On July 4, 2012, I ran my eighth Peachtree Road Race 10K and earned a 52:54 finish time.
The Peachtree Road Race 10K, with its capacity of 60,000 runners during the hottest season of the year here in Atlanta, is generally not regarded as a race to achieve personal records. As such, I always approach the event in a casual manner by treating it as a normal training day. Right now, I am on a roll with my weight loss and, at 210 pounds, I am at the lowest weight of my adult running career since I started marathons and ultras years ago. I have settled into the routine of punishingly intense treadmill workouts at a 10% incline on Monday through Thursday of each week, and I power-walk on the incline at an anaerobic heart rate for an hour in an attempt to achieve progressive distance records during that fixed hour time. These uphill workouts are benefiting my weekend long runs by making the uphill running almost effortless on normal road conditions and by making the steep trail inclines more manageable. On Tuesday night, July 3, less than 14 hours before the start of the Peachtree Road Race, I achieved a 4.6-mile distance during my hour on the 10% incline treadmill and earned a new record. This hardly qualifies as suitable race taper behavior.
As I arrived at the starting area of the Peachtree Road Race and was greeted by 71-degree temperatures and 85% humidity even in the early morning hours, I shelved any time goals and resolved simply to run the entire distance without taking any walk breaks on Cardiac Hill, as I had the year before when I finished in 59:26. The temperature was cooler this time around than the year before, but the humidity made up for the difference.
I was fortunate to have a corral spot in Wave B, since I used my existing 10K PR of 50:17 from a downhill race in 2011 as the qualifying time. I settled into the very back of the Wave B crowd, knowing that I would be shuffling through people for the first mile, but content to use that first mile to warm up into a decent pace.
The first three miles along Peachtree Road meander downhill as runners leave the start area at Lenox Mall and make their way down to the Peachtree Creek neighborhoods. I ran faster than my comfort zone allowed, but still conserved energy, at just over an eight-minute per mile pace for the first couple of miles. The noticeably descending slope of the third mile resulted in my fastest pace yet, and I briefly went into sub-seven-minute mode.
The beatdown of Cardiac Hill began at the fourth mile, but my treadmill incline workouts had served me well, and I remained in high spirits as I passed other runners by taking baby steps up the incline. This brutal half-mile climb is interrupted by a deceptive flat spot where runners turn a curve to see the rest of the hill looming before them. I took advantage of this brief lull in incline to breathe in as much oxygen as possible before resuming the second half of the climb.
Yellow flags were hung along the course to caution runners on their pace in the hot conditions, but I stayed in the middle of the road and turned down the chance to pull off at any of the aid stations for water. I also went out of my way to avoid the water sprinklers, since I did not want to get my feet soaked during a 10K road race.
The fifth mile of Peachtree Road Race is the true test that separates the runners from the walkers. I ran up Peachtree Road at an incline almost comparable to Cardiac Hill with legs that were still recovering from Cardiac Hill, but I maintained a solid running clip. I was wearing a regular stopwatch instead of a Garmin, but I predicted a 54:00 finish time, give or take some seconds. I wish I could say that my running felt effortless with my lighter weight this year, but I was struggling to keep a running pace on these hills, and I felt as through I were swimming through an ocean of humidity.
The crowd of spectators and hecklers along the side of the road kept a smile on my face during the tough moments, though. The Peachtree Road Race 10K is so distinctly Atlanta that I have to tip my hat to the idiosyncrasies of Waffle House employees throwing T-shirts to the crowd, of country-rock bands playing crudely-improvised cover songs, and of the flavor-of-the-month hip-hop songs being played on obnoxious loudspeakers.
The final mile inspired a final push with my running, and, although I cursed the small hills along the final stretch to the finish at Piedmont Park, I felt a sub-53-minute race holding a carrot in front of my face. I sped through the finish line camera crew setup and resisted the temptation to keep glancing at my watch as I made it through the chute just seconds before the 53-minute mark. I had finished the Peachtree Road Race 10K in 52:54 to beat my previous year's time by almost seven minutes. I ignored the finish line food temptations, because I knew that I had a cold Granny Smith apple waiting for me in my truck, but I did plow through several bottles of water as I hung out in Piedmont Park with friends for the next couple of hours.
I do not feel that my race time was anything impressive, and it is not even my fastest Peachtree finish, but I still have a grandiose head rush when I see my placement of 5,503 out of 57,754. I can certainly live with my spot in the grand scheme.
Thanks to the Atlanta Track Club for another brilliantly-organized Peachtree Road Race. It's not easy to pin down logistics for such a large-scale event, but Atlanta Track Club always comes through in style to keep things safe and fun. The Peachtree Road Race is the only time of the year that I can get from Lenox Mall to Piedmont Park in less than an hour, and, for that, I am always grateful.
See you on the trails.