If you read here much, you know I don’t like running hills. I’m not good at them. I’m always surprised if I pass anyone while running up a hill.
The Atlanta 10 Miler is a nemesis of a race for me because it has so many hills, and steep ones at that. Last year, I ran the 10 Miler on a whim as part of a 17 mile training run. I gave it a marathon-pace effort. That was challenging, but not nearly as challenging as trying to race the thing.
Packet pickup was at Big Peach Brookhaven or Big Peach Alpharetta. I don’t know how these locations were chosen, because Big Peach’s Midtown location (not to mention several other running specialty stores) is much closer to the race than either Brookhaven or Alpharetta. There was a lot of traffic and road construction in Brookhaven, and the surrounding area was a mess. The volunteers were great and had no control over the traffic chaos, but the pickup location could have been thought out better.
Pickup was easy. Runners were able to look up their bib numbers beforehand, or or the volunteers could look it up quickly. Packet, safety pins, and you’re on your way. A+ for organization.
The night before the race, our friend Ben grilled up a ton of meats and vegetables from our favorite farmers’ market. Not traditional carb loading, but I am not particular about what I eat the night before a long run (aside from things that I know don’t work for me – no super spicy food or loads of dairy). It was delicious.
The race starts at 7:30, so I woke up with my alarm at 5:30 and had my regular pre-run breakfast – oatmeal and coffee – by about 6. I had a glass of water when I woke up and sipped a glass of Gatorade over the course of an hour. I left for the race just after 6:30.
The plan was to do a dynamic warm-up, run a couple warm-up miles, then do a few strides before the race. I parked in Midtown, a little over a mile from the race, to avoid traffic (later, I heard the parking at Atlantic Station was well-organized). I did my warm-up on the sidewalk in the dark and ran a warm-up mile before I realized I’d started warming up a bit too early. Hhhhhhh. I walked around to stay kind of warm, stood in the portapotty line (VERY long; I gave up), jogged another half mile, tried to run a few strides (hard to do in a crowded area!) and got in the corral about 5 minutes before the start. I was pretty disorganized before the start of the race, but at least I didn’t feel like I was starting the race cold.
The weather was in the low 60s with 90% humidity – not ideal racing conditions, but could be a lot worse.
I knew I wanted to run this race by feel, because any pace data I’d get from my watch would be affected by the hills. My plan went like this:
- First half: run at an effort slightly easier than a tempo run
- Miles 5-Cardiac Hill (mile 7.5 or so): tempo effort
- To the finish: hang on & race
- To keep my effort honest on the hills, especially early in the race, I told myself not to let it “hurt” until Cardiac Hill
As for goals, I thought I was capable of between 1:25 and 1:30. My fastest 10 mile effort in a race was the last 10 miles of Savannah last year, at 1:27:57. I hoped to finish below 1:28.
Mile 1: 8:50
This mile loops around Atlantic Station and past the townhomes on 16th Street. It’s mostly gradual inclines with a couple of steeper climbs and one noticeable downhill. I focused on listening to my breathing, keeping my effort in check, and not letting the race excitement get to me. I wouldn’t realize it until later, but this was exactly the pace I wanted to run early in the race.
Mile 2: 8:57
I used to live near this part of the course, which includes the “Northside Hill of Death.” This hill is not that long, but it’s steep enough to be demoralizing. I focused on keeping my cadence high and a consistent effort through the hill, which resulted in nearly everyone passing me! After that hill, there’s a stretch of mostly downhill running.
Mile 3: 8:27
The third mile has a couple of small climbs, but it’s mostly downhill. I didn’t pick up the effort at all, but the downhills helped my pace. There was one downhill stretch that I remember being too steep to be beneficial, but most of this mile was nice easy declines.
Miles 4: 8:57
At the 5k mark, there’s a nasty uphill beginning on Alden and going all the way down 26th Street. It’s worse than the Northside death-hill. I couldn’t run this hill slow enough to stay in a “comfortably hard” effort level. I got dropped by everyone around me. At this point in the race, I began seeing many of the same runners pass me on uphills, and I’d pass them on downhills. The rest of the mile is peppered with short inclines and short drops – some of which were pretty steep. I thought this was the worst mile of the course, including Cardiac Hill.
Mile 5: 9:09 (Official time through 5 miles: 44:08; 8:50/mile average)
Mile 5 is more of the same. Up and down, up and down. In trying to keep a consistent effort level, I ended up slowing a bit – this is where those longer tempo runs that went so poorly earlier in the training cycle could have helped me.
Mile 6: 8:50
I let myself pick it up a little once I was halfway. There was a great cheer zone in this mile – I think it was a high school group from Decatur. They lined both sides of the street and were so enthusiastic (thanks to you guys!). I think this mile is easier than some of the others simply because the hills are a little more gradual.
On a downhill, I caught up to a girl who was dropping me with ease on every hill. I introduced myself and asked the secret to her hill-running prowess. Her only secret was that she was using the race as a last training run / dress rehearsal for the NYC Marathon, so she wasn’t racing all-out.
I took a Gu near the end of mile 6.
Mile 7: 8:46
There’s another climb in the first half of mile 7, and again, a lot of people passed me running up the hill. The Atlanta Track Club had a “Conquer Cardiac Hill” challenge that extended from about three-quarters through mile 7 to three-quarters through mile 8. The one-mile timed “race-within-a-race” started with a nice downhill before including the hill-before-Cardiac-Hill (if you’ve run the Peachtree Road Race, you know the one), a brief downhill, and the beast itself. I think mile 7 ends right as the hills begin.
Mile 8: 9:20 (official time for Conquer Cardiac Hill: 8:57)
This was the mile that included the big hills, as my Garmin seemed to indicate. I kicked up my effort, but I wasn’t ready to go all-out with a couple miles left in the race. I engaged my glutes, kept a quick cadence, and gave it a hard effort. I’m not sure why there’s such a discrepancy between my Garmin time for mile 8 and my time for the Cardiac Hill mile. Perhaps I unintentionally slowed after the “finish line” at the end of the Conquer Cardiac Hill challenge, or my Garmin may have been a bit off.
There were several lively cheer stations along this mile that I vaguely remember being awesome and super encouraging, but I was so zoned into the race I don’t remember much else. I can’t thank the people who came out and volunteered/cheered enough!
Mile 9: 8:43
Mile 9 starts with a downhill before the grade turns upward again past the Amtrak station. I tried to stay with a few guys who were running easy after doing the Cardiac Hill mile in around 6 minutes, but I couldn’t stick with them once we started running uphill again. I felt like I was barely moving when I got to the top of that hill, but I turned a corner and the course started bouncing up and down again. Another hill – the second-to-last of the course – started within sight of the 9 mile marker. At this point, I was close enough to start trying to race the three women I’d been back and forth with the whole race. I ran quite hard up the hill to keep them in my sight. It felt good to finally pass more people than were passing me.
Mile 10: 8:22
There is one more relatively modest hill on the course in the first half of mile 10 before the course descends to Atlantic Station. The volunteers let us know that it was the last hill, so I used all the strength I’d been conserving and ran strong up the hill straight into the pain cave, past one of the women I was trying to catch. The rest of the race was all pain cave.
I saw the NYC marathon girl up ahead and surged to catch her. She was running at a pretty good clip, and I hung on to her pace for a minute until I decided I could pick up the pace a little more. When we turned into Atlantic Station, I caught one more woman that I’d seen throughout the race. I didn’t kick at the end, I just tried to focus on staying smooth and relaxed while running hard to the finish.
Official time: 1:28:31 (8:52/mile)
Not quite good enough for a PR, but still a solid effort that I’m proud of, especially the almost-even split between the first and second halves of the race. I’m glad to have gotten out of my comfort zone before my upcoming half marathons.
Post-Race & Swag
At the finish, instead of a Mylar blanket, the volunteers were handing out what appeared to be a reusable grocery bag, but turned out to be a zip-up poncho made of reusable grocery bag material. Even though it wasn’t cool enough to need them, I hope more races go to these ponchos instead of Mylar blankets, especially windy ones.
All I wanted after the race was a banana, but I grabbed a PowerAde from a volunteer and started drinking it while I looked for a banana. I realized that there were no bagels or bananas, just a box of packaged foods that didn’t sound appealing.
I did a cool-down jog to the car – not quite 1.5 miles – nice and slow. I think I feel better after doing a little jogging post-race, but it’s so hard to be motivated to do it.
The swag for this race is pretty good. The shirt was a long-sleeve Mizuno half-zip with thumbholes that ran surprisingly large. I ordered a women’s small, and it’s baggier than I’d like. The medal is nice too – I like that it’s simple without any glitter.
This race is mostly very scenic and runs through a really pretty neighborhood of Atlanta. The hills don’t make it a PR friendly race, but it’s a good time of year and distance for a tune-up race, or even a goal race if hills are your thing.
The race was very well organized. There were volunteers and police all over the course, and it felt very safe. Atlanta Track Club puts on excellent races, so this is no surprise to me. The parking logistics, had I parked at the race, were also very good – there is a garage at Atlantic Station that was open for race participants (I believe it was $5).
The race is a nice size: about 6,000 participants. It’s big enough to have good amenities, but small enough to run efficiently. It’s also reasonably priced – I registered for about $50 earlier in the year, and October pricing (before the race sold out) was about $80.
I have to nitpick to think of ways to improve this race. I mentioned the packet pick-up difficulties and the really large race shirt. I was also disappointed by the food at the end of the race. None of these items were significant enough to impact my decision to run this race again in the future.
Do you have a go-to race warm-up/cool-down routine? How do you structure a warm-up with race logistics in a larger race?
Do you prefer to race with or without a Garmin? Why?
Does anyone have the secret to running hills faster? I’m tired of being the slowest hill runner.