Atlanta Half Marathon, Atlanta, GA

Elevation Gain: negligible; High Point: 1075'

November 26, 2009 - It was an eleventh-hour decision to run in Atlanta since we would be celebrating Thanksgiving with family there. It is hard to pass on such a great event, but with the Space Coast Marathon planned for three days later I had curtailed my enthusiasm until the last opportunity to register. Having run this event previously in 2003 I knew what to expect. At that time I had managed to be the first finisher in the 50+ age category and walked away with a nice AG award. This time the effort would be more participatory as I didn't want to leave too much on the road right before a marathon.

Matthew drove me to the start, only a few miles from his apartment. It was very convenient, so I arrived early to begin staging with the other 8600 starters. The air was cool and damp with temps in the low forties - not too bad really. I walked to the starting corals to avoid standing around and shivering. Once in close with the hordes of starters the collective ambient temperature made the remaining wait quiet tolerable. I stood back and observed the crowd mostly to note the distinction between the road racing folks and those I normally toe the line with at trail ultras. While we are all runners and racers, there are subtle differences in the kinds of enthusiasm displayed and pre-race preparations.

The clock wound down and we headed off with the accompaniment of loud rock music at 7 a.m. in the pre-dawn light. The beginning of these mass road races always involves vigilence to avoid stepping on or being stepped on my other runners. Once I found some daylight in the crowd we moved south on Peachtree Industrial toward the goal at Turner Field. A seven-minute-per-mile pace seemed comfortable to start, but I backed it off a bit so that I wouldn't get too enthusiastic and end up being sore before the marathon on Sunday.

Running with such a large field can be distracting with no particular pattern of slowing and accelerating runners. I withdrew from most interaction to focus on a consistent tempo which I maintained running through Buckhead on my way to about the half way point, mostly level pavement running gradually losing some elevation by seven miles before the second half climbed toward the finish. Checking with another runner I was evenly on course for about a 1:40 finish, about where I wanted to be, if not a little faster than planned for. I extended myself a bit over miles 8 and 9 up a mild grade, trying to keep my pace by increasing my effort. By the end of mile 9 I felt a bit labored, so back off the effort and thereby the pace for the next couple of miles, which was evident by the throngs that moved past me. After mile 11 I again picked it up and increased effort and pace to the finish, passing many of those who had gone ahead in the previous couple of miles, finishing in 1:42:43, slightly better than the 1:45 I was aiming for and pretty much in the top ten percent of the field without really putting my whole heart into it.

My finish was consistent with my previous half marathon finish a year and a half before, but 15 minutes off my finish in Atlanta in 2003. That is the difference six years and age makes. Overall, I was very satisfied to collect a nice jersey and finisher's medal for my effort, considering I don't train for this distance and am more accustomed to slower running and longer distances. After Matthew retrieved me at the finish amid pure southern sunshine and we settled in to enjoy Thanksgiving the result was that I was none the worse for wear. After a couple days off, Sunday's marathon will complete the story of just how fit I am at this time.