#22.-The Comic- Atlanta Marathon 2020
The Comic archetype reminds me to play with my running (and life) with a sense of humor and lightheartedness. I immediately think of Brittany Charboneau, “the funny runner”, who never takes herself too seriously and she makes running look fun! I love that in her training she has a theme for each week and takes a creative approach to expressing each persona. Not too much different than the archetypes! We could aim more as runners to see our races and runs more as a “game” and as Kim Krans says let life (or running) be “mixed and shaped into a potion to soothe the stressed and serious mind.” Aren’t we all inspired by those that make running look fun? I sometimes make my long runs into scavenger hunts to remind myself to stay present, stay light. I pick a theme and take in everything around me through that lens to soothe the mind and remind myself that I chose to do this, why not enjoy it? The shadow of the Comic is to take things too seriously. Getting tangled and stuck in my ways that things must be. Trying to control things and becoming too rigid. Flexibility is all about the Comic. If you’re not enjoying it, why do it?
#22. Atlanta Marathon- Atlanta, Georgia
(+Olympic Trials Marathon viewing)
On cold, dark January nights, I looked out the window at the frozen barren landscape after coming in from a run and having a hot shower. I felt a sense of pride that I been out in that, I got my run in. Still anchoring myself in place, living each season on my run, out in the elements. I felt the rush of getting fit and feeling ready to tackle the marathon distance so early in the year with a race in Atlanta in February. I run in cleats in the winter. They are running shoes with metal spikes to help keep a firm grip and not change my cadence while I’m running in the ice and snow. Running in deeper snow feels like I’m running in sand and that really builds the leg strength, supporting joints and tendons and brings new strength to my spring races.
I try not to live in “someday” mode but with several races planned for early 2020, with all the travel and fun places I would be going to running through my mind, I was not at all settled. I was actually quite frazzled. About 2 weeks before the Atlanta marathon I couldn’t get enough sleep. I was going to bed before 8 pm and sleeping solidly until 5 am. I felt good for nothing. I was lethargic and crabby at work and home. The wait and anticipation was too much! To occupy my mind, I began to do some research (as any good librarian would) on the people that I would be watching at the Olympic Trials in Atlanta the day before the marathon that I would be running there. The field was the biggest ever. The qualifying time for men was 2:19 and women 2:45. Even with that lightening fast time, over 500 women made the qualifying time. They are calling it the “golden age” of women’s marathoning. I thought about all the runners going to the trials and how they’ve made sacrifices and tough choices for years that would lead them to the opportunity to run for a spot on the Olympic team for the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. My dreams seem pretty small comparatively, but I look to them for inspiration, grit and bravery. To witness such a big event is a dream come true for me. It also helps me put things into perspective. My quest to run a marathon in 50 states has become a huge motivation for me. It allows me to travel, see new places, explore. I keep my focus on this while I’m going through the daily grind of a full time job and responsibilities.
The time finally arrived and I was more than ready for a great weekend in Atlanta. My friend Susan, who did the I35 challenge with me back in the fall and was going to come to Atlanta with me to do the half marathon. I was happy to have a running buddy that was interested in travel. We took an early Friday morning flight to Atlanta and navigated the subway from the airport to get to our hotel. We didn’t think we needed a car rental and we were right. We then took to the streets of “running city USA” to find the expo and catch the buzz of the marathon Olympic trials taking place the next day. We found Centennial Park where the whole running weekend would be taking place. There were tents set up for the athletes and the finish line was in the park as a prop for those taking part in the trials to take pictures with their family and friends.
The next morning we were up and out early at the waffle house across from the park taking it all in. The entire city seemed to be running, literally. There were running groups everywhere. We started to feel “lazy” for merely walking around. The city was definitely earning it’s name of Running city USA. We looked out the window at the giant Olympic rings adorning the park just behind a fence. We knew that Olympic dreams would be made (or lost) that day. As a huge fan of the Olympics for my entire childhood, this was pretty special to see this side of the process and for my favorite event of all, the marathon. The energy and excitement was certainly palpable. Across the street we could see Olympian, and fellow Minnesota native, Kara Goucher had gathered a group of 300 people for a “shake out” run. We sat at the table looking at the dozens of options for waffles on the menu, planning out our day. We wanted to be strategic getting around the city seeing the trails race from different vantage points during their 26.2 mile journey. We took the subway to scope out an intersection that runners would pass several times throughout their three lap loops. We saw the volunteers setting up the hydration stations. Pro runners have their own personalized water bottles. It was the largest field ever of trials runners and both male and female athletes running at the same time, it was the biggest personal hydration station undertaking of any Olympic trials ever. That meant thousands of bottles to keep organized so that each runner could grab their own unique bottle without needing to slow down. How they could pull this off was mind blowing.
We decided where we wanted to position ourselves and then headed back to the hotel to bundle up for the 1 pm start. It was cool and very windy, even by Minnesota standards and we were in Atlanta. I stopped at a local drug store to buy a knit pom pom hat. We then walked back down to Centennial Park to find the start line. As we made our way down we heard someone say, “there’s Des!” and noticed that 2018 Boston Marathon champ Des Linden was walking to the gated area of the park where the tents were located. It was time to bring out my DSLR camera and get serious! A few more athletes had arrived and then we noticed Jordan Hasay with her coach and advisor marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe walking with her. They were all going to be warming up on the road right in front of us. I stood there start struck as my personal marathon running heroes galavanted by with smiles on their faces. They were people that I had long admired from afar. I knew they were regular people but were also incredibly inspiring and lightning fast runners and I could feel the magic in the air. I was spewing out facts and tidbits to Susan next to me. She asked questions that I answered briefly, too excited to explain too much, as I clicked away with my camera. I couldn’t believe these incredible athletes were an arms length way and some of them would be then running in Tokyo later in the summer at the Olympic games. It was getting close to the time for the men to start. Then the women would begin 20 min later. We decided we would stand with the athletes waiting in their corral just before the start line. We were at the heart of the marathon world and there was nowhere I would rather be.
Then men took off with the sound of the blowhorn and next up were the women. It was humbling to see these athletes in person. They were incredibly fit and strong, but at the same time they seemed so normal. One woman reached over my head to get a gu gel from a family member behind me. These women were badass. They had kids and families, parents, friends, husbands and coaches there to support them. I had a deep admiration for what they were doing with their lives. How they were writing their story. Soon the women took off, 500 strong. Just about double the number that usually qualify for the Olympic trials. Off went Sarah Sellers right in front of us. Just being there was a realization of a dream for these women. They were powerful and strong. They had a story they were writing. Susan and I took off towards Peachtree where we had planned to watch the runners pass by several times. We trekked up the hill that we had down traveled up and down many times. We arrived at the intersection on Peachtree and it was packed with people. Within a few minutes the crowd started to rev up and you could hear a wave of cheering ripple and build. I tried to get a better vantage point. There was some jostling and excitement.
Then the lead motorcycle and shortly after, a pack of runners whizzed by. The lead pack was gone in an instant and then others ran by. We knew the women would soon follow the same route in about 10 min. This would be the way the race would unfold over the course of the next few hours. We would hear the crowd, see the lead motorcycle, followed by the lead pack of runners in a few separate groups and then it would grow quiet. They ran by so fast we could hardly identify who the leaders were. In the crowd people would check their phone to get an updated leaders list. Most of the people around us seemed to know someone running. These amazing athletes were all supported by family, friends and the community as a whole. I imagined how difficult the gusty, cold weather must be for the runners. I had never watched a marathon from the sidelines, it was a whole different perspective. We watched a bit longer and then decided to head back towards the park to catch the finish. At the time we had little awareness of who was in the race still and who the leaders were. I knew that you had to be in the top 3 to have a place on the Olympic team. We knew we were in for an exciting finish.
Having such a deep pool of talent all running for just 3 spots on the team we knew it was very unpredictable over 26.2 miles. The crowd was thick at the park and it looked like the finish line itself was inside the closed off part of the park. We could hear the announcement and crowd cheering for Galen Rupp, who would soon fly by as a winner for the mens race. He passed by in a blur, followed by second and third place. We made our way even closer to see the incoming womens race, still uncertain of the outcome. Then suddenly they came in 1,2,3,4,5 all within a few seconds of one another. Click-click-click-click-click went my camera. Who were they? I looked at Susan and shrugged. I would soon find out that it was Aliphine Tuliamuck, followed by Molly Seidel just 8 seconds later, followed by Sally Kipyego 19 seconds later, then 9 seconds after that, for 4th place, just missing her third Olympic team was Des Linden. The first 6 women all finished less than 2 minutes apart over the course of 26.2 miles that is astonishing! I clicked away taking photos of the first 20 finishers coming in. women that had stood next to me at the start of their race just a few hours earlier. After all the excitement my realization that the next day I would be running 26.2 miles myself we decided we should get something to eat and head back to the hotel to get ready.
I woke up the next morning as excited as ever about our race. Susan would run the half marathon and I would run my 22nd full marathon. The weather looked great for running, cool, but not as windy as it had been the day before. We headed back to Centennial Park in the dark. The race was to begin at 7 am. We were excited to see that the giant Olympic rings that had been behind a fence all weekend were now open. People were posing for photos in front of the giant illuminated rings and we waited our turn to do the same. There remained plenty of energy and excitement in the air from the day before. The sun was rising, it was cool and crisp and soon we were off to discover the streets of Atlanta. My pace felt pretty good, considering I had been on my feet all day the previous day. About a mile or so in I looked at Susan and said, “see you at the finish!” and we each ran our own race, which we had planned. I was well aware that the Olympics were held in Atlanta in 1996. That is why the rings were in the park and I had read that the cauldron which housed the Olympic torch and another set of rings was in the city somewhere. I was looking forward to seeing it. We ran through several Atlanta neighborhoods. A highlight was running past the Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. Martin Luther King preached.
I was energized by the gritty main street of Little Five Points with is eclectic graffiti and colorful murals and storefronts. I enjoy vibrant urban art. I always make a point in my races to take in as much as I can from the city I am running in. This playfulness and joy reminded me of a runner, Brittany Charboneau, who I had kept in touch with here and there leading up to the trails. She ran at the trials and was a comic as well as a professional runner. She was playful in her approach to running and I really appreciated that. I find that pausing to take pictures and delight in the place that I am running embodies the archetype of the Comic. She takes such a creative approach and I aspired to be more like that. I drink in my surroundings as I run and make it fun. Otherwise why do it? Certainly no one is telling me I need to do this. This is the story that I want to tell, through running. Taking a lighthearted approach and not taking it too seriously is definitely helpful.
I ran through a few college campuses and had several different skyline views of the city. A the half way point we made our way back to Centennial Park where we began and the crowd was cheering for the half marathon finishers. I would be back in another two hours for my finish. I tried to take in the energy as I made my way through and headed to the hill at the Mercedes Benz Atlanta Falcons stadium. We made our way through some outer laying parts of the city, under a spaghetti of highways and then suddenly I saw it, the cauldron and the huge Olympic rings over the road from the 1996 games. We cruised past it and also the stadium where the opening and closing ceremonies were held. I could see that there were runners right underneath the rings, so I knew that we would be coming back around that way. We went through a residential area and then over a grassy patch. There was a track right in the middle of a big open field. There were some race volunteers there and as I entered onto it they said it was the track where Gail Devers warmed up to get ready for her gold medal 100 meter dash run in 1996. We took a lap around and I snapped some photos.
All of this Olympic history was really exciting for me being the Olympics buff that I am. We started heading towards downtown with only a few miles to go and there it was, above Hank Aaron Drive, the huge tower that is the Olympic cauldron and the giant Olympic rings. I had looked forward to this moment all day. I stood in the street, put my arms up in the air and asked someone to take my picture. I travel to see new places, to take in all the sights on foot over 26.2 miles to experience what makes each place unique.
We then headed straight into downtown, past the golden Georgia state capitol building, over a cobblestone street and into Centennial Park one last time. I channeled the energy of the trials the day before, plus all that I had experienced on this day and left it all out there, nothing left in the tank. I sprinted into the finishing chute with the playful giddiness of the Comic in fully display.