I wasn’t even sure I wanted to do it this year. The Peachtree Road Race. An Atlanta tradition on the Fourth of July. It would be my seventh in a row. I do like streaks but I still wasn’t sure.
It would be different, of course, just like most of life these days. They spread the event over two days. Much smaller crowds. Vaccination checks or virus screenings. I did it last year solo (virtual) and it was not so fun. But I had a friend ask me to join her so I jumped in. I chose July 3 since I figured it would be different anyways, and it worked better with my travel schedule.
The day-before number pickup event was a disappointment. The usual convention hall of shoe and running pouch vendors, waffle samples, music, and ebullience was just a handful of folks with official merch and the public transportation folks to ease race day travels. I left feeling sort of glum.
Waking on race morning is always hard. It often follows a night of broken sleep, anticipating the event and challenge to come. I made it to parking and on to the train. It was so much easier to park and ride, but I did miss the usual crowd of runners we participate with. I made it to the start line and saw my friend, a ray of light! I took my traditional start line pics and we were off and running.
I hadn’t trained in running much so I had no expectations for my performance. The energy was totally different in the race with dramatically fewer people on the course. But it didn’t take long for me to start feeling lifted. The people on the side of the course seemed especially excited. I made eye contact with many of them and smiled. It was more personal this time around.
And then I smiled for the next six miles. My friend was often ahead of me but we still connected a few times. It was surprisingly cool out. With fewer runners there was far less of the usual bobbing and weaving around the different paces. Smooth sailing throughout, really.
It actually felt a little emotional to be there, running and smiling after the grueling mental marathon of Covid-19. I nearly cried at times, but I still never stopped smiling. I thanked the police, the volunteers, the people who came out to hand us water, even all the trash collectors who line their trucks up across the cross streets to keep the runners from being plowed down by anyone who would wish harm on the runners of the World’s Largest 10K.
I watched the miles and milestones tick by. My legs ached. I thought to myself, I am creating the future. I am putting my steps in and my votes in for hope. For health. For persistence. For triumph.
I crossed the line just under 4 minutes faster of my time two years ago. I felt so great for having done it. The one Coke I allow myself each year tasted as sweet as it ever has. It is wonderful to be out challenging myself and participating again. May the miles we still have to go be as joyful.