Back in April, I crossed Georgia off on my 50 state half marathon quest by running the Chik-fil-A Half Marathon in Athens, GA. I actually had written a full race recap of this half that same day. I had driven from Athens back to Atlanta to meet a friend, but as she was off buying a new car, I had some time to kill. I holed up in a Starbucks and wrote my recap. I had a lot to say about this race. Then all of a sudden, my notes program on my iPad quit and I lost it all. I have no idea why it didn’t save or why it seemed to crash, but it was gone. Poof. So, I’ve been putting together this recap bit by bit over time and seeing that this race was over 2 months ago now, I figured it was time to just finish it up and post it. It probably is not as thorough as that first post, but I’ll get my point across
I flew down to Atlanta on Friday morning as I wanted to spend some time being a Tourist in Atlanta and give myself plenty of time for the 2 hour drive out to Athens. The whole time leading up to the race, I never put it together that Athens was home to UGA. It wasn’t until I was about half way there that it hit me. I spent a great morning in Atlanta and ended up getting to Athens mid afternoon. I wanted to check into the hotel before I went to grab my bib. I also had plans to meet up with Cathryn and Shannon who lived down there. I had actually never had met them even though they lived in Pittsburgh for some time, so I was happy to meet up with them. As I walked into the hotel to check in, staff was walking out telling me to step out and telling others to evacuate as the hotel was on fire. Can’t make this up. On Fire. Quickly Fire, EMS and police arrived and blocked the only entrance to the hotel. Other than hoofing it the mile to the expo area, I was stuck. Luckily, it seemed to be a very small fire in the laundry area and I had no issues checking into the hotel later on.
Since I was on foot, I decided to enjoy the stroll through downtown Athens. I loved seeing the edge of campus and some of the little shops and eateries. You could tell it was a true college town though. I eventually made it to the expo to get my bib. The expo by any means was nothing crazy. There were just a few booths, mainly of local vendors to give out information, and a table with the bibs. Otherwise, there wasn’t anything to buy or anyone really giving away free samples. I hung out a bit to meet Cathryn and Shannon and then headed back to my hotel to rest a bit and actually check in. The plan was to meet them a little bit later for sushi dinner. Since I knew it wasn’t going to be a great race and I certainly wasn’t going for anything big, I didn’t care what I ate pre-race as long as it was good and the sushi place they picked did not disappoint. I headed back to the hotel for a second time to call it a night and get as much sleep as I could.
Sleep didn’t come easy that night. I tossed and turned and seemed afraid I would miss my alarm. It was a 7:15am race start and since I planned to walk up to the start line, I had a 5:30am wake up call. I think I was out of the hotel by around 6:15 and easily to the start line 15 minutes later. This is where logistics of this race and how poor they are started to show. I planned to hit the bathroom, but I could see none. In fact, the only bathrooms available were down in The Classic Center. This is all well in good that they are real bathrooms, but only about half of them worked. The line went quickly, but you would see someone go in a stall and come back because the toilet was backed up. When you have over a thousand runners using only about 10 stalls, they just couldn’t keep up. I actually walked away to look for a port-o-potty but they had none.
Once I made it out of the bathroom line, I walked the few blocks back to the start line. I weaseled my way into the middle of the pack and thought it would be a good place to start. Since it was a small race, I crossed the start line about a minute after the gun went off and was on my way to my 39th half marathon in my 23rd state.
I had been warned that this was a hilly course, but coming from Pittsburgh, I felt pretty prepared. I was wrong though. Very wrong. I also knew the day was going to be hot and packed my hydration pack to the brim. According to the website, they were to have water stops every so often with sport drink and fuel. I wanted to take it easy so I planned to start nice and slow. The first mile took you through town and down a killer hill. It certainly could be easy to just let it go, but your quads might hate you. The next 2 miles took you around the river. It certainly wasn’t the nicest scenery. It had potential, but at one point we ran past what was good size homeless camp.
The first mistake of the race though came at the first water stop. They advertised one around mile 1.5. All of the runners came to the stop, saw the supplies sitting there, but no available water. They have no volunteers out there and no water to give out. This is the perfect example of why I always take my own water. I’m usually not one to stop at the first stop anyway, but if you were just doing the 5k or their half of the half, maybe you needed it and were expected it, but they let everyone down and it wasn’t there.
When we came up to mile 4, I realized then we were going to run through UGA campus. I was pretty excited about this as I wanted to see more of campus itself and what better way than race it. However, it’s on campus that the hills really started. Pretty quickly, we passed by Sanford Stadium and the UGA Mascot was out cheering. The way you pass the stadium, you really get a great view inside. I just kept thinking of myself how amazing it would be to experience that stadium for an SEC football game. The road at this point began to become unclear which part you actually ran on or didn’t run on. It was also an open course so I definitely was trying to pay attention to make sure I was on the right part. This became an issue in mile 6.
Even though we were still on campus, mile 6 started taking you more toward the main roads of campus. Just after passing the mile 6 marker, I saw this SUV pull out from a parking lot and turn right. Here’s the thing. Runners were taking up the right lane. He definitely cut a few runners off and for a bit he was driving in our lane and seemed very irritated we were there. Then he quickly swerved and drove in the left hand lane to get out. It was at a pretty bad curve and he’s certainly lucky no one was coming in that direction. This was just another bad example of the race logistics. While I understand they can’t control every turn off onto the course, they seemed to not put any effort into many of them. This could have been a serious accident and everyone was very lucky.
Then around mile 7.5, I saw a familiar person ahead of me. I knew Brandi would be at this race but missed seeing her before the race. I knew it definitely had to be her though. I tried to pick it up to catch up to her and it actually resulted in my second fastest mile of the race at 11:24, but then in mile 8 I paid for it. Since I was on a walk/run different from her, we played a little cat and mouse as we chatted. It was great to see a friendly face out there on the course. So many times I go to these far away races and don’t know anyone. I was really started to lose it as it was getting so hot out there, so it was nice to have someone there to push me a bit.
About a mile later, I ended up pushing past Brandi, but I wasn’t doing great out there. Around mile 8.5 – 9 there was suppose to be a water stop with Gatorade. I really was looking forward to it, but there was nothing. Quickly after that, we were making the turn into mile 9 and some Chik-fil-A people were giving out what I thought was a slushy. Perfect. I’ll take it. Well, it was instead a dairy drink. I about puked. Who the hell gives out a dairy drink when it’s that hot out there? So that was another disappointment. Shortly after we turned onto Milledge Ave and were direct into the middle turn lane. Yes, that’s right. We ran in the center turn lane while cars drove on both sides in their normal lanes. I think that was certainly a first for me on a course. We stayed on Milledge for maybe 1.5 miles or so. It was maybe around mile 10.5 though I hit the second water stop that was advertised to have Gatorade but did not. I really could have used a little extra boost other than water, but again, it wasn’t there. In terms of what this race advertised they would have, it was horrific. Even though I had filled my hydration pack, I was almost out. My fingers were swollen and I was starting to not feel so great out there.
Somehow, I finally got to mile 11 and tried to push to get the race over with. I would pick a point on the course, run to it and then do a quick walk break. At this point of the race we also left the shady neighborhoods and were out on the full on sunny main roads. I certainly was not the best combination for me. For the most part the last 2 miles were flat, but there was a small uphill at the very end. Somehow I got to mile 12 and then I felt like that mile went on forever. Even though we were getting back downtown, there were still very few people out there cheering. I also started seeing people walking back with their medals which is never fun. They are finished and I was still out there struggling.
Finally, I saw the 13 mile sign and yet the race didn’t seem to end. That last 0.1 miles seemed to truly go on forever. I was out there with another runner and she was expressing the same thing. Then came the last turn and there was the finish line. I certainly finished and all I wanted was something to drink. I was so thirsty. I grabbed my medal and started into the finish line area. One of the best things about this race was that every finisher was to get a Chik-fil-A chicken biscuit at the finish line. After grabbing two smaller gatorades, chugging them and grabbing a water, I waited in line with other runners for their biscuit. Some other runners commented they had waited for about 10 minutes at this point and still no chicken biscuit. Then someone mentioned they were out and would not be getting more. WHAT? I was pissed. I was dehydrated, hungry and just wanted a damn chicken biscuit. So again this race over promised and certainly under delivered. There wasn’t much else in terms of food either.
Certainly, this wasn’t a great performance and the heat did get to me, but in terms of logistics and how this race was run, it was horrific. I would by no means recommend this race to anyone. The sad part is, this race has so much potential. The reason I picked it for my Georgia race is that I registered for it for $35. They ran a deal for the first 100 people at that price. Otherwise, starting price was $50, which is not terrible. Unfortunately, in my eyes, it did not live up to it’s promises. I don’t feel they took safety truly into consideration for the entire course and certainly didn’t follow up with their offerings at water stops. On a hot day like it was, they should have made sure they had everything necessary at the water stops. Shortly after the race, I sent in feedback on these issues, but of course never heard back. I do hope they can get these things together as this race really does have potential. Plus, Athens is a great small town that everyone should get to experience.
After having an amazing brunch at the Big City Bread Cafe with Cathryn, Shannon and one of their friends, I headed back to Atlanta as I was meeting some Rock Boat friends for a concert at Eddie’s Attic. Overall, it was a fun and quick little trip down to GA. Typically for races, I don’t get to incorporate visiting friends or getting to sight see, so this was a nice change. I just wish the race itself was better and that I was in better shape to get better results.
Official Finish Time:
62.77, Female 30-34