in 22:38 - but he was in the 30-34 age group.  
I wonder if I will ever run a 5K in 22:58?
I will definitely run this race again.  Although the atmosphere was relaxed, as typical for fundraisers, the route was USATF certified and was a legitimate 5K distance.  The route was well-protected by police and volunteers, as we ran mostly along quiet residential streets or the PATH Foundation trail. 

April 15, 2017: Atlanta Track Club Singleton 10K

2015 course time: 53:50

2016 course time: 51:40

10K personal record: 50:48 (Charles Harris, March 2017)


The Atlanta Track Club Singleton 10K in Norcross has always been a good race for me.  I've  set new personal records for the distance both times that I have run this race.  I joined a course run with Tucker Running Club (TRC) last Saturday, on a 40 degree morning, and managed to keep fairly close to the faster group until the last mile.  I felt really good about my run that morning and was optimistic that I could have a good outcome today if the temperature wasn't too warm. 
We had a great turnout from the Tucker Running Club!  34 made the photo op at 7:15 am.
Several others joined the race but missed the photo due to pre-race warm-ups with training groups.
There were several PRs from this group today, and several age group award winners.
Kathy Wiegand of TRC (front row, right-most of the kneeling runners) was the female masters winner,
5th woman overall, and 25th out of all 941 5K finishers, with an incredible time of 19:31!    

The temperature this morning was around 60 deg F, but I was more concerned about how I would perform, not having slept enough during the week, or the night before.  Fortunately a two-mile warmup before the race with Brian helped to perk me up.  I joined wave B for the start, for runners at a 8:30 min /mile pace or faster.  As we walked up to the starting line after wave A had begun, I found myself toeing the starting line.  I wasn't too concerned about being out in front, after all I was hoping to run about an 8 min / mile pace.  When the airhorn sounded for our start, exactly two minutes after the leaders in wave A, I took off on a fast sprint.  One man moved well ahead of me.  I felt like I was leading the remainder of wave B in the first mile, and the downside of that pace was that I felt the rest of the pack hot on my heels.  Myriam of TRC kept up with me for a few minutes, as she was hoping to use me as her pacer.  (I was just hoping that she would not outrun me!)  For the first half-mile or so, I tried not to check my watch, and when I did, I realized that I had started at about a 7:15 pace.  I tried to dial back my speed just a bit, knowing that I couldn't maintain that pace for another 5-1/2 miles, but I felt strong.  I covered the first two miles in 7:20 and 7:45, including a short walk break at the water station about 1-1/2 miles into the route.  Finally I slowed a bit more in the third mile, to 8:20, and crossed the 5K timing mat at 26:20 on the race clock, 24:20 official chip time.  





I took a walk break at the second water station, just past the timing mat.  In a moment of reflection (actually about 20 seconds), I knew that I had run that first lap much too fast.  In last year's PR-setting race, I finished the first loop in 25:16, but had taken a minute more to complete the second loop.  I could set a new PR today if I ran the second 5K in less than 26:30, similar to last year's second loop.   I was feeling a little tired, but perhaps no more than last year at this stage.  I just needed to hold on and run as fast as I could manage.  Most of all, I didn't want too many people to pass me in the second loop.  It would be embarrassing if I couldn't maintain a reasonable pace after having started out so quickly. 

It took me 8:25 to cover mile 4, which was a full minute slower than the first mile of the first lap, but with elapsed time of 31:50 at that point (under 34 minutes on the race clock), I had just set a PR for the 4-mile distance.  I ran the fifth mile at a similar pace, 8:20, setting another PR for the 5-mile distance at 40:10.  One of the fun things of this race with several out-and-back stages was seeing a few of the faster runners that I know from TRC and other running groups a couple of minutes ahead of me, and many of the other 10K runners a few minutes behind me.  It seemed that they were all cheering me on as we passed each other, especially in the second loop.  Sorry I wasn't able to reciprocate with much more than a thumbs-up: I was concentrating on breathing and running at the same time!  Your support was greatly appreciated!!  Thanks Bonnie, as well as Samantha, Jessica, Nicole, Robin, Bob, Curt, Richard, Myriam, Wende, Carolyn, Sue, Carol, Linda, Katie, Priscilla, and undoubtably several others that I've missed in this acknowledgement.  Even though the beginning of the sixth mile was a steep uphill out of a ravine, I didn't want to look like I was "weak" or "struggling" in front of friends that weren't far behind me!    
The 6:27 min/mi speed at 0.10 mile before the finish line was definitely gravity-assisted! 
The temperature seemed to increase as I ran up the hill.  I almost always wear a cap when running, largely to protect my balding pate from the sun, and also to keep the sun out of my eyes while running in an easterly direction in morning races, but I felt that it was keeping my head too warm.  We reached the top of the hill as we turned back onto the main road.  Heading south toward the finish, I took off my cap and tucked it into the race number belt on my back.  I immediately felt cooler, and kicked into a higher gear now that the road had leveled out.  In this stage, I kept up with most of the runners around me, although we were passing many of the slower 5K runners and walkers.  I had to be a bit careful at times, tucking an arm close to my body so that I wouldn't bump into anyone as we raced by.  The cone truck passed us going outbound, after which we ran in both lanes of the road for the remainder of the race.  As the park came into view, I saw the race clock marking the 6-mile mark: 50:40 - which with a two-minute delay, meant that I was at 48:40, having covered mile 6 in 8:30, only 10 seconds slower than the first time around.  

Could I run the final 0.22 mile in 80 seconds, breaking the 50-minute barrier?  I wasn't sure about that, but I was confident that I was on track to set a new PR, as I knew that I could run the final 0.22 mile in 2 minutes or less.  I began pumping my arms hard, building up as much speed as I could manage.  Volunteers and a few of the 5K finishers were cheering us on to a strong finish.  I passed a couple of the other 10K runners, turned left at the second corner of the park, racing down a steep downhill as fast as I could manage, without mowing down any of the 5K finishers on my left.  I was flying!  This bird was also gasping for breath, but not - much - further - to - go!  More volunteers were cheering us into the third corner of the park.  I could see the finish line clock in the distance, at the fourth corner, reading 51:51, which for me meant that I had 9 seconds left to finish within 50 minutes even.  Unfortunately I knew that I would not cover the last block in 9 seconds.  As the clock ticked over to 52 minutes, I let off the gas a little bit, knowing that I was still going to smash my course record, and would set another PR for the 10K distance, even as a couple of other 10K runners pulled ahead of me.  

As I crossed the finish line, I allowed a big fist pump, and stopped my watch before I had slowed to a walk.  50:18!! (official chip time, 50:20, 8:06 average pace)  Brian, Beverly, Curt, Jennifer all congratulated me as I was finishing!  I looked around for the water for finishers.  I must have given a volunteer a bit of a scare - perhaps I looked a bit dazed - and she said "You need some water!" and she ran over to the water station and returned with two cups of water, which I gratefully accepted.  Curt said, "Keep on walking!" to avoid cramping up.  I was so thrilled to set another new PR on this course, and tantalizingly close to a 50 minute finish!  

I'm very proud of this result, although I didn't run a negative split.
Despite running my best race ever, my age group ranking was 15th of 31 finishers, right in the middle of the pack.
Overheard after the Topgolf 5K: "Those old dudes are fast!" 


Marathon training has helped with the shorter races in many ways.  I'm better prepared in terms of hydration, my flexibility is better with the constant emphasis on stretching, and mentally I'm much tougher when faced with a challenge in a shorter race.  Regularly working out with slightly faster people over the past couple of years has definitely helped me to improve my speed and endurance.  Most of all, there are so many people that I've met from various running groups, not only Tucker Running Club and runningnerds, but also from Atlanta Track Club training programs and the Thursday evening runs out of Big Peach Running Company in Decatur.  When I ran my first Atlanta Track Club race three years ago, I did not know a single person at the race.  Today, there are dozens of people that greet me at every race, whether merely race acquaintances, regular workout buddies, or closer friends that I've made through running.  

P.S.  Bonnie made a short video of a few highlights from the race!  Link

April 1, 2017: Topgolf 5K

After 6 minutes and 59 seconds of overexertion in last week's Morningside Mile race, my legs were really tired.  I ran with Tucker Running Club on the track on Tuesday evening, and despite stretching before, during, and after the run, I never felt good, and was glad to leave the track even though I had not even finished 3 miles.  Things went better on a Wednesday evening 5-mile run, and finally I felt that I had recovered by Thursday evening on a 4-mile run out of Big Peach Running Company - Decatur.  On that run, I tried out a pair of Saucony Everun shoes.  They were a bit more expensive than I would normally buy, but I happened to have a coupon for a 15% discount, and decided to make the investment.
This color of shoe has to make me at least a minute per mile faster, right? 
A few days after the marathon, when I had established that my feet were still attached, I registered for the Topgolf 5K, a race sponsored by Run Social, which has developed out of runningnerds, with a broader vision to blend races with social events - although runningnerds seemed to have that as well.  The starting and finishing point for today's race was at Topgolf Atlanta, on the westside of midtown Atlanta.  I went to a runningnerds kickoff party at Topgolf about one year ago, and was really impressed with the place.  To say that it's a high-end driving range is an understatement: it's a restaurant and bar with a covered, heated driving range and game room, and seems to have become quite popular.  Sadly, I'm a much better runner than a golfer, but the post-race treat was two hours on the driving range!  


Brian Minor and I went for a 2-mile warmup run, exploring the first mile or so of the course, and then heading back to the start.  Unfortunately I felt a tiny bit of weakness on the way back - it felt like a momentary case of low blood sugar - even though I had breakfast - or was it pre-race nerves?  I've claimed not to get nervous about my recreation, but I did realize that nearly one year ago, I had set my 5K personal record at 23:52, and was wondering if I would have a chance to better that record today.  Fortunately the weak feeling was quickly remedied with a Clif Energy Bar and a small bottle of Powerade, from a gas station store one block from Topgolf.  

A circular bib - unique! 
Lining up for the start, I resolved to begin in the middle of the pack, so that I would run the first mile at a pace that I could maintain.  In the first quarter-mile, I was running at about an 8-minute / mile pace, passing several dozen people in the beginning, but then settled into a good groove for the rest of the first mile, in 7:33.  Normally I would think that 30 seconds under 8:00 was too fast for my 5K start, but today I felt that the first mile was pretty easy. Perhaps it was the 30 feet net drop in elevation, or maybe it was 52 deg F temperature at the start, a little chilly when standing around outside, but perfect running conditions. 

The race is run between the Hills Park and Underwood Hills neighborhoods.
I wonder if it will be a hilly course?  Read on...
I knew from driving the course last week that the second mile would be challenging.  It was a gentle but long hill as we ran south on Marietta Boulevard.  I had never run in this part of town before, but realized that it was part of the Westside 10-mile race, for which I had volunteered in December, the day before the Galloway half-marathon.  This is a fairly gritty, industrial part of Atlanta (see all the railroad tracks near the race route on the map) and the road wasn't in the best shape due to heavy truck traffic, but the larger potholes were painted orange, or were marked with a cone.   I slowed down momentarily to take a cup of water around the 1.8 mile mark, and that tiniest of breaks may have helped more than slowed me down.  I just kept doggedly pushing up the hill, past the 2 mile marker (7:59, 15:32 elapsed).  Near the intersection of Marietta with Huff Road, a couple of runners passed me, but they didn't gain more than about 20 feet on me.  Finally, turning the corner of Marietta and Huff (where I had served as a course marshall in the Westside 10), I could see the top of the hill.  
Pace (blue) vs. elevation (green) vs. heart rate (gray)
Pushing over the crest, then making another left turn onto Ellsworth Industrial Boulevard, I was rewarded with the sight of a relatively steep downhill, a bit steeper than what we had just climbed!  I had earned every foot of that elevation running up Marietta Boulevard, and I had paced myself just right to this stage of the race, so I picked up some significant speed with the gravity assist.  I rocketed past the two runners that had passed me a couple of minutes earlier.   I remembered to just relax my body and let my legs propel me down the hill.  This stage of the race was really fun, and the downhill lasted for a good half-mile.  Before long I could see the top of the nets protecting the driving range at Topgolf!  It's always exciting to see the finish line in a race!  I kept pushing my way forward as fast as I could manage.  Occasionally I could hear footsteps behind me, and each time I fortunately found the motivation to kick a little harder, resolving not to be passed, at least not easily passed.  I was amazed to see my watch at only 20 minutes when the nets came into sight: I was definitely going to set a new personal record on this course!  
Topgolf nets in the distance (photo taken ca. 15 minutes after I had finished).
Objects are further away than they appear! 
The nets at Topgolf were so high that my progress seemed to take far too long!  But I felt strong enough to keep pushing, forward, go GO GO!  Finally I saw the number "3" on the course, and then made a hard left turn into the Topgolf parking lot.  The finish line was a little further than I had hoped, but the runners who had already completed their races were encouraging us to finish strong!  
 
A minute or so before reaching the finish line.  Look at the hill that I just raced down!  

I sensed that someone was just behind me, and managed one last burst of speed to stay out in front of my competitor.  23:15 on my watch, smashing the PR set last April in the Atlanta Hawks Fast Break 5K!  I walked for a few minutes, letting myself cool down, and then checked my watch more carefully: 3.03 miles!  Arghh, the course was short.  After a few minutes in the parking lot, I realized then that the organizer probably could not extend the race route any further into the parking lot.  In all fairness, she had not advertised it as a Peachtree Road Race qualifier.  So even though it wasn't quite a full 5K, today's race pace of 7:40 was identical to my race pace in my official PR.  I was very satisfied to learn that I had not lost any ground since last year!  
The Topgolf range: the yellow flag marks a target ring about 100 yards away, and the back fence is probably 250 yards away. 

After cheering Bonnie into her finish, we enjoyed some time on the driving range, also enjoyed a light brunch and coffee while we played.  The food was average (and they confused my order, bringing me my second choice of bacon-and-egg flatbread instead of what I had ordered, buffalo chicken flatbread) but it was fine.  Bonnie and I played a round on the driving range with John Wallace.  I even managed a few fairly long drives, although a bit of a slice meant that I never quite hit the furthest target, instead landing near the right fence, but it was a fun morning all around!  

Official result, 23:18.9 clock time, no bib time reported; 4th of 10 men in age group 50 - 59; 39th out of 217 runners overall.