Seven years ago when I moved to Atlanta, the only thing I knew about roads named Peachtree was that there were a LOT of them. However, in the past two years I have come to learn that there is only ONE Peachtree Road Race.
If you are a runner, there are 10Ks and then there is “The Peachtree”. Safe to say it’s the grand daddy of all 10Ks. With 55,000 “runners” participating every year on the 4th of July, it has evolved into the world’s largest 10k race since the first 100 runners made that fateful journey down Atlanta’s main drag in 1970. For perspective, there are only 35,000 runners in the NYC Marathon.
I first did “The Peachtree” in 2009. After running a few qualifying 10Ks in hopes of getting a spot in one of the early waves, I missed the sign-up period (which seems to close almost as soon as the race itself ends). I actually had to borrow a number from a friend, whose son wasn’t able to run it. (Shh… they frown upon such rule breakers.)
I wasn’t going to make that same mistake this year. After posting a PR of 41:12 in a local 10k, I got myself a coveted spot in the first wave of the day. I could actually see the elite runners for a few seconds at the start before they left all of us wanna-bes in the dust.
In the days leading up to the race, I had set a somewhat realistic (I thought) goal of breaking 41 minutes. However, being the nut case that I am, I decided to go for a 20-mile bike ride the day before. With my legs still a tad sore from the ride, I approached the starting line with serious doubts of even coming close to my goal.
Little did I know, but the chain of events that were about to unfold at the starting line would play a big part in my race result. When I run, I use the RunMeter app on my iPhone. Because of this, I have to hit the start button and then tuck the phone into my Spibelt on my lower back (it usually rests in the exact spot where all the moms in their late 30s and early 40s are now looking to have their “tramp stamp” tattoos removed from.)
I have performed this push-start-tuck-zip-run maneuver hundreds of times before. However, on this occasion, with thousands of people bearing down on me, I somehow missed the expandable pocket on my belt. This is instant disaster.
There it was, my phone, dangling precariously from the end of my earphone cord. I frantically try to pull it up as I keep running. It seemed to be happening in slow motion. The phone, hanging on for dear life, suddenly lost its flimsy grasp on the end of the earphone jack and went careening to the asphalt, its plastic case exploding into two sections as it crashed down. Less than 10 yards off the start line, there I was frantically darting back into the fury of feet headed my way. I somehow manage to snatch the phone off the street without getting kneed in the noggin. I sense a few kneecaps passing inches from my nasal cavity but none make contact. Victory is mine! Or so I thought.
My phone’s life has been saved, but unfortunately the crash stopped the app’s timer. I didn’t realize this until I passed the 1 Mile mark and didn’t get a pace update in my ear. At least my tunes were working. I learned that nothing can stop Vince Neil from belting out “Wild Side”. Who needs a watch when you can have old school Motley Crue as your pace setter.
Now running without any knowledge of my pace, I simply try to run with the others in my group. At about Mile 3, my bike ride from the day before starts to catch up with me and I feel myself slowing down a little. I immediately realize that my goal of breaking 41 mins is highly unlikely. With this in mind, I start high-fiving kids along the route, and doing other wild and crazy things like running to the far side of the street to get water even though I know it is adding precious seconds to my time.
When I finally make that left turn and head down towards Piedmont Park I’m anxious to see what the clock says at the finish line. I’m prepared for 43 or maybe even 44 up there. Then, off in the distance, there it is… my ticking beacon of hope, teasing me with its first two digits — 41. As the clock ticks, the last two digits count up — :04, :05, 06. That CAN’T be right, I think. I hit overdrive and sprint across the line at 41:17.
Because it took me 10 seconds to cross the actual start line, my official time comes in at 41:07 – a new PR. Sweet. I’m disappointed that I didn’t break 41 minutes, but considering my starting line mishap and the fact that I ran on tired legs, I considered it a major victory.
Next year, I will run with a watch. Lesson learned!