“Mix a little foolishness with your serious plans. It is lovely to be silly at the right moment.”
After four miles of running, wading and crawling through the mud in what appeared to be an industrial part of Atlanta with a bunch of people I did not know, I realized that today was going to be much more adventurous than I expected and I was super excited. I was running a “race” called Run the ATL. I initially saw a Facebook post for this run back in October and didn’t think anything of it. I could tell it was a small, casual and grassroots run around Atlanta.
Getting ready for the Montgomery Marathon in March, where I am hoping to clock a solid time, I’ve been very serious with my training. However, doing a standard long-run every weekend gets monotonous and I catch myself yearning to break free for something fun. That’s when I remembered about Run the ATL. I’ve run almost every part of Birmingham, but I’ve barely ever been to Atlanta. It felt like the perfect mini-adventure.
Like I mentioned, this was a small, casual event. There was no inflatable start/finish arch, but rather the starting line was on a driveway to an industrial building and the finish line was a picnic table. There were no fancy bib numbers, instead we each received a playing card to carry with us. Finally, there were very little course markings. The race director wrote course instructions with pictures and put them online. I carried my phone with me so I could reference these instructions and attempt to not get lost.
The run was put on by a super cool dude named Matt B. Davis. We were given strict instructions, however, to not say “I am running a Matt B. Davis race” to any city officials or police that we might run into as it was not a sanctioned event. I found out that what’s great about Matt, and what made him an interesting race director is he is not just a runner, but more specifically he is an obstacle racer. He manages a website and podcast called Obstacle Racing Media and interviews obstacle racing athletes, race directors and is a great news resource for those crazy people into Spartans, Tough Mudders, etc. He is a crazy nice guy and seems to be a pillar of Atlanta’s obstacle racing community. As a result, many of the runners at this event were obstacle racers. I saw a lot of Spartan t-shirts and headbands and I overheard chatter about upcoming obstacle races that I’ve never heard of. I was surprised to find that the obstacle racing community is not much different than the ultra-running community: just a bunch of crazy people bonding over thier mutual craziness. I am not into the obstacle racing life. I am glad that obstacle racers love what they do, but I’m happy just putting one foot in front of the other over-and-over without jumping over walls and crawling through mud.
It rained in Atlanta for two nights before the race and it turned the first 6 miles of the course into a muddy wonderland. I don’t just mean a little bit of mud either, I mean knee deep mud that takes your shoes right off your feet. (Yes, I did lose a shoe more than once and had to stop to recover it)
I’m not sure what to call the area we ran through, but we passed under a few tunnels with some cool art work.
After mile 5, the mud cleared up a little bit. I usually never carry my phone with me while I run, but I needed it today to follow the directions on the website and I was having fun snapchatting and taking pictures of cool landmarks.
Right after passing the previously pictured phoenix, I came to a tall fence along the path. The instructions on my phone told me to jump it. “Great.” I thought, “this really is turning into an obstacle race.” I’m glad no one was around because I am not exactly a graceful fence climber and I gave a high-pitched yell when jumping from the top of the fence back to the ground.
The next quarter mile or so was back in thick mud before turning left onto my favorite section of the course: railroad tracks.
The railroad tracks led me right to a creepy tunnel…
Not long after this tunnel, I reached a section of Atlanta called “Glenwood.” I didn’t take any pictures because it was rather pleasant and normal looking. And not long after running through this nice little town, the course hit a paved walking trail and suddenly there were lots of people running, waking and biking along with me. I’m sure that I was an interesting sight because I covered in mud with a big water bottle on on my back hip in stark contrast to everyone else in clean workout clothes.
One thing I learned about Atlanta while running through (or around?) it, is that the street art is amazing. I stopped very frequently to take pictures of the cool art on bridges and and walls. I would have taken a million more pictures, but I remembered that I was supposed to be running.
Eventually I reached the turn around point, came back the way I came and enjoyed spending some time at the finish. I was surprised to learn that the course we just ran on is a trail in Atlanta called “The Beltline.” It used to be an active railroad path that went around the city of Atlanta, but a couple of years ago, they started a campaign to turn it into a walking/biking/jogging trail. The paved, crowded section we ran on is the completed part of it which is extremely popular. However the muddy part we ran on is still undeveloped. Just like any city, the new project is received by the local community with a combination of excitement, skepticism and controversy. Allegedly there are issues with privately owned land that some of the undeveloped Beltline runs through and those claiming that the parts of the city with a lower income level will be the last ones to have thier section developed.
It was cold outside and I knew I had a long drive back to Birmingham, so I didn’t hang around too long after the run. I’m thankful to everyone there for making this kid from Birmingham feel welcome in Atlanta. It was a fun day and a great way to get in the mileage I needed and now I get to decide if I want to come back in July for the summer version of the same race!