The second year of this race highlighted that this can be a great annual tradition, regardless of weather conditions. The race is sponsored by Big Peach Running Co and run by Orion Racing. Considering Big Peach is an exceptional running store with exceptional staff, it’s no surprise they put on a solid race. About a month before the race I ran a group run course preview at Big Peach just to get a long run in without doing it alone. The route was challenging but the organizers were enthusiastic and offered a registration discount in store. I decided to jump on the opportunity and use the race as a training run for my fall marathons.
The website and email correspondence leading up to the race were simple, clear, and provided all the necessary information without being spammed. They offered 5 days of packet pickup, rotating around town to the various Big Peach locations. They ONLY offered race day packet pickup for an extra fee of $15; 100% of this fee went to the various beneficiaries of the race. Even though participants represented 30 states, I’d still consider this a small, local race. As with smaller races, there was no expo. However, Big Peach had discounts available during packet pickup which is pretty much the same benefit you get at an expo anyway.
Race day arrived and the first major plus was the location of the start/finish area. Last year the race started at Underground Atlanta. Anyone from the area knows that it is not worth visiting the Underground. The new start area at Pemberton Place in Centennial Olympic Park is easily accessible via public transportation and there are plenty of paid parking options due to several popular attractions in the area (World of Coke, GA Aquarium, Center for Civil Rights). At the last minute I opted to drive downtown and paid $7 to park directly next to the pre-race area. MARTA costs $5 round-trip so the extra $2 was well worth it, especially considering how the weather turned.
The second plus for the day, which definitely earned an extra star, was the fact that there were real public toilets as well as port-o-potties available. The public toilets in Centennial Park are really well-maintained and we never waited more than 5 minutes. For those of us who like to use the toilet a few times before a race (just in case!), this was an awesome perk. Runners’ bibs were assigned to 5 different corrals. However, it was an open corral system so you could start anywhere you needed, i.e. with a chosen pace group. Pace teams were available in 15 increments and staffed by the awesome Big Peach staff. 15 minutes before the start they had a fun group warmup and then everyone placed themselves in the start chute. They did the national anthem, and then a countdown to an on-time start.
The course: After a short downhill through the start, the pack turns right and immediately up a long, steady hill. It was a quick reminder that not only is running in August in Georgia difficult, but adding the many hills of Atlanta makes it even more fun. The course was challenging, with the first 5 miles providing some long climbs. The second half of the course is still hilly but slightly less challenging. The course took you through some nice Atlanta highlights including, Turner Field, Old 4th Ward, the Beltline, Piedmont Park, and Ga Tech. Aid stations are at every mile, with Nuun sports drink at every other station. Nuun is a high quality electrolyte drink and not too strong on the taste. I’m very impressed they offered this instead of the typical, sugary alternatives. Bravo for that. Also, several aid stations provided Huma gels. Huma is a really tasty gel with a nice consistency. Again, better than what’s typically offered in races. Quality stuff. Finally, about halfway through the race they had PowerIce, awesome ice pops with electrolytes! These things are amazing, especially during hot races. Even though we didn’t have the expected heat it was still a refreshing treat.
Now’s a great time to talk about the amazing volunteers. Each hydration station was manned by volunteers from the local non-profits that benefited from race proceeds. They were well-organized, helpful, and enthusiastic. Despite thunder, and monsoon-like conditions for most of the race, these volunteers were high energy the entire time. Running with bricks of water on your feet is never easy but the awesome course support from volunteers and some brave spectators made the experience fun rather than miserable. Honestly, a cool summer storm was much more enjoyable than the expected heat and humidity. A race that’s still fun in spite of difficult conditions is impressive.
Back at the finish I collected the largest half marathon medal I’ve ever seen, a bottle of water, and a bagel. Due to the weather conditions they canceled the awards ceremony and most people, myself included, left immediately. I’m normally not a fan of driving to races, but having my car so close to the finish allowed me to dry off quickly and change before heading home.
Nicely done Big Peach. I think you’ve created another yearly race tradition.