Memo From the Sports Desk: The Peachtree Road Race is Decadent and Depraved

5 July 2010

By Raoul Duke Jr.

(Editor’s Note: Duke was given more than six-week notice of his assignment. In addition, he cashed his advance the day after it was sent.)

The editor of this blog contacted me about an assignment, as a rarely working reporter I am not in the position of turning down gigs; especially ones that pay a decent wage, or at least enough to cover my bookie and bar tab. So when the call came in on Friday night before sundown I asked the two important questions that all scribes ask: is there an expense account and is there a drinks cart?

The editor told me, “No, it’s the Peachtree Road Race in you are covering my run.”

Covering the boss is not the kind assignment that I was promised when I joined this blog. But it was work. I packed a bag with the necessary articles, notepad, Zebra F701 pens, Sony digital recorder, IBM Selectric II typewriter with a Grateful Dead sticker from a show back in 1994, two bottles of Wild Turkey, a half case of Mount Gay Rum, a case of Stella Artois, 16 hits of amyl nitrate and enough Klonopin to knock out a baby rhino. I checked into a suite at the Buckhead Ritz Carlton and ordered everything on the room service menu plus my large hunting knife.

An assignment like this was going to require all my skill as a dedicated journalist (I use a small “j” because the profession has been diluted to the point that even tenth-graders at Sanderson HS in Raleigh can now be considered members of the Fourth Estate.)

When I checked out the itinerary for the day’s events, I was shocked to see that the race started at 7:30 am. As in the morning! Why would anyone want to participate in any event that starts before the breakfast buffet does? Nothing good could come of this, that’s for sure. Usually at that time I am still trying to find my way back to the custom-made, exclusively designed, Sealy Posturepedic Plush bed that the Ritz in known for, at least that’s what the tag said after I gutted the thing. I had to hide the nitrate away from the prying eyes of hotel chambermaids and the house dick.

Sleep was not going to be an option for me. Other participants may hit the sack when the sun goes down (the sun sets incredibly late here in the Atlanta, around 8:45 pm.) but I had to stay up to prepare for this. I hope Millman doesn’t expect me to actually run, I don’t see eye to eye with exercise. More like eye to martini glass.

Millman was waiting for me at the Midtown MARTA station at 6:00 am. I fooled him he found me at 7:15 am in front of my hotel. Oddly enough, that is where he decided to start the race. Not where he was supposed to start the race, more later. It was early, just after sunrise early when the light of truth is harsh and all the memories of the night before come back screaming like a freight train. No one should be out at this hour, certainly not reporters covering one of 55,000 runners, the proverbial needles and haystacks.

The Peachtree Road Race attracts all kinds of freaks: Kenyan’s with little to no body fat, overweight weekend warriors who prepared for the race by downing three Krispy Kreme’s and a cup of coffee, people dressed in their most patriotic garb all the while failing to realize the definition of independence is NOT doing the same thing as everyone else, lifers who have t-shirts dating back to the 1970’s when this wretched tradition of running down Atlanta’s most famous street began, packs of women out for a power walk who think standing in the middle of the street and moving as slowly as possible counts for burning calories and my editor who still thinks he can survive this bizarre event. I do give him credit, he’s done it five times before and each time he says it’s his last due to the heat, humidity and the crowds, yet he comes back like boomerang making a 365 day trip.

“Where the hell were you?” is how I am greeted.

“Lay off, you poor excuse for an editor and runner, what could I have missed by watching you ride MARTA?” I tell him as I finish the last of my Stella.

He is wearing red shorts, a red and black singlet and matching red and black Asics Gel Kayano 13’s. He is color coordinated, as if anyone is going to notice or care. I should note that running geeks out there just got a minor chub at the mention of the shoes. My god when it comes to shoes you people are worse than chicks and gays watching “Sex and the City.”

“It’s for the Blackhawks,” he tells me about his ensemble.

“You’re color coordinated for a sport no one cares about, in a city where the damn team doesn’t even play?” I respond. I don’t know what kind of drug running produces in the brain but runners’ logic defies description. A meth head makes more sense than a runner. Besides, a meth head would never run 6.2 miles for anything, least of all a stupid t-shirt.

The weather was ideal; at least that’s what the runners were saying. It was about 67 degrees, which for a mid-July morning is cool. According to the editor, two weeks earlier it was ten 10 degrees warmer and the humidity was nearing the conditions a steel workers armpit.

One of the changes for this year was the wave start. Runners were grouped by time placement groups. Millman submitted his time from a previous race and it wasn’t accepted. He wound up in group N which is one of the slower groups. It was scheduled to start one hour after the actual race began. Ever the Chicagoan, he worked an angle to move up to where he thought he belonged, Group C. Wearing his volunteer shirt over his running costume, he walked into the pen without anyone batting an eye at him. When the race started, he ditched the shirt and blended in with the rest of Group C, save for the N on his running bib. Ya gotta hand it to him; he knows how to fix things to his advantage. I do however, wonder why he didn’t move up to the front and give the Kenynas a run for their money?

His race started alike all Peachtree Road Races, no movement for about three minutes, and then a blistering pace of 15:00 minute miles until Piedmont Rd, where he could finally start running at his own pace. In the first mile, he saw something familiar and sickening at the same time, a guy running in a kilt. It could only be Atlanta radio icon, Christopher Colandro.  They ran together for about a ¼ mile before Colandro stopped for water. Like a polish refugee, Millman brought his own. He sailed through the first three miles with a respectable 29:35. Looming was the Cardiac Hill. So named for its proximity to Piedmont Hospital.

As Millman began his 110’ climb over one half mile; the heat and humidity started to build. I could see him stop and walk a few times up the hill. It didn’t look like he was fatigued, just annoyed that sweat was now dripping into his eyes making his vision blurry and his eyes burn. If only he hadn’t gotten rid of the t-shirt he could have used it to wipe the stinging liquid out of his eyes – he’s such a “pendejo.”

While still climbing he came upon the inspirational Sheppard Center, a top rehabilitation hospital specializing in medical treatment and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury or brain injury. Every year the good folks at the center wheel the patients out to enjoy the race. Seeing them lining the course is always tough for Millman, as it should be for all participants. One false move, one bad accident, one drunken night perched outside of a 15-story hotel balcony and blammo; you’re at the Sheppard Center. If there is one piece of humanity at this event, it is the Sheppard Center.

Millman regained his composure and made it past the hill and unto Art Attack Hill, in front of the High Museum. Once again, he stopped and tried to squeegee the sweat from his eyes, that type for maneuver works for about 10 seconds, it’s the same when trying to get rum out of your eyes.

As he made the hard left turn on 10th Street, the only turn in the whole race, he knew the end was only ¾ miles away. He pressed on and repeated repeatedly, “run your race, run your pace.” The sweat was a factor but he didn’t care. Usually at this point, most runners quicken their pace to make a good showing at the finish line, and then they have to literally dead stop and a slow walk to the entrance to the park. Millman, being a veteran slowed up as the six-mile mark approached, why not begin the cool down a little early, thus less of a come down when the masses turn towards the park? The “strategery” worked as we met up in the park his heart rate was low, he wasn’t sweating profusely or huffing like a 15-year-old at with a bag and a spray paint can.

“So, what was your time?” I asked.

Calmly he said, “1:04:39. Not where I wanted to be but still acceptable.”

“Just think, if you had stayed in your group you would be at mile one right about now.”

He moved with the horde and received his finishers t-shirt. Not a bad design this year, the city skyline silhouetted in against a giant peach.

“Whaddya gonna do with it this year?”

“Give it to a Wombat.”

I have no idea what the hell he was talking about, must be a runner thing.  For the record, he finished in the top 1/3 of all runners at 17208/55000.

Me, I hailed a cab on Monroe St., gave the driver a $50 and told him to get me the fuck outta here. This is no place for someone who thinks waking early, running, sweating, encountering fools, moving though crowds and getting a shirt is a fun way to spend a Fourth of July. I should stick to my own kind; at least he degenerates I associate with don’t have sick habits like running. Give me hard liquor and illegal fireworks any day.


One Response to “Memo From the Sports Desk: The Peachtree Road Race is Decadent and Depraved”

  1. Jim V. Says:

    HST would be proud.

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