December 7, 2013:    

The Atlanta Beltline Eastside 10K    

Goals: To finish my first 10K, in under 60 minutes; to pass the two-mile marker before meeting the lead runners coming back along the Beltline; and to have a fun and injury-free run.  

 About one month ago, I learned about a 10K race to be held on the eastside Beltline.  Bonnie and I regularly walked a 2-mile section of the Beltline with friends on many Sundays shortly after our Weight Watchers meeting.  The Atlanta Beltline project has been converting disused railways into pedestrian corridors.  When the project is complete, there will be a 22-mile circuit around downtown Atlanta.  The Beltline project has been supported by a combination of federal, state, local, and private sources.  Proceeds from today’s 10K race (in its third year) would support ongoing work to extend the current segments of the Beltline.  

My long-term goal is to run the Peachtree Road Race, the nation's biggest 10K, which is held in Atlanta each Independence Day.  The Peachtree race is notorious for hills, and in some years the early morning heat is an additional significant challenge.  I felt that the Beltline race would be a good initial test, given that it would be relatively flat, and the December weather would be cool.  Although I wasn’t completely sure that I was ready to run a 10K, I did want to support the Beltline project, not only with my registration fee but also by my participation.    

The published race route, with mile markers in yellow diamonds
 Prologue:  This past week was rainy, and last night the temperatures dropped from unseasonably warm mid-70’s Fahrenheit (ca. 25 oC) to the high-30’s (below 5 oC).  However, the rain stopped overnight, and the forecast was for cloudy skies but no rain until this evening. 

We arrived at our friend's home in the Old Fourth Ward around 9 am.  After a 20-minute walk, we reached the starting point, on Krog Street.  This part of the Old Fourth Ward was in the early phases of gentrification, with an upscale steak restaurant (Rathbun’s) in a converted warehouse across the street from the former site of Tyler Perry Studios, soon to reopen as the Krog Street Market.  Over 1000 runners had registered for the race, and many of us were in line for the Port-A-Potty’s, after overhydrating in preparation for the race.

The start and first kilometer:  At 9:50 runners were encouraged to move near the starting line, and so I gave up on the Port-A-Potty line, as my need was not supercritical.  Initially I found myself fairly close to the starting line, with most of the field well behind me, so I decided to move back several rows, given that this was my first 10K.  The organizers were leading various chants to get everyone revved up, and I was alternately stretching and jogging in place to stay warm. 

The organizer gave updates at 9:55, 9:58, 9:59, and a 20-second countdown, and then we were off!  It was a fairly crowded field but everyone in my area was considerate and running at the same pace.  We made a left turn onto Irwin Street and then a right turn onto the Beltline at its current southern terminus.  The Beltline is about 4 meters across for most of its length, so there was enough room for runners to work their way around slower colleagues – or allow faster runners to pass safely.  I could physically have run a bit faster but with the first half-kilometer my pace was about 5:40 per kilometer, just perfect to avoid starting too quickly.  It was 41o F (5 oC) at the start, but the lightweight windbreaker kept me comfortable once we began running.  We passed some familiar landmarks including Parish Restaurant, one of our favorites for brunch, and soon reached the 1-kilometer mark at the underpass for Freedom Parkway.  5:23, which was a 54-minute pace.  Not bad!

The second kilometer:  The runners were spreading out just a bit, and I was able to pick up a little more speed.  We passed the new skateboard park to the left, crossed the Ralph McGill Blvd overpass, and saw the 1-mile marker.  I passed a few people but most of us were running at a similar pace.  A man passed me wearing a “1st English Half-Marathon Finisher” shirt.  For a moment I thought that he was the first-place finisher, but then realized that he merely finished the first running of the English half-marathon.  Hopefully this didn’t mean that I was already befuddled from fatigue.  At the North Avenue overpass, 4:57 for the second kilometer, 10:20 elapsed.  52-minute pace!

The third kilometer:  The wind began to pick up, and I decided to try to protect my ears by unrolling the hood on my windbreaker.  This motion caused the strap on my iPhone armband to loosen on my left shoulder, so I had to tighten that back up before I could finish pulling up the hood.  The hood provided some protection from the wind, but the hood didn’t fit tightly and was bouncing around on top of my head.  The wind subsided and I decided that I would be more comfortable without the hood, not to mention retaining some peripheral vision.  To the left were the backs of two shopping centers wedged between Ponce de Leon, Virginia Avenue, and Monroe Drive.  As I drew near to the Virginia Avenue underpass, the third kilometer ended with 5:07, and 15:27 total elapsed, just under a 52-minute pace. 

Miles 1 and 2 of the Eastside Beltline,
with kilometers marked in magenta circles. 
The fourth kilometer:  Just past the Virginia Avenue underpass, several volunteers lined both sides of the Beltline at the 2-mile mark, and were handing out cups of water.  Remembering that only rookies take the nearest cup, I accepted a cup from one of the last volunteers, took a gulp, and tossed the cup into the center of the garbage can.  2 points.  The police had closed off Monroe Drive and were diverting traffic, so we all sped across Monroe onto the gravel path along the eastern border of Piedmont Park.  This will eventually continue the Eastside Beltline northward, but today it was a 3-meter-wide unpaved trail.  I watched the ground carefully for hazards, although I was able to maintain a decent pace.  The path then turned into a dirt track, with several muddy areas to weave around or jump over.  I actually managed to pass a few runners in this stretch.  At the western terminus of Amsterdam Avenue, the fourth kilometer ended with 5:15, and 20:42 total elapsed, still under a 52-minute pace.

The fifth kilometer:  Along this part of the trail, I first saw the runners ahead of me working back through the park.  I don’t think that I spotted the lead runners, as this group was probably only about one kilometer ahead of me, but I realized that the dirt trail would soon end and I could then run on the paved sidewalks of Piedmont Park.  The dirt trail had quite a few rocks (too large to be gravel) and this was the toughest terrain to this stage.  At that moment a man pushing a stroller passed me on my left!  Amazing!  And undoubtably he would sail once he got back onto pavement.  Reaching the bridge to cross a creek, I could see Winchester Drive ahead, which was close to the mid-point of the race.

The published map had the runners stepping onto Winchester Drive for just a few feet and then immediately turning left into Piedmont Park proper, on a nice sidewalk.  But Winchester Drive delivered an unpleasant surprise: an uphill climb toward Piedmont Avenue that was not on the map.  Foul!!  I couldn’t see how far the road climbed but it appeared that a U-turn up ahead would send the runners back downhill, and only then could we enter the park.  I chugged up the hill as best as I could, probably less than 100 meters, but this really slowed me down.  Reaching the top, I made the U-turn, then loped back downhill and turned right into the park.  The 3-mile marker and 5 kilometer alert came at the same time.  5:25 for the last kilometer, 26:12 total elapsed, but my pace was now over 52 minutes.  Lesson: always check the USATF certified map! 

The sixth kilometer:  Even though I was running on a nice sidewalk, about 2 meters wide, I was unable to get back up to speed.  That hill had taken a lot out of me.  Runners began to pass me, so I resolved that I would hug the right side of the sidewalk for a while, and just take the sixth kilometer more slowly.  This should have been the nicest part of the course, but I was mostly just trying to maintain a decent pace as I followed the route winding southward through the park, through gently rolling hills.  The new and expanded dog park rose up on the hill to my left, and here the sidewalk was very wet with runoff from the dog park hill.  Hmmm.  I found myself wondering if the mulch in the dog park was sufficient to purify the water coming onto the sidewalk, and decided that the best course of action would be to take great care not to slip and fall in that area.  Otherwise this part of the race was mostly a blur as I just tried to keep up with the other runners.  5:47 for the sixth kilometer, 31:54 total elapsed, pace now over 53 minutes.  But my goal was to finish in less than 60 minutes, so I was still on track as long as I didn’t slow down much more.

The seventh kilometer:  As we worked our way through the southern part of the park, I tried to pick up my knees and run stronger, especially every time that I was passed.  I was passed quite often, so I received motivation every few seconds, it seemed.  Finally we turned onto the sidewalk paralleling 10th Street.  Approaching the 4-mile marker, I heard someone say in the group behind me “See you later, I’m going to try to stand on the podium” and then he streaked past me on the left and very quickly vanished from sight.  Approaching Monroe Drive, the police were still diverting traffic, and so we could cross without delay, back onto the Beltline.  Passing the water volunteers again, I ran down the middle and decided that I didn’t need water, then found myself hoping that I hadn’t made a strategic error.  5:51 for the seventh kilometer, 37:45 elapsed, overall pace nearly 54 minutes. 

In and around Piedmont Park.  Note the surprise additional mileage at the north end!    

The eighth kilometer:  I thought that the run would be easier on the Beltline, but then realized that this stretch had a gentle upward slope, as I looked ahead toward the old Sears Roebuck regional headquarters building – subsequently City Hall East – and soon to be Ponce City Market.  I had failed to appreciate a corresponding downhill stage earlier in the race.  Other runners continued to pass me.  RunHelper signaled the 8-kilometer point, somewhat before the 5-mile marker.  Either RunHelper GPS was not quite accurate, or that unexpected hill on Winchester Drive unnecessarily padded the mileage.  6:09 for the eighth kilometer, 43:54 elapsed, 55 minute pace. 

The ninth kilometer:  I was disappointed that I had just logged a kilometer slower than 6 minutes.  I was concerned that I probably had 2.1 or 2.2 km to go, not just 2.0 km.  And I still really wanted to finish in less than 60 minutes.  A quick physical assessment indicated that my calves were sore and I had a little pain in the left heel, but I was breathing alright and overall was feeling even a little better than when I was at the same stage in the practice run on this course last Sunday.  A younger woman started to pass me and I stepped up my pace.  She did eventually move ahead of me but I was definitely able to run a little faster than I had managed.  In fact the sidewalk appeared to level out here, maybe even slightly downhill?  As I reached the Freedom Parkway underpass, 5:59 for the ninth kilometer, 49:53 elapsed, 55:25 minute pace. 

The tenth kilometer:  I was encouraged by the slight improvement in the past few minutes, and motivated by the prospect of meeting my time goal as long as I continue running.  Nothing was hurting too badly.  I estimated that I was approximately 1.1 km from the finish line.  A bunch of younger runners passed me but I managed to keep up for a few minutes with a man closer to my age.  As we passed the Parish restaurant, I managed to say to him, “We’re almost there!”  I was sort of hoping that he and I would run together to the finish, but instead I must have motivated him to pick up his own pace and he quickly moved several meters ahead.  But then I spied the six-mile sign!  The police were unable to keep Irwin Street completely closed, but I managed to hang off the back end of a cluster of runners that made it through an opening before a truck eased its way through.  I turned left onto Irwin Street, then carefully turned right onto Krog Street as the 10-kilometer alert sounded on RunHelper: 5:41 for the tenth kilometer, 55:34 elapsed.

The final three kilometers

The finish:  I could see the finish line as soon as I turned onto Krog Street!  And it was gently downhill!  There was another runner 5 meters ahead of me who was struggling.  I started to sprint, determined to pass him.  I saw Bonnie just past the finish line and raised my right arm to wave and pointed to get her attention.  She saw me and raised her camera.  I pumped arms and legs as fast as I could.  I sped past the other runner on his left.  I could see the time on the official clock at 56:02 as I crossed the finish line! 

Hugs and high-fives all around.  My calves were burning but stretching immediately afterward helped.  Overall I felt pretty good, although I don’t think that I could have run much further.  I picked up a water bottle, Powerade, orange slice, banana, and most importantly – the official running jersey for finishers.  After a quick hot shower and change of clothes at our friend’s house, we all went to CafĂ© Intermezzo for a celebratory lunch. 

Epilogue:  Official time: 55:45.  The Peachtree 10K Road Race on July 4 will be tougher with the hills and warmer temperature, but now I’m confident that I will be ready, and I’m motivated to keep up my training through the rest of the winter.  

Goal: To finish my first 10K, in under 60 minutes: Achieved!

Goal: To pass the two-mile marker before meeting the lead runners coming back along the Beltline: Achieved! 

Goal: To have a fun and injury-free run. Achieved!

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