The Atlanta Monster Dash 10K, an inaugural Halloween-theme event that started and finished at the International Plaza next to the Georgia Dome and World Congress Center in Atlanta, Georgia, will forever go down in my memory as the least likely personal record in my running history to date, because my initial intention for this race was to run as slowly as possible with no effort whatsoever. After several months of intense training and weight loss, I am now tapering for the Pinhoti 100 ultramarathon on November 3, and I had signed up for the Atlanta Monster Dash 10K as an excuse to put a relaxing short run under my belt to keep the blood flowing the weekend before the 100-mile race. I was simply going to run the course at a leisurely pace, enjoy watching runners dressed in outrageous Halloween costumes, and collect the impressive race swag in the form of a Monster Dash running jacket and a brilliantly macabre race medal.
October has always been my favorite month of the year, and Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. When I am not running on trails through beautiful fall leaves during the month of October, I can usually be found at home revisiting some of my favorite scary movies while trying to avoid the temptations of candy corn and pumpkin spice cakes. The Atlanta Monster Dash race, sponsored by Team Ortho, seemed like a fun chance for me to bring those two worlds together, and, in the days leading up to the event, I even brainstormed various costume options to celebrate this occasion where the actual running would only be an afterthought. What is the greatest and most awesome monster in the entire history of movies? The greatest and most awesome monster is the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Unfortunately, a Creature costume was not practical for a race, since it would be a big rubber suit that would cost a fortune and make actual running impossible. I had an old Jason Voorhees hockey mask somewhere in my closet from a Halloween party several years ago, but I ultimately decided that I did not want to wear a mask during a race and possibly injure myself before Pinhoti 100 by tripping on the pavement due to impeded vision. I even considered writing the word, “Life”, on my running shirt and handing lemons to people during the race, but I did not want to carry a bag of lemons. In the end, I simply showed up at the Monster Dash 10K in my now-familiar race outfit of an orange/black running shirt and black/orange running shorts, which, coincidentally, were the perfect Halloween colors.
Most runners at the start line had also eschewed the idea of elaborate costumes, but I had fun marveling at the handful of people who were celebrating in style. I spotted male runners dressed as women, runners dressed as bloodied zombies, superhero runners, and even someone dressed as Mr. Potato Head. I settled into the middle of the pack at the 10:30-minute Pace designation and looked forward to warming up in the cool morning weather once the race kicked off.
I am not sure what was going through my mind as I immediately took to the edge of the pylon course markers and passed by most of the runners at a brisk pace as soon as the race started. I think that I just wanted to get away from the crowd and have plenty of space to myself on the road. I was not in a competitive frame of mind, at least not yet, but I wanted to run by feel. As the race course made a series of turns away from International Plaza and eventually hit a gradual, but noticeable, half-mile incline, I was already approaching the sporadic runners near the front of the pack and I had all of the elbow room that I wanted.
I looked down at my old stopwatch when I ran by the first mile marker and noted that I had finished that first mile in nine minutes. I was enjoying the pace and knew that I was on track for a 55-minute finish, which would be faster than what I had in mind for this taper-week throwaway event, but still presentable on my list of historic 10K race times. I naturally accelerated, though, when the course took an extended downhill near the state capitol building. I spotted a runner ahead of me who was dressed as a Spartan warrior and decided that I should pass the Spartan warrior on general principle. I left the Spartan warrior behind and continued to pick off runners as I ran over the interstate downtown connector bridge.
The Atlanta Monster Dash 10K was not a flat course by any stretch of the imagination, but the hill climbs felt effortless for the most part as I took a couple of sharp turns into the Martin Luther King, Jr. historic area. A runner ahead of me was speeding along with the fast consistent pace of someone who was focused on a specific goal, and I made a quick decision to control my own pace by trailing this runner and keeping him in sight. Fast Consistent Runner did not miss a beat on the turns or inclines, and I soon ascertained that he was probably shooting for a 50-minute finish. I was hesitant to run that speed for an extended time at this race so close to Pinhoti 100, because I did not want to tire out my legs so close to a goal event, but I liked the idea of trailing just behind this runner for a mile or two before slowing down when the hill climbs became rough in the last half of the race. I remained ten feet or so behind Fast Consistent Runner and was pleased that this pace was not wearing me down as it had during past 10K events.
Eventually, I passed the Fast Consistent Runner on the gradual hills as the halfway point of the race course turned around the boundaries of the historic Oakland Cemetery. Fast Consistent Runner remained at my heels for a short while, though, as we turned onto a long straightaway down Memorial Drive next to the cemetery. The hill climb of the fourth mile did not faze me, and I took advantage of a speedy descent at the end of that mile.
As I passed the Mile 4 marker on the way back toward the state capitol area, I looked down at my stopwatch and was surprised to see that I had run the distance in 30 minutes. My previous 10K personal record from the downhill Silver Comet 10K course back in early 2011 was 50:17, and I realized that I could set a new personal record simply by maintaining a sub-9:30 pace during the last two miles. I shook my head at the absurdity of my new goal to set another personal record at this event, despite my modest intentions in the days leading up to the race. Ultimately, though, I remembered the words of a friend who had tried to motivate me for a past 10K event a couple of years ago, “Jason, nobody is impressed by 50-minute times, and you need to finish a 10K in less than 50 minutes to be a better runner.” The race course was more crowded now, since I had caught up with many of the Atlanta Monster Dash Half Marathon runners who were sharing some of the same roads, so I had no way to gauge my placement in comparison to the other 10K runners ahead of me.
The hills became steeper, but I somehow became faster. I soon caught up to an impressively fast runner who was pushing a runner-friendly baby stroller ahead of him. I noticed with a mixture of amusement and concern that this runner was letting go of the stroller and allowing it roll on its own ahead of him for a foot or two on the road descents before speeding up and taking hold of it once again. I gradually edged past the Catch The Baby Runner, knowing that, once again, I needed to pass him on general principle. I saw the CNN Center building in the distance while running up one tough hill and realized that I was edging close to the finish. I glanced at my stopwatch, smiled, and sped up slightly as I made the final turn off of Centennial Olympic Park Drive back to the finish line next to International Plaza.
I crossed the finish line of the Atlanta Monster Dash 10K in 47:20, earning a new 10K personal record by almost three minutes. I had placed 14 out of 578 total 10K runners and finished the race with a 7:37 average pace. The detailed race results site would later show that I had passed 207 runners according to the timing marks, and that none of the runners in the race had passed me on the course. I had finished fourth place in my age group.
I had mixed emotions as I collected my medal and made my way back to my truck, because I doubted the wisdom of running a personal record 10K on a sudden whim just one week before a 100-mile race that I had been training for over the past year. As a character in John Carpenter’s Halloween states, “It's Halloween, everyone's entitled to one good scare.” My legs felt great, though, so I shrugged off the decision with a smile and promised myself that I would enjoy complete rest for the next few days.
Thanks to Team Ortho for organizing a fun theme race on the hilly streets of downtown Atlanta and keeping everyone safe and happy during an inaugural event. I loved the Atlanta Monster Dash 10K and I hope to return to this race in the future to see what I can do if I give a 100% effort to race out hard. For now, though, I am treasuring my new 10K personal record as another feather in my cap during a fortunate fall season of running.
See you on the trails.