- 3 miles/5K, 13.1 miles/Half Marathon
- Road Race
- Event Website
My friend invited me to this downhill half marathon and since I had 16 miles on my marathon training schedule I figured it would be good timing to mix things up a bit. This was also my first in-person "post" Covid race outside of an Atlanta Track Club race. Considering I'm now fully vaccinated I felt safe heading outside my ATL Track Club comfort zone.
Packet pickup: we drove up Saturday afternoon (1.5 hrs from Atlanta) and headed straight to the packet pickup at the town park (also where the finish and post-race party would be the next day). Plenty of free parking right next to the park. I'm pretty sure it was the RD handing out bibs and t-shirts at the check-in. It took less than a minute, but we spent a few extra minutes talking to the RD about the morning schedule, logistics, course, etc. He pointed to the top of the mountain where we'd be starting and we got excited! We did not see a lot of masks whether inside or outside during our stay and race experience, but there were only a couple times where we were in closer than comfortable proximity to groups of strangers. We wore masks as much as possible at the race and where we stayed in Dalton, whether inside or out; areas outside of metro Atlanta have much higher rates of vaccine hesitancy so it seemed like an easy way to be safe while still enjoying the area.
Pre-race: Chatsworth is a very small town so we stayed 25 min drive away in Dalton (carpet capital of the world). Dalton is right off I-75 so it's very easy access from Atlanta, and has more food options; some options in a cute main street area, plus the regular chain family restaurants in abundance. Nothing great, but it's manageable.
Race morning: once again, easy 25 min drive to the start and plenty of parking at the finish area. They had a line of school buses for driving runners to the start at the top of the mountain. In a pre-race email they had asked for folks to spread out into buses assigned by alphabetical last name, however, it seemed that no one really did this on race morning. My friends and I split the difference with our last names and got on a 6:15 am bus, which was surprisingly full. This was probably the only time I was "COVID uncomfortable" due to the enclosed space and more than a small group of strangers. It seemed that most people were wearing masks on the bus though. We arrived at the top around 6:30 and everyone huddled behind the port-o-johns to break from the wind lol. It was weird but also oddly convenient, and there were no lines if you actually needed to use the bathroom. At 7am I warmed up for about 1 mile and we had a gun start at 7:30.
The course: while the course is a downhill course, the first 5+ miles are actually a loop on top of the mountain where you actually have to run 2+ miles down the mountain, back up to the start, and then back down, with a few large hills in there. I ran fast on the downhills and then had to hike 2 of the large, steep uphills. So, the first 5 miles are actually pretty difficult. Once you pass about mile 5.5 you're headed downhill for real...and I mean DOWNHILL. The average downhill grade at that point is between 7-10%. The race highly recommends training for downhill running and I very much agree with this. Luckily my regular strength training comes in handy and I felt very good for this. I ran 1.5-2 minutes per mile faster than my normal pace on this section. It was really fun and beautiful. Gorgeous mountain views. They also had 2 photographers on course (True Speed Photo) taking free race photos. I LOVE free race photos! The course bottoms out around mile 12 and then it's a normal rolling course for the last mile. However, after bombing down that mountain and spinning my legs at epic speeds, hitting that "normal" section felt more like hitting a wall. It was really surprising, but my "engine" was just about out of gas lol. Terrain I'd normally be able to run no problem forced me to take a few quick walk breaks just to get my breathing under control. However, I managed to push through and make it to the finish line with an epic PR (1:48). Even with the huge net downhill, I don't think a PR is a guaranteed thing if you're not prepared for this type of course. Just something to keep in mind.
Finish: we received a medal (it's really nice imo) and water at the finish. They had super yummy BBQ and beer, as well as massage tent (which I happily used before sitting in a car for a long drive home). The timing tent printed out your finish results right away. Overall, I found it to be a great little race, fun morning, well organized, and a good re-entry back into in-person racing. I think I'll look forward to doing this one again.