With 60,000 runners, the PRR (Peachtree Road Race) is the largest 10K in the world and the largest road race of any kind in the United States. Runners come from across the country (and world) to attend this event, and Atlantans take great pride in the fact that this race occurs right here in our home; it's a big deal. It also occurs on July 4th (Independence Day), which creates a patriotic and family friendly vibe to the event.
As would be expected with a race of this size and recognition, the expo is huge! It takes place at the Georgia World Congress Center over the two days before the race, July 2nd and July 3rd. There are tons of vendors, and the expo takes on a life of its own. Spend some time walking around the expo and you are bound to bump into a coworker, neighbor, friend, etc. In my case I ran into all three of the aforementioned people. Suffice to say, everyone knows someone that is gearing up to run the PRR.
This year's expo did not disappoint. The picture below gives you an idea of what to expect should you ever have the privilege of being involved with this race.
Because the PRR is so large, the race's start is staggered into various waves. In order to gain entry into the preferred waves, a runner must submit a qualifying time from a prior race. The wave designations start with "Y" which is reserved for the slowest runners (and those without qualifying times). Each lower letter represents a wave of runners with faster times all the way down to the "A" wave. Even faster than "A" wave are the "sub-seed" and "top-seed" waves, which represent the absolute fastest runners (other than the elites). This year I qualified for the "A" wave - a big deal for me. Of course, I had to take a picture of the bib.
To say I was excited about race day would be a colossal understatement. This would be my my first 10k run since the 2013 PRR, and only my second 10k ever. Last year I ran the 10k in 58:32, and I was very proud of that time given that my goal for that race was to finish in under an hour (and I had never run any further than 5 miles prior to the race). In the year the past between the 2013 PRR and the 2014 PRR, I had dedicated a lot of time to running. I knew that I had improved a ton over the year, and I was excited to see just how much I had improved. Since 2014 marked the 45th anniversary of the PRR, I originally decided that my goal would be to finish in 45 minutes... later I'd modified that goal to be to finish in the 45's - in other words, 45:59 would do.
On the morning of the race (7/4/14), I was pumped! I had gotten a decent amount of sleep - 6.5 hours, which is well above average for me. The weather was perfect. I mean perfect! It had to be in the 60's for the entire race with very low humidity.
Note: Last year, I ran the race by myself. Another change that has occurred over the past year is my joining of a run group. I started running with BMR in November/December of 2013. Through these great group of guys, I've been introduced to a number of individuals and groups within the metro Atlanta running community such as SFRP, Running Nerds, and BGR. As evidenced by the photograph below, I would not be starting this race solo.
Here's another shot of some of my fellow "A-wave" runners moments before the start...
Okay so enough of setup and pictures; let's get to the nitty gritty of the race itself.
Wave A started at 7:30am just one minute after the 7:29 start time for the elite men. For a split second, I thought about how cool it would be if I could close that one minute gap and actually beat the elites to the finish line. I couldn't dwell on that thought for long though because I knew that I had just one minute to complete my pre-race chat with God.
I always pray for a good race and the ability to finish while leaving everything on the course. I pray that I can finish standing on my own two feet with a smile on my face. I pray that my fellow runners are safe, and that they meet their individual goals. I pray for the spectators and volunteers who sacrifice their time to support us along the course.
Shortly after I conclude my prayer, the race starts, and we're off!
Note: Right before I prayed I told Lamar (fellow BMR runner who's a bit faster than me) that I planned on keeping him in my sight the entire race. As long as I could see him, I'd be confident that I was running fast enough. He's the guy to the far right in the preceding picture.
MILE 1: The start was not as fast as I anticipated given the wave that I was in. We were packed in pretty tightly, but I knew that the crowd would thin as the race proceeded, and then I'd be able to stretch out and find my pace. For the first mile or so I was content with letting the crowd dictate my pace. I didn't want to expend to much energy moving laterally through the course trying to pass folks up. The first mile of the course is very slightly uphill... almost flat really. I got through the first mile in 7:26. A bit slower than I planned, but again I was following the crowd. And I also decided that I was going to run by feel and only look at my watch at the end of each mile.
MILES 2 & 3: I'm lumping miles 2 and 3 together because they are essentially the same - downhill and fast! In fact, I'd argue that these are the two fastest miles of the course. It's easy to get carried away on these miles and forget about the upcoming Cardiac Hill that greats you at the start of mile 4. If you don't know what Cardiac Hill is, then it's safe to assume that you have never run the PRR. Don't worry, I'll cover it in the next mile. But anyway, its during miles 2 and 3 that I began to find some space to pick up my pace a bit, while still staying within myself. I covered these two miles in 7:15 and 7:03, respectively.
MILE 4 & 5: ... And then I hit the dreaded Cardiac Hill. For those not in the know, Cardiac Hill is the toughest part of the PRR. It begins towards the end of mile 3 going into the start of your 4th mile. It's about a half mile long, and over the mile the gain is about 150 feet. The hill peeks at Piedmont Hospital... convenient right? For regular Atlanta runners, Cardiac Hill is really not that bad; it's a climb for sure, but really everywhere in Atlanta is hilly. For the less experienced runners and those from out of town, Cardiac Hill is mind as well be a mountain. It doesn't help that it comes so abruptly after 3 very easy miles.
Anyway, when I hit Cardiac Hill, many people were slowing down, walking... just struggling in general. What makes it even tougher is that after climbing the hill and reaching it's peak at the end of your fourth mile, you find out that there's a double dip - all of your fifth mile is uphill! Sure it's a more gradual hill but it lasts for the entire mile and comes not to long after the steeper Cardiac Hill. It's the double dip that in my opinion makes mile 5 even tougher than mile 4. All that said, I managed well through these two miles, finishing both miles in 7:25 each.
MILE 6: Mile 6 is probably my favorite mile of the course. First of all, its the last mile - that's reason enough to celebrate it. But the icing on the cake is that it is all downhill and the crowd support picks up even more here.
**Okay a brief break to talk about the crowds. The crowds at the PRR are simply AWESOME throughout. There's not a single dead spot at all along the 6.2 mile stroll down Peachtree Street. There are tons of kids to high five, bands set up on various stages, and people handing out everything from water to beer. I LOVE the PRR crowds and volunteers. I make it a personal mission to high five as many kids along the course as I can. I think I got around 12 of them this time around... I was slacking.**
Okay back to mile 6. So yeah, I love mile 6. At the very start of mile 6, I looked over and saw my wife cheering me on (and videotaping me) as I went by. I was very happy to see her. My energy level, while already high, shot up even more, and I was ready to finish this thing!
Right after I passed my wife, I looked over and saw Lamar - remember the fellow BMR runner who's a bit faster than me... yup, we were side by side at this point - that's a very good thing! I looked over at him and said, "I need you to push hard this last mile, cuz I'm following you in." He said okay, and man did he stick to his word. We turned on 10th street to finish the last 0.75 miles and he started his kick. I know what you are thinking... that seems a bit early. I thought the same, but he went so I went. We flew through the sixth mile in 6:50. Correction, I flew through the sixth mile in 6:50; Lamar finished about 3 seconds before I did. Like I said he's a bit faster than me lol!
I ran through the finish line, collected my shirt, and met up with a bunch of folk. I won't bore you with the post-race festivities. But it involved lots of hugs, high fives, trash talking, eating, drinking, etc. Good times with lots of good people. Too many to call out individually.
So let's recap my goals. (1) I kept Lamar in sight - done! and (2) I finished in the 45's - done!
And I now have a new 10k PR - 45:59!
Note: About 1/4 mile before I crossed the finish line, I passed by one of the humblest, fastest, and coolest people I've met in my short running career. He's a real stand up guy, and he was on the side of the street receiving medical condition. I won't mention his name, because he probably wouldn't want the extra attention. But let's just say it was like seeing superman on his knees. I was able to see that he was alert and receiving medical attention, and I'm happy to report that all is well. He likely suffered from a bit of dehydration and/or exhaustion from pushing hard through the race. I mention this to tell whoever is reading this that although we all run with individual goals and motives, we are all united as runners. Take care of yourselves, push hard, but stay safe out here. There are more people that care about you then you probably even realize. It's why I pray before EVERY race. On this day, I prayed that God would protect each and every runner... EACH and EVERY one.
That's my recap. Until next time folks, run strong. Peace.