I Ran The Race
MARK your calendar NOW! October 3-6, 2019!
Have you run an inaugural race? Many runners I know have a fear of inaugural races, and that fear is not an unfounded one: I’ve heard horror stories about pretty much every aspect of a race that was accidentally neglected the first year. I’ve been lucky so far, with the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll San Francisco, Revel Mt. Charleston, Livermore Half Marathon, and several others under my belt, all of which ran smoothly. The Race? It didn’t just run smoothly, it exceeded all of my expectations as a race—and as an added bonus, I got to pace the 3:30 half marathon!
I Ran The Race!
If you missed my pre-race post about The Race, I jumped on board the Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign early. (It wasn’t exactly blind faith, as my friend Jessica knew the race director and key staff and confidently told me they were rock stars who would completely nail it.) Once she offered to let me crash at her pad, I sealed the deal and signed up for VIP. Unfortunately I missed the VIP weekend kick-off party—I do have a “day job” that actually wants me to show up—but from what I saw Thursday night was a lot of fun!
I flew into Atlanta on Friday and landed with enough time to check out the expo, figure out what time it was, eat dinner, and crash. As we walked into the expo, the area where a long line would have waited (if there had been a long line) featured the mile markers: individually painted works of art!
Packet pickup was fast and easy. There was no line, and it would have taken two minutes to pick up my packet and shirt but Jessica seems to know everyone in the Atlanta running community, so packet pickup was just the first in a series of welcomes and meeting new friends. We also had a good laugh about how Atlanta-area runners had the “Who’s On First?” experience the prior week. (“Are you running this weekend?” “Yes! I’m running The Race!” “Which race?” “The Race!” “Yes, I know you’re racing, but which race?”) VIP included a wristband for the race-day festivities as well as a sweet inaugural backer patch that I sewed onto my jacket. Yes, I know, I “need” another running jacket like I “need” a PhD in astrophysics, but my spidey senses told me I wanted to snag one while the full range of sizes was still available and besides they were so cute. Several weeks later, I’m glad I did—not only did The Race rock, the jacket is perfect for fall weather in Portland. (No surprise, since Leslie Jordan, the jacket manufacturer, is based in Portland.)
The expo was better than most of the race expos I have been to this year. I wasn’t there for the whole thing since I flew in Friday afternoon and I’m still certain it was one of the top expos I’ve been to in the past five years (during which I have run dozens of races). The stage had a series of panels featuring runners and running, with DJ sets in between. The lighting and music permeated the expo and gave it a dance party feel. As promised, the expo featured primarily local, Black-owned businesses–24 of them, to be exact. There were soaps and gorgeously scented bath products by Livy & Sophie, and fabric and fashions by Cam Swank, for example.
Local vendors at the inaugural expo:
Run Social Atlanta
Westview Corner Grocery
D Café & catering
Angie O’Neal Designs
Charm City Noir
Buy From a Black Woman
Wyatt Family Dental
Urb’n Charm Jewelry
The Village Market
Vital Life Chiropractic
Natural Fit Designs
Livy & Sofie’s Natural Body Elements
South Fulton Running Partner
There was also a selection of limited edition, inaugural race merch. While I love my boco hats and am a sucker for socks, I successfully managed to purchase only The Race jacket. Gotta leave something for next year, right?
Did I mention I signed up to pace?
A few weeks before The Race, the organizers put out a call for pacers. Since I’m something of a slowpoke, I was really excited to see a 3:30 pacer slot (the course had a 4 hour limit). Of course I volunteered, figuring that I could do a 3:30 without any difficulty. Without consulting the actual race course itself. My co-pacer and I spent the remaining weeks wondering whether the Atlanta hills were as bad as our friends who previewed the course said they were, and whether she would be okay pacing just a week after the Chicago marathon. We talked about using intervals, which we both agreed would be key to managing a slower pace while still eating hills for breakfast. I stopped by the pacer booth at the expo to make sure I understood the race day details and got some insight into the course and its many hills from the locals. I left with a red legacy pacer singlet, and renewed worries that I might just be in over my head, but remained committed to kick as much ass as I could.
Carb-fest and Pre-Race
We grabbed dinner at a local pizza and pasta place called Little Azio, where I carbed it up with some pasta, and then topped it off with ice cream from Morelli's Gourmet Ice Cream (salted caramel and dark chocolate chili). I’m no stranger to good quality ice cream—Portland is home to Salt & Straw—but oh boy was that tasty. We turned in early and I crashed like a rock, exhausted from travel and nervously anticipating The Race.
Jessica and I got up early in order to make it to the parking lot and get settled. (I’m glad we did, as a sufficiently large number of people did not, and the last-minute traffic was heavy.) As VIPs, we had access to the warmer inside, as well as the coveted flush toilets. Since we were parked in the lot nearby, we didn’t make use of the gear check, but there was plenty of gear check room: Tate the Great MMoving provided a truck for general gear check, while the VIP area had its own area. Then we headed down to the astroturf area in front of the stage for a warm-up with ___. It was a great way to get moving, and the women from ___ did not blink an eye when the power went out temporarily, cutting their mics—the only “problem” I saw all weekend. Without missing a beat they hopped down onto the grass and finished the workout with us with as much enthusiasm as they’d had when backed by a DJ.
Who Ran The Race?
As a so-white-I-put-on-sunblock-before-the-sun-came-up runner, I was thrilled to be in the minority at The Race. The vision of The Race was awesome and I really, really wanted it to happen exactly like that, not so much for me, or even for the organizers and Atlanta, but for the running community as a whole. (The 1,411 participants were 86% African American, according to The Race's instagram.) I believe it is important for the running community to not just include anyone who wants to run—regardless of skin tone, regardless of the choice to wear a hijab or a yarmulke—but to create a space where runners are actively welcome, not just the tokens or the Kenyans or the future Black Olympians. (As a side note, I also personally believe it is very important for those who are perceived to be in the American “majority”—which I’ll broad-brushstroke as white, cis-gendered, heterosexual, probably Christian—to have real experience of what it is like to be the minority. There’s just no substitute for experience.)
After hopping by the pacer tent to pick up the 3:30 stick and snap some photos, it was time for the runners to head into the corrals. I was starting to get worried as I hadn’t seen Felicia yet. Runners were divided into three waves: red, green, and black, the colors of the flag of African unity. VIP runners had the option to start in any corral. A full-on drum line marched us into the corrals and they were spectacular! (I took pictures, but the sun wasn't up yet and the pictures are blurry.) They continued to perform, lining the lead corral on both sides, until it was time for the final pre-race moments.
As the 3:30 pacer, I headed to the back, crossing my fingers and hoping Felicia, who was caught in the later traffic from the host hotel, would make it on time. Immediately I had a bunch of people start asking questions about pacing strategy, and I am quite glad I’d thought this one through. In order to cross in 3:30, we needed to average 16:00/mile. I knew I could do that easily on flattish land running intervals of 2:1 (walk:run) but also knew there were significant hills in two locations, one early in the course, and a few after mile 10, followed by a whopper at mile 12. My plan was to take as many of the early miles as possible at 15:00 in order to bank time for the killer hill at mile 12. ___ arrived just before the start, and suddenly we were off and running with participants from 34 states.
My First Pace Gig…HILLS FOR BREAKFAST!
I’ve been the completely unprepared runner in the back completely relying on the pacer to pull my butt over the finish line. (Thank you, Rock ‘n’ Roll Los Angeles 2013 pace team, with extra mad props to the 3:00 pacer.) As a result, I took my pacing responsibilities VERY seriously. While I wanted to keep as many runners as possible for as long as possible, I also absolutely had to cross the finish line at or before our assigned time—even if no one was with me—because that is what I promised to do. There weren’t a lot of selfies for me at this race, as I alternated between looking around (I’d never been to Atlanta, and it is unlikely I’d stroll through these parts of town as a tourist), looking at my watch, and calling out words of encouragement in between RUN! WALK! and count-downs to switch from one to the other.
Early in the game, Team 3:30 resorted to my first rule of running (“Bain does not run UP hills”) and it’s corollary (“Running downhill with control is an excellent way to find ‘extra’ time”). This kept us almost perfectly on pace at 15:00/mile until almost mile 10. Not knowing exactly how bad the “bad hill” at mile 12 was kept me nervous, but I still had to take care of the people who were relying on us, so I continued to joke around and shout encouragement to the group that had clustered around us. By mile 5 I’m pretty sure I had annoyed the snot out of one group of runners (seriously, I’ve never been that perky that early in the morning!) and was pleasantly surprised that a few had passed us. “Fake it ‘til you make it” is still my best running strategy, followed closely by “if you feel like you’re going to die, find someone who needs your help and focus on getting them to the finish.” By mile 8 I imagine we were the mid-point of the group that had started with us, but we were still nailing 15:00/mile. The aid stations had plenty of staff, serving up water and RED Gatorade. (I have no idea why every race uses yellow, it’s nasty.) I had a bottle of Tailwind in my Orange Mud vest, but gladly accepted some Gatorade at a few points when I knew I needed it.
The hills towards the end were hilly, but not *that* bad…until mile 12. While it wasn’t one of the hills at the Tiburon Half—hills so steep that I literally stopped and laughed when I arrived at the first one!—it was a steep, serious hill. I’m not going to lie, I trudged that one. Felicia and I had made a pact that I’d keep the pace, no matter what, and when we hit that hill her legs—remember she had JUST run the Chicago Marathon not a full week before—started giving her some serious sass. As I trudged I kept my eye on my watch, listening to my own legs squawk and doing bad runner-brain math, convinced I’d blown it until I hit the top of the hill and the last .1 when I realized if I could pull just a little bit more out of my legs I could probably make that 3:30. By that point I was solo, our entire group having already finished or fallen further behind. I sucked it up and attempted a sprint—which looked much more like a jog!—across the finish line.
3:30:5x. BOOM. (Though I didn’t hit “stop” on my watch fast enough, and spent the post-race period thinking I missed it by 0:01:00.)
A Fantastic Finish!
I accepted my medal and then ran back across the finish line to run-in ___, barely a minute or two behind me. The momentary pause in the action gave me the opportunity to meet the race director for The Race, who I’d previously only “met” via the Facebook group for The Race ambassadors.
The sun was shining, the weather was gorgeous, and there was a full-on party! The DJ held court from the stage, with runners sunning themselves and stretching on the faux-grass. Several of the vendors from the expo were in attendance, and there were food trucks and the usual post-race snackage occurring.
The VIP area was delightful and worth every penny. In addition to access to interior seating (and the flushing toilets), VIP had its own food truck! I can’t remember what all of the choices were, but even as a vegetarian I thought the food smelled spectacular. (I enjoyed two vegan tacos so good I licked all the bits that fell off out of the cardboard food boat. If you need a caterer in Atlanta, you seriously should look into ___.) There were also big washtubs of beverages, both beer (I don’t remember what kind—sorry, I don’t drink beer) and La Croix (which I jokingly said was selected to make us white suburbanites feel comfortable). In addition to tables with plenty of seating, the VIP area also had a massage station (first-come, first-served) and plenty of socializing. Even though I’m not from Atlanta, and even though my only Atlanta-friend there was Jessica, I felt really welcome and included. Everyone I met was friendly and kind, which was just icing on the cake after loving The Race itself.
While I was exhausted and slept a fairly unreasonable amount both Saturday and Sunday, part of the goal of The Race was to make a positive impact on the historically black areas of Atlanta and the black running community. Money from every registration went to charitable donations, for more than $9,200 donated! The Race supported more than a dozen charities, including:
✓Carrie Steele-Pitts Home
✓ L.I.F.T Organization
✓ Westside Future Fund
✓ A Better Way Ministries
✓ Sylvan Hills Neighborhood
✓ Adair Park Neighborhood
✓ Girls on The Run Atlanta
✓ Metro Atlanta Cycling Club
✓ HBCU Scholarship Fund
✓ Kilometer Kids
✓ Grady High School
✓ Boy Scouts of Atlanta
✓ Stone Mountain High School
Sunday, there were 16 different community impact projects, with runners and others donating more than 600 hours of volunteer service. (The Race itself had 275 volunteers in addition to the runners.)
What About Next Year?
Did I mention there were FREE race photos? And that they were available online the evening of The Race? Yup, it was THAT good.
It’s pretty rare that I don’t have at least a few suggestions to make about any race, and The Race is no different. The only suggestions I have, however, are pretty minor. One, I would love to see shuttles from the host hotel to the start/finish since so many out-of-towners stayed there. This would alleviate the pressure on traffic and parking, in addition to being easier for those unfamiliar with the area. Two, the race course could have used some porta-potties. I never needed one, so I was never looking for one, though I did see a few runners dashing out of gas stations (where I assume they made use of the facilities). Third, the mile markers could use a slightly more sophisticated set-up. (They were taped to sticks that stood up in traffic cones.) That’s it. Those are my only “complaints.” I loved everything else, from the course (even the hills), to the graphic design on the shirts and gear, to the atmosphere, to the free race photos (yup, free!).
The Race weekend continued on Sunday with community service projects and a post-race block party. Despite the compression socks, my legs just would not get me out of bed that morning so our day had a slow start and I missed the service projects. The remainder of my time in Atlanta was spent celebrating Pride with brunch and a killer view of the parade, before jaunting off to the airport. I understand the block party was a blast, though my legs were glad to be sitting most of Sunday.
In short, The Race rocked. If the inaugural was this good, I can’t wait to see what the Second Annual looks like!
Registration Opens on Black Friday! Stay tuned to www.theraceuc.com for more information, or follow The Race on instagram.
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