When I saw that in-person races were going to happen for 2021, I began to register for half marathons in my remaining three states from my quest to run a half in all 50 states. On a whim and in the spirit of being more spontaneous, as part of my Running Resolutions for 2021, I decided to enter the lottery for the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia. Much to my surprise and delight, not only did I get in the race but my teenage daughter also got in.
The Peachtree Road Race first began in 1970 and has grown to the largest 10k in the world. It was cancelled for the first time ever in 2020 because of COVID-19. The Atlanta Track Club helps put on the race and they decided to divide the race into two days for 2021, with half of the runners on July 3 and the other half including elite runners on July 4. When the lottery was open for applicants, I could choose which day I wanted to run as my first choice and which day was my second choice. Thinking I might have a better chance of getting in if I chose July 3, that was my plan, and apparently it worked.
I received what seemed like a dozen emails with race logistics such as how to get to the expo, course maps, links to the MARTA light rail system, COVID-19 information, and more. Going into the race, I felt extremely prepared and comfortable thanks to all of the information I had in advance. Although I had been to Atlanta a few times before, I still would have felt prepared going into the race because of the excellent communication from the race staff.
The Expo was held June 26 and 27 and July 1 and 2 at the Georgia World Congress Center Exhibit Hall C2 in Atlanta starting in the morning and going to the afternoon each day. You had to register for a time slot in advance online. Since I was driving in from North Carolina on July 2, I chose the 2-3 pm time that day and decided to take the MARTA from my hotel. This all turned out to be wise decisions because I ran into traffic getting into Atlanta and by the time I got to the Expo, it was 2:45. I could have driven to the Expo but parking was $20 or $17 if you paid in advance through the race website and I knew traffic in that part of Atlanta would be a nightmare, especially on a holiday weekend. For those of you that may be interested, the closest MARTA stop to Hall C of the GWCC is Vine City, not the Dome-GWCC-Philips Arena-CNN Station, as one might think.
When I arrived at the Expo, I first picked up my race bib as well as my daughter’s race bib, then someone checked both of our vaccination cards and put a sticker of an orange on both of our bibs (signifying we were vaccinated, which came into play on race day), and finally I walked around to see what else was being offered. There were shirts from previous Peachtree Road Races being sold for $5 as well as shirts for the 2021 race at a higher price, Mizuno was selling shoes, the airline Delta was there (they were a sponsor), representatives from the Atlanta Track Club were there, there was a stand set up to sell reloadable Breeze cards for the MARTA and answer questions about that, and there were people walking around answering questions about the race in general. I was surprised there wasn’t a single sample being given out, but I believe that was because of COVID.
Runners were asked to submit proof of a recent 5k or 10k in order to be placed in an earlier wave and coinciding earlier start time. Since I hadn’t run an official 5k or 10k in nearly 20 years, I submitted a time from a virtual 5k from Strava that I ran last summer and a time for my daughter from a cross country race she ran last fall. Much to my surprise, both were accepted and she was put in Wave B, while I was put in Wave C (as you probably surmise, it started with Wave A and ran through the alphabet, going to I on July 3 and L on July 4). That meant she had a start time of 6:30 and mine was 6:40. Perfect.
We decided to head to the MARTA station near our hotel at 6:00, which gave us plenty of time to get to the Lenox station, even with a transfer from the red line to the gold line. The weather at 6:30 was fantastic especially given it was in a city sometimes affectionately called “Hotlanta,” with temperatures in the low to mid 60’s and relatively low humidity. When we got close to the start corrals, there was a barrier set up with volunteers checking for the sticker of an orange on bibs. Since we had them on ours, we were allowed to go straight to the start waves but unvaccinated people had to go the other direction to get screened, which I believe meant temperature checks and the usual COVID-related questions.
Each wave was separated by 10 minutes to help with social distancing and we were told to spread out within our wave. The race course was along Peachtree Road, starting at Phipps Plaza and going to Piedmont Park. All roads were closed to traffic for the race, a feat I can’t imagine in a city of that size.
There were five water stations and several places on the course where there was music of some sort. A priest from a local church was throwing holy water on runners who wanted it at one point and I saw a couple of places where people were giving out water or other things like cut-up watermelon and handing it out to runners. Because of COVID, the water at the water stations was in single-use plastic bottles, meaning you had to unscrew the top to open it, something I didn’t really want to do so I skipped water on the course.
There is a hill that’s nicknamed “Cardiac Hill,” and I was aware of it going into the race but I wasn’t aware there would also be a couple of other hills on the course. Normally hills aren’t my strong spot but I was able to power through every hill in this race, which I was proud of, especially when I saw so many other runners walking up the hills. Maybe my hilly half marathon in Minnesota the week before helped.
I should also say I felt really good going into this race, even though it was only my second 10k ever with my first 10k in 2002 and a finish time of 56:49. For this race, my split times were 8:36, 8:02, 7:42, 8:41 (uphill), 8:39 (uphill), 8:14 (partial hill), and my final 0.2 was at 7:40 so I had a good kick left in me at the end. My final time was 52:27 (an average 8:27 pace), which put me at 3441 out of 24,228 overall, 771 out of 11,417 females, and 67 out of 1240 in my age group. I couldn’t have been happier.
My daughter had been struggling with a niggling Achilles problem she’s had for a couple of years so she had to slow down a bit during the race and I actually passed her towards the end, which made it easier to get together at the finish. There were a couple of family meeting places set up at the finish that we had agreed to meet at had I not caught up with her on the course. We received cotton/polyester blend t-shirts that were bundled up with a Clif Nut Butter Bar and a Publix Apple Fruit Squeeze inside. There was also water, Gatorade, and Coca Cola products. You had the option of purchasing a medal in advance, which I chose not to do but had a bit of FOMO when I saw someone with one.
The one thing I really wished they had at the finish was chairs and I heard other runners saying the same thing. There was plenty of grass since we were at a park but it was all wet with dew so we found an asphalt path and sat there until we felt like heading out for the long walk to the MARTA station (there was one close by but because of the race finish, it was closed so we had to walk what felt like 20 minutes but I didn’t time it so I can’t be sure to get to the next-closest station). Before we left though, we stopped by the medical station to get some ice for my daughter, which a volunteer taped to her calf and that helped relieve some of the pain.
Would I recommend this race? Absolutely, without hesitation. I loved the race and loved to be a part of the largest 10k in the world. It was well-organized from pre-race to post-race, had amazing volunteers everywhere, and had a fun vibe. When I was running this race, I had so much fun the miles flew by. It felt good to run fast and to run with a crowd again and I realized how much I had missed in-person racing.
Even though I had just run the Circle of Life Half Marathon, Lake City, Minnesota- 48th state literally one week before this race, the one in Minnesota couldn’t have been more different from this race. That race had less than 100 people running the half marathon, while this one had over 24,000 runners spread over two days (I believe there were around 11,000 on July 3 when I ran it). I ran the vast majority of the race in Minnesota by myself, with farmland for scenery and the occasional aid station with a few volunteers handing out water. The Peachtree was full of people everywhere going through a big city, although the crowd thinned out pretty quickly after the first mile so I had plenty of room to run, hundreds of volunteers, multiple aid stations, music on the course, and a definite party vibe. This isn’t to say I didn’t enjoy the half marathon but it was nothing like this race.
Here is a link to the race website: https://www.atlantatrackclub.org/peachtree
Have you run the Peachtree Road Race? If so, what was your experience like? Do you want to run it but haven’t been able to get in the lottery?