Rise Up & Run 5k | Walk Like MADD
After a few years of finishing at the 50-yard line of the Georgia Dome, this race moved next door to the outstanding Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The appeal of finishing at midfield of the new 1.6 billion dollar home of the Falcons and Atlanta United was evident in the fact that more than 7,000 people signed up for this 5k/1 mile event. Seriously 7,000+ for a 5k. That's more than double what they had for the same race a year ago.
To Atlanta Track Club's credit, they put together a really nice course this year. I've run this race three or four times and it's always had slight variations in the course due to construction. This year they really nailed it. The course started out on Falcons Landing and followed Andrew Young International Blvd out to Centennial Olympic Park before turning right past the CNN Center. The route continued up Marietta street then took a right on Forsyth St. past the Five Points MARTA station. A right on Peters St saw you through the first mile and then a long stretch of relatively straight road brought you to two miles and a looping right-hander put you on Northside drive for the final mile to MBS. The course followed the rollers on Northside before you entered the stadium and finished with 50 yards on the field after coming out of the Falcons tunnel.
I was a pretty straightforward route, which was nice. Last year, there were a few more turns and we had to run under the Georgia World Congress Center (a big convention center) and into the loading dock to finish, which meant a lot more rollers on Northside Drive. This course suited me well. With its long stretches of straight road I was able to settle in and run a good rhythm. I was also able to see everything unfolding in front of me. No one was ever out of sight.
I got to the race nice and early to avoid any traffic issues or number pick up lines. I was able to catch up with a few people from work and able to get in a good two-mile warm up. Having won the race last year and having everyone at the office see me run in the morning before training camp meant I came into the race with a lot of expectations...from co-workers at least. Based on my recent workouts I figured I would come in somewhere in the low 16 to 16:30 range. While I was warming up I saw a group of three or four guys from Atlanta Track Club that looked legit.
With this race offering the chance to finish on the field at a brand new stadium, I figured there would be a few fast guys in attendance. I told myself not to worry about anyone else and just go out and run. I told myself to let them take the race out and settle in. I figured my best shot at a strong finish would be to really work the last mile and a half. Turns out I was right.
The start was a little wonky for me. Arthur Blank took the mic to start things off, and I assumed he was going to say something beforehand. Nope. He picked up the mic and said "Runners set. Go." with a split second pause between set and go. My fault for not being ready. Hand up on that one. As I predicted, the ATC guys got out quick along with the usual fast start youngsters and a couple guys that I don't know but recognized from different races.
I told myself to relax and just stay awake. No need to be at the front this early. Once we made the first right-hand turn at Centennial Olympic Park the pecking order started to shake out. Two ATC guys were running stride for stride up front with another trailing just behind then myself and a couple others in a group behind. I felt okay and figured I needed to at least maintain contact with the ATC pack if I wanted to race versus just run tempo. I picked my way through some of the others and got on the shoulder of the third ATC guy where I settled in.
The two guys up front started to open things up as we ran past Five Points, but I decided to hold off on trying to close the gap until I got through the first mile. I waited exactly that long. We passed through the mile around 5:08 and while I wasn't certain I could maintain that pace I decided that the long stretch of road between mile one and two was going to be my best shot at moving up. I took over third place and started trying to pull back the two leaders.
I felt like I was running strong but I was a little worried I wouldn't be able to hang in the final mile. As I rounded the turn onto Northside, I could feel the guy in fourth closing on me and it didn't appear that I was gaining any ground on the guys in front of me. I went through two miles in 10:20. That put two things in my head. One, oh boy. Not sure I can keep this up for another mile. And two, I'm right on 16-minute pace, let's go.
Just as I thought the second thing, I got passed. That was a blow to morale. Fortunately, I didn't give up much ground and I was able to hang on until I got through that mental low point. Once I snapped out of it, I noticed that we had started to pull back the guy that was running in second. With about a half mile to go, I said 'Screw it. I'm going for it,' and surged. The move instantly opened a gap on the now fourth-place runner and cut into the lead of the second place guy. I kept closing and eventually moved into second. I tried with everything I had to make my move stick.
Unfortunately for me, the guy that I passed for second - Patrick Peterson - is a 4:02 miler and made the finals in the 800 at the 2016 US Indoor Championships. Try as might, I had no shot of out wheeling him.
|Second place running away.|
After the race, he said that I woke him up when I passed him. Smooth move Matt. I was really grinding the last 400 or so but I just didn't or - probably more accurately - don't have the gears to close like I used to. When we emerged from the tunnel, I knew that second place was gone but I also knew that I had been running well. I looked at the finish line when we hit the turf and I could see the clock ticking up towards 16 minutes.
|Desperately seeking sub-16|
The finish was like something from Alice in Wonderland. The clock looked huge in my mind and it seemed like the green and white turf stretch out for a mile in front of me. The finish line getting further away with each stride. The seconds ticked slowly 54, 55, 56. I crossed the line and hit my watch. I looked down and saw 16:00, but I knew I snuck under. I hit my watch well after I crossed the line. I was pumped.
The winner of the race went 15:42, so he was rolling. Peterson was 15:55 and I came across two seconds down at 15:57. I couldn't have been happier with the race. Going in, I didn't think there was a chance I'd run sub-16. I thought, on a good day, I'd go low 16, maybe dip under 16:10, but more likely I'd be 16:15-16:30. I don't think I was sandbagging going into it. I've had some good track sessions but the days when I've been able to run five-minute to 5:10 pace have been difficult. I have been feeling more comfortable at 5:20-5:30 pace. I figured this would be one of those days where you finish and feel like you could have run twice the distance at the same pace but there is no way you could possibly go any faster.
Not the case. It definitely helped that I raced. The early decision to follow the ATC guys, at least the guy that was running in third ended up making the race for me. If I had let them go. I would have run the time I expected but I probably would have been kicking myself for not going for it.
Here's what the race looked like on Strava.