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 and 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.

March 26, 2017: Thoughts during the Morningside Mile

February 21, registering ... this sounds like fun! 
I ran this in 6:52 last year, so here I am!
March 24, at race number pickup:
me: "Hi, I'm Frank McDonald."
employee: "Hmm, I can't find your number.
Are you in the competitive group?

me: "Uhh, yes?"
March 25, from e-mail received at 7:10 pm
Maybe this wasn't such a good idea, only one week after the marathon...
March 26, 11:55 am, Everyone to the left of the yellow slash is in the competitive group.
Thanks Kristi Swartz (facing camera in sunglasses), for assuring me that it would be OK to start up here. 
11:59 am, I haven't run this season in temperatures this warm!
12:00:00 pm, The start!
12:00:15, I didn't know that I could run this fast.
12:01:00, I started out much too fast.
12:02:00, This little uphill is killing me!
12:02:10, I'm not at the big hill yet.
12:03:00, Man passes me pushing a stroller.
12:03:15, At the bottom of the hill; I'm already exhausted.
12:04:00, I need a walk break!
12:04:05, That would be embarrassing!
12:04:10, I really need a walk break!
12:05:30, Why didn't you take the walk break?
12:06:15, At last, onto Highland Avenue.
12:06:30, That man passing me is carrying a dog!
12:06:40, Where is that finish line? I'm dying here!
12:06:45, Did I hear the announcer call out "6:45"?!
12:06:53, I see the finish line, 6:53 on the clock!
12:06:55, If I really push it, I will break 7 minutes!
12:06:59, I did it, I DID IT 6:59!
12:08, Only one person seems to have finished ahead of me in our age group, but he finished in 5-something.  
12:15, Feeling better, heart rate close to normal
12:45, Ran for a good cause, fundraiser to save the historic
Virginia Highland Fire Station, Firehouse 19
1:00 pm, That was fun!  Too bad this will be the last year of the race,
having reached the fundraising goal after 7 years. 

March 19, 2017: The Publix Georgia Marathon

Goal A: To have fun running the marathon from Atlanta to Decatur and back

Goal B: To run a negative split race (faster second half) 

Goal C: To improve on my time in my first marathon, 5:01:28

After successfully completing my first marathon at Chickamauga in November, I immediately resolved to take on the hills of metro Atlanta in the Publix Georgia Marathon.  I've run the half marathon in 2015 and 2016, and decided that I was ready to take on the challenge of the full 26.2 route.  Even before I began training specifically for today's race, I had run every single block of the marathon route at one time or another, but never all in one go.  The course has a reputation as one of the most challenging city marathons in the country, due to the hilly terrain that is a hallmark of our city.  As a result, the race doesn't draw the elite marathon runners.  For instance, the course record is 2:18:50, blazing fast by regular human standards, but 16 minutes slower than the world record, and 10 - 15 minutes slower than the course records for many other city marathons.  Nonetheless, it is a badge of honor for Atlanta runners to conquer the hills of the Georgia Marathon.  Today was my day!

On North Avenue, in the 3rd mile.
Photo by Malisa Anderson-Strait
Although I was assigned a bib in wave C (of 5 waves), I elected to begin in wave D, as the 4:45 and 5:00 pacers were starting in wave D.  Our wave began the race at 7:09 am, just as the sky was acquiring its first colors of the morning, a beautiful dark blue without a cloud in the sky.  It was quite chilly and a little windy, around 45 deg F at the start, so I wore two shirts and running tights.  I also carried two water bottles containing about 32 ounces combined of slightly diluted Powerade.  I started with the 5:00 pacers, although I lost sight of them almost immediately after the start.  However I rigorously followed a 3:30 run / 0:30 walk interval plan from the beginning, and within a mile or two, the 5:00 pacers passed me on the left side of the road.  One of the pacers, Linda Bode Phinney, in the Tucker Running Club, told me yesterday that they would run at a steady 11:26 min/mile pace.  I had printed out a marathon pace plan from findmymarathon.com, programmed with an aggressive negative split, so my plan meant that I would be about 90 seconds behind the 5:00 pacers by mile 4.  I was relieved to see them pass, knowing that I had not started too quickly.  I passed the 5K mark at 35:05 (11:18 min/mile pace, a little faster than planned) and the 10K mark at 1:10:23 (11:20 min/mile pace), but I felt good and probably would not have been comfortable running much slower.  Somewhere in the second mile I caught up with Malisa Anderson-Strait, another friend in the Tucker Running Club, and we ran together until the half-marathon / marathon split at the mile 7 sign. 
On the Jackson Street bridge crossing Freedom Parkway, in mile 4 (from the marathon Facebook page).
This morning quite a few runners stopped to take photos at the bridge. 
Near the mile 8 marker, a woman was cheering for us at Candler Park, jumping up and down and shouting "You're awesome, you're running a marathon today!!"  I couldn't resist saying  "I'm running the half - did I miss a turn?"  She looked shocked, probably trying to decide what to say, and then I told her "I'm kidding, I'm running the full!"  She replied "You might as well keep going ahead!"  Somewhere in the ninth mile, I passed one of the 5:00 pacers.  I just hoped that wasn't a mistake, the plan was to eventually catch up to them but no earlier than downtown Decatur at mile 13.  However, the run-walk intervals were comfortable and so I continued forward.  To my surprise, in the tenth mile I passed Tes Sobomehin Marshall (runningnerds and Run Social director, and a newlywed).  I think that she was pacing a friend.

As we approached the mile 10 marker on East Lake Road, we encountered the first long significant uphill section of the race.  I slowed down a little, probably took one extra walk break in that section, not wanting to be the least bit tired before reaching the mid-point of the race.  Nevertheless, mile 11 was tough.  Moreover, my fingers were frozen, and I could hardly pull the Shot Bloks from the pocket of my running belt, or get them out of the package, even though I had opened the end of each package before the race had begun.  I remembered then that the temperature was forecast to drop in the first hour or two after sunrise.  It was a huge relief to reach the highest elevation of the race route near the East Lake MARTA station, at the mile 11 marker.  Upon crossing the city limits of Decatur, we were welcomed by signs along the race route, one about every 50 feet or so.  I don't remember many of the signs, but they were all either encouraging the runners or touting the attractions and qualities of Decatur.  Along College Avenue, Elisabeth of the blog Running on E was there to greet runners - nice to see her for a second! 

The cheer groups were small in the first part of the race, although quite a few people were watching and cheering from their homes.  A few small groups set up some unofficial water and food stops along the way.  When we reached Agnes Scott College at the beginning of mile 13, an enthusiastic group of students greeted us with an official water stop as we ran the curved drive at the front of the campus.  Shortly after leaving campus, we reached the easternmost end of the race route, and turned left onto Commerce Drive, under a railroad bridge.  Although we were running uphill for a moment, I was looking forward to this stage of the race, making a triumphant run into downtown Decatur.  Quite a few people were cheering us on, just as I had hoped.  On East Ponce de Leon Avenue, a group from Decatur United Methodist Church was cheering, holding ersatz stone tablets a la Charlton Heston: "Thou shalt not thirst" and "Thou shalt finish" were memorable.  There was a fairly large and enthusiastic crowd for the few blocks that we ran through downtown Decatur.  
The hill at the 1:49:32 mark was truly as steep as it appeared in the screen shot above. 
I crossed the half-marathon timing mat at 2:23:11 (10:56 min/mile pace for the first half).   That was several minutes faster than planned, but when I checked my timing from Chickamauga, my half-marathon split was 2:21:30, so I seemed to have a bit more self-discipline this morning.  Knowing that the next three miles would be net downhill, I started to speed up after we turned north onto Clairmont Road, running close to a 10:00 min/mile pace.  As we made a left turn at the busy intersection of Clairmont Road with North Decatur Road, we encountered another enthusiastic cheering group and water station.  In fact we enjoyed many outstanding cheer groups in the second half of the marathon route, perfectly situated, as that was when we really needed their encouragement.  

The sixteenth mile of the race ran through the Emory University campus.  By this time the temperature was a few degrees warmer, and my fingers had thawed out, thank goodness.  For the past mile or so, I had spotted the 4:45 pace group just ahead of me, and on Haygood Road, I caught up to them.  They were running 3 minute run / 1 minute walk intervals.  Without thinking, I passed them.  I didn't think that was such a good move, but I managed to stay a bit ahead of them for the next seven miles.  I could hear the pace leader announce walk breaks and run transitions throughout, so I was never more than a couple of hundred feet ahead of them.  Unfortunately, my Garmin battery was running low.  I figured that if my watch stopped, I would just follow their cues, as they and I were both on 4-minute cycles.  However, their running intervals were a little faster-paced than I preferred, so I decided to stay with my plan as long as my watch was working.  

The Emory campus was fairly quiet as we arrived in the sixteenth mile.  As I passed the Dobbs University Center where my very first 5K started and finished in October 2013, I saw one of the students in my Chem 222 class this semester, cheering loudly as I passed.  That student is getting an A!  I turned at Asbury Circle in the center of campus, just as the clock in the tower at Cox Hall was sounding 10:00 am.  That put me nearly 10 minutes ahead of the plan, but I was still feeling good, and running strongly.  Shortly after Asbury Circle, we passed the Chemistry buildings, and then the classroom in which I'm teaching in the Psychology and Interdisciplinary Studies (PAIS) building.  Leaving campus, the wonderful downhill ride ended with a fairly steep climb into Emory Village, at the mile 16 marker.  The next 10.2 miles were going to be tough.  At least I was well-prepared for everything that we were about to encounter. 

Turning onto Lullwater Road, we went up-up-up through the beautiful Druid Hills neighborhood.  Those hills were no joke!  I took a walk break through a water station hosted by the Girl Scouts, who passed out cookies for nutrition.  The mint-flavored Oreos tasted really good!  Finally we reached the intersection with Ponce de Leon, where the road continued to go up-up-up.  Fortunately I did a 3-mile shakeout run in this area on Friday afternoon, so my recollections of the elevations were fresh.  Turning north at the corner of Oakdale Road, the road started downhill, but only for a moment, then up-up-up again!  The cookies might not have been such a good idea, as my stomach churned a bit, but then the feeling subsided, fortunately.  At this stage, it seemed that some of the mile markers were missing, although there was a clock at about mile 18.  Turning onto North Decatur Road for one block, then we headed south again on Springdale Road.  As I suspected, the uphill sections were much tougher after 18 miles than they were when I would start my training runs at Emory, when those hills were encountered in miles 1, 2, or 3.  The mile 19 water station was sponsored by Clif Bars, who had erected a giant balloon arch across the entire roadway!  Too bad they were passing out gels, which I declined.  Turning right on the By Way, up-up-up, we finally reached Briarcliff Road, which we ran for just a few hundred feet, before turning right on Stillwood into the Virginia Highland neighborhood, crossing the timing mat at the mile 20 marker (3:36:41, 10:51 min/mile pace).  Wow, I was far ahead of plan, I think 13 minutes ahead of the plan.  Despite the challenge of Druid Hills, I had run strongly.  Surely I could run the final 10K in less than 83 minutes, beating my goal of 5:00! 

I had forgotten that the first part of Stillwood was a nice downhill run.  But that lasted for only about a block, as the road ahead soared up into the sky.  I could see one of the wheelchair racers struggling up the hill.  He had a bicycle escort encouraging him, and I eventually caught up to him as he neared the top.  I was so happy to have the traction of my feet on the road, as I was certain that I would not have had the arm strength to roll myself up that hill.  Many people in this neighborhood were lining the street, cheering us on through one of the toughest parts of the race.  The road took a right turn onto Los Angeles Avenue, where Bob Wells from the Atlanta Track Club training programs recognized me.  He was wearing a wave A bib, but apparently decided to stop and cheer the other runners on for a while.  Deep into the Virginia Highlands neighborhood, we ran through a huge cheer group and water station manned by Emory students.  I cheered for them as I ran through, shouting "Go Emory!!" and was rewarded with a tremendous cheer as I ran through the entire station.  Thanks Emory students, you were the best cheer group today, among many outstanding groups! 

21 miles down, and I was still feeling pretty good, despite the challenge of the hills.  We entered another one of my favorite parts of the race route, paralleling the half-marathon route for about 1/2 mile, crossing the Park Avenue bridge into Piedmont Park.  In past years there have been outstanding cheer groups on the bridge when I've run the half-marathon, but today it was silent.  Perhaps they had left after the half-marathon course had closed, about an hour ago, at least in this section.  As we approached the Active Oval, the 4:45 pace group caught up to and passed me.  We ran together for a short time, but they pulled well ahead before we left Piedmont Park.  

Exiting through the 12th Avenue gate, we ran/walked up one of the most brutal parts of the race route, the 12th Avenue hill.  This is at mile 9 of the Hotlanta Half, difficult enough in that race, but after 22 miles, it was as challenging as I had expected.  It seemed to take me forever to get up that hill.  I would run for a minute, then walk 30 seconds, then try to run again for a minute (or less).  At that point I knew that I wasn't going to catch up with the 4:45 pacers.  But fortunately that wasn't really my goal, I was still going to break 5:00 with some minutes to spare, as long as my legs didn't fall off.  I didn't realize it until after I had finished the race, but I covered that mile in 12:12, faster than it had felt at the time.  In the Chickamauga marathon, I was running 13 and 14 minute miles by that stage of the race, on a relatively flat course.  Unfortunately I ran out of my own water at this point, and had to rely solely on the last two water stations for hydration.  However I had been taking some water or Powerade at virtually every water station to this stage, in addition to what I was sipping between water stations, so my overall hydration level was fine. 

Race route according to my Garmin.  There was one spot where the reception must have taken a strange reflection from a building, and then the watch died as I passed the 25 mile marker, but it's basically a closed loop, with the finish line just a few hundred feet from the starting point. 

The next two miles were challenging, running at about a 12 min/mile pace.  The net elevation changes were uphill, although there were some downhill sections on Spring Street.  Finally we turned right onto 5th Street, rejoining the half marathon route for the rest of the race.  As we headed into the Georgia Tech campus, I had hoped that I could speed up in some downhill sections on Techwood Drive in the 25th mile, but I was struggling quite a bit by this late stage of the race, taking walk breaks every couple of minutes.  At least I was still moving and was upright!  In contrast to my experience at Chickamauga, I didn't have trouble transitioning to running after walk breaks, so that was a big improvement in today's race.  Shortly after the last water station - and oranges! at Georgia Tech, we reached the mile 25 marker, just as my watch died, at 4:35 elapsed.  But by this point, I didn't really need the watch anymore.  I had relied on the watch to signal walk breaks and to monitor my heart rate in the early miles, but now that I was near the end, I didn't care if my heart rate reached a maximum heading into the finish line.  The race volunteers were encouraging us to keep pushing our way up Marietta Street.  If I hadn't run the half-marathon finish on this street in the past, I probably would have had a lot of trouble finishing.  But today I had a good sense of exactly how things would go, and ticked off landmarks as we drew closer to downtown Atlanta and Centennial Olympic Park.  Finally I caught sight of the building marking the corner of the last turn into the park, knowing that the finish line was only 0.1 mile away.  The crowds were pretty large at this point, and I tried to acknowledge them with a thumbs-up or a wave.  As I turned the corner, I thought that I heard the announcer call my name.  I put every last bit of energy into the finish, and heard my name again as I drew near the finish line.  I could see 4:57 on the clock, so I was going to smash my chip time goal of 5 hours, as I had started with a 9-1/2 minute delay in wave D!  I even managed to finish before 12:00 pm, which was my dream goal!  Crossing the finish line, I celebrated with both hands in the air, then again, and for good measure after walking 15 seconds, one more time!  Sort of like I just won the entire marathon!  4:48:13 chip time (11:01 min/mile average pace), 4:57:53 on the clock.  That went better than expected!!  With the watch failing at the 25 mile marker, it took 13 minutes to run 1.2 miles, so I ran about an 11 min/mile pace at the end, which was much better than the final stage at Chickamauga! 
Thanks Bonnie for capturing my photo at the finish!
Video link here
The only goal that I didn't quite achieve was the negative split, running the first half in 2:23:11, and the second half in 2:25:02.  But the two halves were close enough so that I was very pleased that I had executed a solid plan.  Now I just have to decide which race will be my fall marathon!!
Showing off the medal at the post-race lunch, at Ted's Montana Grill.
In contrast to my post-race barbecue rack of ribs after my first marathon,
I ate relatively healthy today, enjoying a bison burger and asparagus instead of fries,
but indulging in one delicious chocolate cookie for dessert! 

March 14, 2017: Publix Georgia Marathon route and photos

I've lived in Atlanta for nearly two decades, now longer than any other place that I have lived.  Yet before I began running in 2013, there were so many gems in Atlanta that I had not seen, or had not noticed when passing in an automobile.  In the past four years, I've enjoyed getting to know metro Atlanta from the many miles covered on foot.  These experiences have given me a strong sense of ownership of the city and pride in the region.  I've fallen in love with Atlanta, my adopted hometown.  

I was really upset when the incoming President claimed that Atlanta, and specifically the 5th Congressional District, including much of the City of Atlanta and several of its closest suburbs, was "in horrible shape and falling apart".  

Since the end of the Great Recession, the economy in many parts of metro Atlanta has been booming.  I won't claim that Atlanta is perfect: there are still some big problems to address.  But the city has made so much progress in many areas since I arrived in 1998.  Metro Atlanta has a bright future, especially if people from all groups continue working together to make our great city even greater! 
Virtually all of the 26.2 miles of the Georgia Marathon route (red loop) runs through the 5th district. 
In preparing for the marathon, I've run every single block of the race route, although never in a single run.
My longest training run this cycle was a 20-miler in early February, taking several short cuts to
skip some of the "hernias" apparent on the race map, above (link here to larger map). 
On the Facebook site for the Georgia Marathon, the race organizers have posted a series of photos, one from each mile of the race.  I've collected them together below:   
As we gather at the start line, we will be able to see the Skyview ferris wheel,
and the Westin Hotel, both landmarks of downtown Atlanta.  
In the past two decades, Georgia State University has grown in prestige.
GSU is also a major contributor to the ongoing renaissance of downtown Atlanta.  
Central Park is at the north end of the Old Fourth Ward, an area of the
City of Atlanta that has undergone considerable transformation
driven in part by the Eastside Beltline walkway. 
Martin Luther King Jr. was born in Atlanta.  He and his father both served as pastors
at Ebenezer Baptist Church, at the corner of Auburn Avenue and Jackson Street.
Rev. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for his
non-violent leadership of the American civil rights movement.  
Inman Park was Atlanta's first suburb, founded in the late 19th century.
The neighborhood has revived in recent decades and is now one of the nicest
intown neighborhoods in the City of Atlanta.  
Little Five Points covers a few blocks of a delightfully funky part of Atlanta,
on the border between Fulton and DeKalb counties.   
Our 39th President Jimmy Carter built his presidential library in Atlanta.
In 2002, President Carter received the Nobel Peace Prize to honor the Carter Center's
work "to find peaceful solutions to international conflicts, to advance democracy
and human rights, and to promote economic and social development."
Manuel's Tavern is a popular pub and restaurant at the corner of North Avenue and
North Highland Avenue.  Famous in the 20th century as a meeting place
 for DeKalb County politicians, Manuel's also marks the point
where the half-marathon and full-marathon routes will diverge. 
Candler Park marks the eastern edge of the City of Atlanta.
One of my favorite restaurants, the Flying Biscuit Cafe,
opened its first location at the corner of McClendon Avenue and Clifton Road.  
The race briefly runs east on Ponce De Leon Avenue, the main east-west street
linking the downtown areas of Atlanta and Decatur.
This mile will be memorable as we run past the Cator-Woolford Gardens,
the beautiful location where Bonnie and I married in 2010.  
East Lake Road is a less traveled route into the City of Decatur.  Although
we won't run much further to the south, East Lake Road continues to the
East Lake Golf Club, the home of the PGA Tour Championship.    
As we enter the City of Decatur, the Thankful Baptist Church is a landmark
in the Oakhurst neighborhood.  A few decades ago, this neighborhood was quite distressed,
but has since become a thriving residential neighborhood.  Many of the Thursday evening runs
with the Big Peach Running Company - Decatur explore the Oakhurst neighborhood.
The second of four of metro Atlanta's college campuses on the marathon route is
Agnes Scott College.  This renowned women's college lies just south of downtown Decatur.
The 13.1 mile mark lies on Ponce De Leon Avenue near Decatur Square, a popular restaurant
and entertainment district adjacent to the DeKalb County Courthouse.
Our first date was at the Brickstore Pub on Decatur Square. 
The YMCA on Clairemont Avenue marks the northern boundary of the
City of Decatur, however the neighborhoods to the north are generally also
considered to be Decatur in community if not in fact.  We also very briefly leave the
5th District, but just for a few blocks. 
After re-entering the 5th District on North Decatur Road, we will run
through the middle of the Emory University campus.  The route will take us
directly past my office and laboratory in the Department of Chemistry. 
We enter my old neighborhood of Druid Hills, where I lived from 1998 - 2007.  
I've run the rolling hills many times on afternoon runs starting at the
Emory campus, however it will be a bigger challenge to tackle these
hills at mile 16 rather than at mile 1, 2, or 3! 
Many people may have first heard of Druid Hills when they watched the
1990 film, "Driving Miss Daisy."  I believe that the mile 17 marker is in the
same block as the house used in the film.  
This part of the race route passes within a couple of blocks of my old home.
Druid Hills is said to be one of the most memorable parts of the race route,
whether it's from the beautiful spring blooms or
the suffering that many runners experience in the hills!
The By Way runs for a few blocks through the center of Druid Hills,
roughly in an east-west direction.  I've only run this
block on a couple of occasions, as this street has no sidewalks.  
We will leave Druid Hills, returning into the City of Atlanta, only to be greeted
by a rather steep hill on Stillwood Drive.  This turns into Los Angeles Avenue,
which will take us through the heart of the Virginia-Highland neighborhood.
Highland Avenue is quite accurately named. 
Shortly after the mile 21 marker, we will rejoin the half-marathon route,
although our paths will diverge again upon entering Piedmont Park.
This photo shows the Park Avenue bridge, which is one of my favorite parts
of the half-marathon route (mile 9), with several fun and enthusiastic
 cheering groups.  I hope that I will enjoy it just as much after 21 miles!
The half-marathon route exits Piedmont Park to the south,
at the Charles Allen entrance, which marks the finish line
of the 10K Peachtree Road Race on Independence Day.
The full-marathon exits to the west, onto 12th Street.
The beautiful gate obscures the view of the toughest uphill section of the route.
Thank goodness the 12th Street challenge is only one long block!
This particular Publix grocery store is actually well past the mile 23 marker,
on Spring Street.  My goal is to conserve enough energy so that I can begin to
speed up a bit in this section.  Less than 5K to the finish line! 
We will enter the Georgia Tech campus near the mile 24 marker, rejoining the
half-marathon route for the remainder of the race.  The photo is inside Bobby Dodd
 stadium at the corner of North Avenue and Techwood Drive.
I attended my first sports event at Georgia Tech earlier this month,
the inaugural game of Atlanta's new Major League Soccer team, Atlanta United.
Atlanta United will join the NFL Atlanta Falcons team in the new
Mercedes-Benz stadium, which will open near downtown Atlanta in July. 
The College Football Hall of Fame opened in downtown Atlanta in 2014.
It's actually near the 26 mile marker.  By this point, we will have run on a gentle
but steady uphill for more than a mile, on Marietta Street.  In 2015, I ran my first
negative-split half marathon and finished strongly despite the long uphill finish.
In 2016, I had started the race more quickly, and struggled in the last mile, although
I managed to improve my course time by 3 minutes.  Let's hope that I conserve
enough energy in the marathon to enjoy this final stretch! 
The half- and full-marathon races will end in Centennial Olympic Park,
less than a block from where both races will begin shortly after 7 am.  The Park was built
in downtown Atlanta for the 1996 Olympics, and has become one of the most popular
gathering spots in metro Atlanta.  The World of Coca-Cola, the Georgia Aquarium,
and the Center for Civil and Human Rights are located on the north side of the Park.