Sunday, October 14, 2007

Conquering the Urban Trail (OR a Tour of Atlanta OR my first ultra)

This weekend was perfect for a long run...a really long run from my perspective. In preparation for the the 35 mile race with its 11,000 feet vertical, I told myself that I needed to run at least one 28-30 miler. This weekend was going to be it. Because my two upcoming marathons (only two and three weeks away!) are going to be on asphalt, I decided to take this run run to the hilly streets of Atlanta.

Setting out from my house, I quickly arrived at Memorial Park, which has somewhere between 1-2 miles worth of really flat single track trails. This would be my only dirt running of the day. Memorial Park is in a beautiful residential area in the Southern part of Atlanta's Buckhead community, generally known for its high-end shopping and living. From there I took beautiful Pachtree Battle Road to Peachtree Road. You know the joke about every street (and really everything else) in Atlanta named Peachtree? Well, it's true. Peachtree Battle is a beautiful street now, lined with magnificent trees and beautiful homes. Back during the days for the Civil War a brutal battle took place here as it was the first of many battles in the take over of Atlanta by the Union army.

Once on Peachtree Road, I connected with the course of the Peachtree Road Race. This annual July 4th extravaganza is the largest 10k in the world (55,000 runners) and as much part of Independence Day in Atlanta as fireworks or barbeque. Immediately, I attacked cardiac hill, named aptly that not only because it's the biggest hill in the PRR, but at the top of the hill is Piedmont Hospital (insert corny joke here). Soon after the hospital, you enter midtown with it's new (and quite beautiful) skyscrapers. I'm a bit of a sucker for beautiful architecture, especially neo-modern. (I'm convinced Atlanta has one of the most beautiful skylines in the country. The only one that might be a little bit better is Chicago.)

(Atlanta's High Museum in Midtown)

Midtown is also home to Piedmont Park (if we didn't have "Peachtree", "Piedmont" would be the joke...why couldn't we be more creative in naming streets and sights?). Piedmont Park is absolutely beautiful. It's right smack in the middle of midtown, similar to Central Park in New York. It's just a lot smaller. You know how you like to go to the movies? Well, the first commercial viewing of a movie was staged here in 1887 (I love Wikipedia). More recently, the Dave Matthews Band held a giant concert here with all proceeds going to the expansion of the park. (Of course, I was there. And, of course, it was awesome.).

(view from Piedmont Park)

(another view from Piedmont Park)

Once I got past the park, I was in the Virginia Highlands. It's a beautiful neighborhood that I would probably live in were it not so far away from my work (traffic is pretty band in Atlanta). Here is where I met up with my girlfriend who was going to ride her bike alongside me. It felt pretty bad-ass to be running with someone biking next to you (don't only the pros get to do that?).
(typical view down a Virginia Highlands street)
Unfortunately, her tires went flat and we had to turn around. Back near the car, I took my longest break (mile 18). Sort of an improvised aid station by a water fountain. But I had to keep moving.

(aid station at mile 18)

I ran through the beautiful Inman Park neighborhood and from there to Little Five Points, which as close to Venice Beach as Atlanta will ever get. Soon mile 23 hit and all the pounding of the pavement started to take its toll on my legs. It was also time to head home. I hit the marathon point around 3:45. Not bad, especially considering that I'd been taking it pretty relaxed. The last three or four miles were pretty tough, but that's not surprising...this was my first ultra after all.
(view of downtown Atlanta towards around mile 27)

Back at home I had clocked 31 miles in 4:32. I was happy with that and rewarded myself with a pint of Ben & Jerry's.

The run taught me a couple of things. First, Atlanta is really beautiful when the weather is as nice as it is this weekend (mid 70s and sunny). Second, I need to work on my "core." My abs and back hurt more than anything else during the run. Those need to be strengthened before Santa Barbara.


Ryan Walker said...

Dave, I'm training for my first marathon in Feb., Austin. Like Atlanta, Louisiana is Hot all the time, so how did you handle your water and stuff? Did you leave bottles in certain places, or did you carry your stuff?

Dave - Atlanta Trails said...

Well, first off you picked the right time of year to train but I understand that it's still a little warmer down in Shreveport.

There are a few things I do to deal with the heat:
1) Carry a hand held water bottle. If you don't do that already, it only takes a little bit of getting used to (you have to strengthen your arms...well, at least I did). There are other hydration systems as well that you might prefer such as belts, fanny packs and camelbaks. I will use a camelbak when I hit the trails and know that I won't get to a water source for a while. Your local running store or online places like and will have a wide selection.

2) I try to plan my longer runs. In Atlanta, a lot of parks and trails have working water fountains, so I try to run from one to the other. Or run to a water fountain, run a loop and come back to it. It took me a while to learn where all the water fountains are. Another good place is your local Starbucks. Those are all over the place and they've always been nice about refilling my bottle. (I usually buy a cookie or something small).

3) During the really hot summer months I try to run as early as possible. This summer I had scheduled long runs as early as 4.45 a.m. It's not fun getting up, but once you still have the whole day for other things.

4) Another thing I like to do when it's really, really hot (95+ with humidity) is putting ice cubes under my hat. They will slowly melt with cool water running down your faces for about 45 mins. Awesome!

5) There is also a lot of great advice here that you might find helpful:

Hopefully that helps a little bit.

Don't hesitate to e-mail me with more questions.

Good luck with your training!

Mark Tanaka (Ultrailnakaman) said...

Yes, nice skyline and urban landscape. I think I visited and looked at Emory when I was in high school, more than 2 decades ago.

Next time (after you've healed), if your girlfriend's bike pops a flat, have her walk and you carry the bike. Then the handheld water bottle (Dave's advice, I concur) will feel like nothing!