This past weekend I participated in one of the most bizarre, fun races that I have ever experienced. It is called RuntheAtl, and it is an informal trail race that gives a tour of Atlanta that I had never experienced. The “trails” consisted of old railroads, active railroads, construction zones, unfinished beltlines, and dirty tunnels. Very little of the race was on paved surface, and nothing about it was conventional. I heard about it through the Yeti group, as some of my buddies had run the winter version of this race in January.
First of all, the pre-race instructions advised for runners to print out the “map“, which was really a bunch of pictures with notes like “Climb over guard rail and run through some litter covered trail. There is some garbage. Don’t be afraid. It will be over shortly. Stay in the woods a short hop.” Instead of race bibs, we were told to select a playing card out of a deck, and our numbers were recorded. Mine was the Queen of Hearts.
I met up with two trail friends for the race (and met a bunch more), and finished 20 miles in 3:24 hours. I am normally cautious when it comes to running by myself, and this race was no exception. We ran through some pretty sketchy sections, so I was really thankful that my friend, Brandon, stuck by my side for the entire run. He is a former Marine and also a very strong runner. He was beyond generous to run my paces and share the experience with me. This was just meant to be a training run for me, not a race, but I ended up finishing first female. I didn’t run very fast, but I think that everyone was just having fun, and no one was competing. My finish time just happened to be first (and I got a huge, very heavy award for it.)
Here is the start of the race. We all raised our right hands and swore that if anyone asked what we were doing, we would say that we were just out by ourselves for a fun run, not an organized race. 😉 I took pictures with my Go Pro because we were told that we might need our phones to navigate if we got lost. The quality isn’t the greatest, but I was able to capture a lot of the weirdness of the course this way. From the start, we got our shoes muddy. Welcome to the trails of Atlanta!
I was with a group of top runners, trusting their navigation skills, when we realized that we were off course within the first three miles. I think we only ran about 0.2 miles off course, nothing in a trail race, but it was just enough to keep us checking our “map” more frequently from then on.
The little detour meant that we were able to join up with another group of runners, and I met a really neat girl named Kirsten (she is the girl in the hot pink compression socks). A lot of the runners that we met are obstacle course competitors, which is a deviation from the standard ultra trail runner. Below we are running along a fence next to Marta. Then we came out at the railroad tracks and ran along them for a bit.
Between miles 5-6, we took a left onto Joseph E. Lowry Blvd at the Atlanta Food Community Bank until it ended at King Plow. Then we took a left onto West Marietta Blvd until we reached a liquor store sign and Floren Immigration Attorney. To the right was Angel’s Hole (pictured below), and this spit us back onto the railroad tracks.
We crossed 6 lanes of railroad tracks and followed the far right tracks. The trains were active on Sunday, so we were told to keep our ears open for any running trains. I only saw Marta, and I was glad not to be delayed by a moving train. At mile 9, there was an aid station, but we only stopped for a quick minute. Along the abandoned tracks is a golf course where the golfers were nice and waved to the crazy, dirty runners.
Finally, we ended up along the unfinished part of the beltline next to Piedmont Park, and we stayed on the Beltline to Irwin St at about mile 13.5.
At Irwin, it was back to the “trails” for us along the unfinished beltline.
I was running with Brandon, and we were thankful that a runner came up behind us and helped us with directions to the next big course change to the Krog Tunnel around mile 14.
Then we ran through a construction area and past Interstate 20 to get back onto the unfinished part of the beltline.
When we reached mile 15ish, our directions said that we would stay on this path until mile 18.9, so we could put the directions away for a bit. We saw so many weird things along the trails of Atlanta. There was always a little litter, but we also came upon a twin sized bed (I am sure that was a treasure to some of the homeless people we passed), tons of graffiti, and a few dead animals (watch where you step!). It also felt like we were constantly running along the railroad tracks. It was definitely a big workout to either trudge along the big rocks next to the tracks, or plan your steps along the railroad ties perfectly so as not to twist an ankle. My calves were definitely sore after this run! The dark tunnel in the pictures below is called “Tetanus tunnel” and it was at least a foot deep with water. Brandon and I both stopped cold in our tracks when we reached this tunnel to see if there was any way around it. Nope! Just got to get your feet wet (and very dirty) and go for it!
At around mile 19, we had our final course change, and turned right through a little side trail to “Angel’s back yard”. This led us through a construction area and on to the finish!
I love meeting people through running, and trail people are just the best. It was fun to hang out at the finish for a little while, but then I had to go home to feed my little baby. It had been about 4.5 hours since I had pumped/fed Cadence, so we were both overdue to see each other. (Lots on breastfeeding here if you are a new mom trying to figure this out.)
Like I said earlier, I finished first female, which certainly made me feel good, but this wasn’t a goal race, and my effort was not a race effort. Everyone received a railroad spike, and I also received a first female enormous, heavy, very thoughtful award. I have no idea what to do with it, as it would probably rip a hole through any wall if I tried to hang it. Haha. This race has definitely changed my perspective of trail running, and I am so grateful to the people who worked hard to put on such a fun experience around Atlanta!
What is the weirdest race you’ve ever run? Ever heard of the Barkley Marathon? This reminded me of that, only not as brutal.
Do you run with a buddy if you think the area might be sketchy?