When it comes to road races, Atlanta knows how to do it right.
I wasn’t much of an avid runner when I moved to Atlanta from the Alabama Gulf Coast. I ran a few times a week, never more than five miles at a time, and it was mostly to stay in shape. There was no sport to it. No real passion.
Shortly after I moved to the metro area, my friend and I challenged each other to complete a half marathon before the end of the year. I chose to run the Atlanta Half Marathon on Thanksgiving Day.
I hadn’t participated in many races prior to signing up to the half marathon. A few 5Ks and a 10K were all I had under my belt, all relatively small-scale events.
When I signed up for the half, I was unaware that I would be participating in one of the largest half marathons in the country. The realization set in when I arrived at the starting line near Turner Field bright and early that Thanksgiving morning in 2011 and saw what seemed to be thousands of people milling around waiting for the race to begin.
The finish was an amazing experience. The last quarter mile, people were packed behind barriers, cheering and clapping. I never felt more thrilled or accomplished. The passion had set in. I had to do the half marathon again.
And I did. The following year, despite being six months pregnant, I followed the familiar course through downtown Atlanta, and with nearly a year and a half of living in metro Atlanta, I felt a sense of pride and ownership as I navigated the streets on foot.
I set out this summer to participate in the AJC Peachtree Road Race 10K, having learned that it was the largest race in Atlanta.
After I completed the Peachtree, I was invited by the Atlanta Track Club to participate in the VW Triple Peach program, which is to run the Peachtree Road Race, the Atlanta Marathon and the Atlanta Half Marathon.
Shortly after I ran the first half marathon, I made it a goal to run a full marathon. With every intention to run the half marathon again this year, it seemed like the perfect opportunity. I had been training nearly two years for a full marathon, but had hit a few speed bumps along the way. I experienced an overuse injury that put me out of commission and caused me to miss it the first year, and the second year, I was pregnant.
Finally, this year, I accomplished my goal. I gave birth in March, and as soon as I was given the all-clear by my doctor to begin exercising, I started to train.
Five months of getting up at 5:30 a.m. on Saturdays to run ever increasing miles, runner’s knee and a torn abdominal muscle that sent me to the emergency room were all worth finally meeting my goal.
As I stood at the start gate of the Atlanta Marathon at 6:30 a.m. Oct. 27, I had no idea what was in store for me.
It was grueling, both mentally and physically. I’ve never been more challenged. Crossing the finish line will always be one of my biggest personal accomplishments.
I’ll never forget my first marathon. I also won’t forget the incredible outpouring of support from its 1,800 volunteers and the more than 20 organizations that set up cheer stations along the course.
Rounding into Mile 12, I was shocked to see a crowd of gorgeous, white, fluffy dogs standing with their owners on the sidewalk. A sign indicating it was the Great Pyrenees Rescue of Atlanta clued me in. These adorable dogs and their faithful owners gave me a laugh and the energy to pick up my pace.
Briar Vista Elementary School students, teachers and parents dressed as zombies and dancing to music distracted me from the desperate aching in my knees at Mile 19.
Giant puppets and festively costumed supporters of the Center for Puppetry Arts waving and cheering kept me from walking at Mile 23.
And tears sprang in my eyes reading signs of encouragement and announcing the “magical mile” provided by Fit City Kennesaw as I pulled into the 26th and final mile of the marathon.
I have never been more proud of my city. To the thousands who gave up a Saturday morning to stand in the cold and cheer on people they will likely never meet, to the children who stuck out their hands for high fives as runners passed, to the silly and costumed dancing and waving their arms to offer entertainment for hundreds of tired, worn-out runners, I thank you.
Had I not moved to Atlanta, who knows whether I would be an accomplished runner. But I like to think this city gave me the opportunity and the incentive to find my passion.
Mary Cosgrove is the Neighbor Newspapers’ copy desk chief. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.