Wednesday was my third consecutive Peachtree Road Race. Thanks to Mickey and his knees, I did end up getting a spot and was able to run this year.
It didn't start so well, though. I went to the Health and Fitness Expo on Monday to pick up my race packet only to discover I had been put in the Y wave, the very last wave of the race. That wave doesn't even start the race until 9:05 a.m. I was supposed to be finished with the race more than 45 minutes before that. A Wave starts at 7:30 am as soon as the elites and sub seeded runners clear the starting line. Luckily, I remembered that at the entrance to the expo there was a kiosk with a "Runner Solutions" sign. On my way out, I stopped there and asked if there was a way to correct the problem. Apparently, my qualifying 5k time didn't get into the system. I know I entered in during the number transfer system process because I spent a while looking for the race number for my qualifying race. It didn't matter. The guy behind the counter looked up my race, checked my time and verified it against the chart and gave me a new number with a nice big A in front of it. The only problem was that this year they printed your first name above the number so people could cheer for you by name. Because mine was a replacement number, my name is missing from my bib. That's not really a concern for me.
I was a bit worried that because the guy behind the counter seemed a little frazzled and overwhelmed that connecting my new number and its accompanying timing chips to my entry would get overlooked, but things worked out.
On race day I got out of bed at 4 a.m., started getting dressed, ate, finished getting dressed and headed out the door before 5:30 a.m. I was at the North Springs MARTA station well before 6. Last year I cut things a little close. Traffic was backed up on 400 as most of the early-morning cars were pulling into the station's parking deck at the same time. I was a little worried I wouldn't get a spot then, but I did. This time, traffic was relatively light. I got an easy spot and didn't have to wait in any lines. I got my Breeze Card, and went up to wait for the train. We made better time than I though we would and ended up getting to the Buckhead starting line more than an hour before my 7:30 a.m. start time. It was actually pretty nice to be able to be able to take my time walking around, exploring the area and still get into my corral before most of the other people in my start wave. I even got to watch the wheelchair racers make their start more than 30 minutes before the runners.
There were a few changes in the route this year and I think some of them were done because of road work in the starting area. The medians were all dug up and unfinished, so the starting area was divided. There were actually two starting arches, so the waves were split into as they approached the start or started split in two for the elite runners through B wave. This was probably why instead of branching out the start waves along the road that intersects Peachtree just behind the starting line they sent the waves further up Peachtree and branched off there.
I don't think the fact that they started the elite women about 20 minutes earlier than the elite men had to do with the roads, though. I assumed that was because they were doing one of those things where they give the women a head start based on past winning times and if the winning woman beats the winning man, she gets a bonus and if the winning man beats all the women he gets the bonus. That wasn't the point, however. The winning woman crossed the finish line about 15 minutes before the first man and he had the fourth fastest time ever on the course. I still have no clue why they started the women so early.
Anyway, the morning was already warm by the time the race started in earnest. Standing still, I was starting to sweat. It was only in the low 70s, but the humidity was ridiculous. 88%. It was like room-temperature soup. It wasn't dangerous running weather, especially for a guy like me who often trains in the 90s, but it wasn't ideal for speed.
I was glad when they finally sent the elite runners. I knew I'd finally get some fresh air after standing for the last thirty minutes in a crowd. The weird thing is that I was sure they told the sub-seeded runners to hold their position right before they sent the elites, but the corral wranglers didn't hold up the ropes that separate the start waves and the sub-seeded people took off after the elite men. And then the A wave people in front of my took off after the sub-seeded runners as well. So I went with them. After all, the program says that the elites, sub-seeded, and A wave runners all start at 7:30, but I think in the past there has always been a minute or two between releases to make sure each group had a little room between them. That's probably why the race felt more crowded this year starting at the front than it did in the past starting further back. In the G wave in 2010 and D wave in 2011 I always managed to get myself at the front of the starting wave and was able to go out fairly strong so that I ran a good distance in the open before gradually picking off the slower runners at the backs of the other waves. Both of those years I was also actually a good bit faster than the qualifying time for that wave. This year, not so much. This is the third year that I made my time goal for Peachtree, but it's also the first year I didn't manage to qualify for a faster starting wave next year. In fact, I only qualified for B wave next year (partly because the course for Peachtree is actually at least a tenth of a mile longer than a true 10k.) That's not complaining. I'm actually happy with my performance. It's just explaining why the race always seemed crowded. There was no gap ahead of me and I was actually being swallowed by my own wave and the faster runners in the wave behind me.
The heat didn't really affect me. I think a 55 degree morning would have probably dropped at least a minute off my time, but I was going about as fast as I ever have for that distance. I breezed through the first 3 miles, which are mostly downhill, including a sub 7-minute third mile, a ridiculously fast pace for me. Then I hit Cardiac Hill, that hill that starts just before the mile 3 marker of the course and ends around Piedmont Hospital almost a mile later.
The weird thing about Cardiac Hill is that I didn't actually notice it my first year. I'd only been running for only about four months then and didn't really know how to pace myself over that distance and I'm pretty sure my run could have been faster than the hour and two minutes it took me. I was running slow enough that I didn't notice the hill. Last year I ran the race about as fast as I could then and suddenly noticed the hill. There is a hill there. It's not drastic but it was really freaking long. Yesterday, pushing even harder than last year, I REALLY noticed the hill (and every slight rise after it). Miles 4 and 5, which are mostly uphill really hurt. I felt a little queasy from exertion and I felt like I was crawling. It was only after the race that I realized that those two miles were pretty typical of my warm-weather training runs recently and 30 seconds per mile faster than those same two miles last year. It only felt like I was crawling because they're about a minute per mile slower than the other 4 miles of the race.
Because of those two miles I was worrying I wasn't going to make my goal of a sub-50 10k. I kept seeing my average pace creeping up and it was already at 7:40 after 4.5 miles. Anything over 7:45 and I wouldn't make my goal, or I thought. I apparently had remembered the number wrong because doing the math now, the pace to maintain is actually around an 8-minute mile. Luckily that last mile and a half is mostly flat or downhill and I was able to really pick up the pace at the end to even drop my average pace a little. Oh, 10k is usually 6.2 miles, but I consistently get GPS measurements of 6.4 and a subseeded runner friend of mine is convinced the course is 6.3, meaning your times at Peachtree will always be a little slower than your average pace would suggest.
Anyway, when I crossed the finish line, which in the past has always been at least 15 minutes more than my real time because it's the elapsed time from the start of the elite men, the time was still under 50 minutes. Without even checking my phone, I knew I'd made it. My final time was 49:26.