By Scott Ludwig
My shirts hang in my closet divided into two distinct sections: one for long-sleeved shirts and one for short-sleeved shirts. These two sections are then arranged according to color.
My compact disc collection is alphabetized. One of these days I’ll sub-divide my CD’s according to genre (rock and roll, alternative, disco…hey, I’m being serious here!). I’m currently listening to every single one of my CD’s in alphabetical order (by artist) from start to finish, only because one day my wife told me ‘You’ll never listen to all those CD’s.’ (I started in April 2008 and am currently on ‘Pearl Jam’)
My DVD’s? Alphabetized as well–by title. Then by genre (horror, action, drama and comedy, in case you’re interested).
I’ve logged every mile I’ve ever run, always to the nearest tenth of a mile. I’ve also logged the start time of each run, rounded to the nearest five minute increment (4:35 a.m.—not 4:33 or 4:36). Unless it’s a race in which someone else dictates the actual start time, I make sure I actually begin my run ‘on the five.’
Speaking of running, I’ve now run every single day for 30 years, seven months and five days.
I mention all of this to explain why this morning I am running in the 6.2 mile Peachtree Road Race. After all, I’ve run in the race every year since 1979, the year I moved to Atlanta, and it would be an absolute shame to mess up a good dose of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) after three decades.
As I find myself lined up in the corral with other runners (like myself) wearing bibs in the 30,000 range (It seems like yesterday I had a three-digit number. Ever since I destroyed my body at Western States in 2004, the memories of ever having any semblance of speed are now just that: memories), I can think of a million places I’d rather be. Home in bed. Running safely on the trails in my neighborhood. Watching television. Getting a root canal.
The lady in front of me can’t be taller than four foot nine, sporting more cellulite in her legs than I’ve seen on an entire season of Nip/Tuck.
There are a few runners sporting more gear—camelback drinking systems, fuel belts, MP3 players, gels—than I’ve seen on runners preparing to run a 100 mile adventure run. Solo.
A heavyset young man (approximately 280 pounds and 32 years of age, respectively) is pressing forward while barking out ‘pregnant lady behind me’ in hopes that the runners in front of him will part and allow him to pass towards the front of the corral. Surprisingly so, the runners did part, and 20 other ‘pregnant ladies’ followed right behind him and made their way to the front. I overhear one young man telling an older woman that he has a friend who ran an entire marathon’ which, if she didn’t know was ’26 miles and 385 yards.’ Capitalizing on the amazed expression on the older woman’s face, the young man added ‘heck, I even have a hard time with 5K, which is three miles and 385 yards.’ Trying to impress the young man, the older woman said she knew of ‘a race in Peachtree City in October that is nine miles, which I think is doable.’ Stimulating conversation, for sure.
As recent as seven years ago I was lining up ten feet behind the front-running Kenyans. Hell, now I’m not even lining up for the Peachtree Road Race on Peachtree Street. My corral is lined up on Lenox Avenue, for crying out loud.
Why am I here? Like I said, I’m running Peachtree for the 31st consecutive time. I’m blaming it on my OCD. It’s the only explanation that remotely makes any sense.
The race begins promptly at 7:30 a.m. For the first wave of runners, that is. Lord knows what wave I’m actually about to be a part of.
I soon find out my group’s ‘official’ starting time is 7:47, about the time the frontrunners will be well past the three-mile split on Heartbreak Hill.
Once we begin, I find myself walking and running (mostly walking) for a mile or so. I’m dodging men dressed as Chippendale dancers. (Their costumes look great, by the way. But please don’t ask me about their bodies.) There is the usual assortment of guys carrying American flags. I angle my body sideways to squeeze between a pair of 300 pounders and find some open space in which to run. Again, I wonder ‘why am I here?’
Remembering why (OCD, remember?), I decide that next year I will make it my mission to have a qualifying time to ensure I will be starting my Peachtree Road Race on Peachtree Street…not freakin’ Lenox Avenue.
I recall it takes a sub-50 minute 10K qualifier to be seeded in a time group corral at Peachtree. Knowing that Peachtree is the only 10K I run during the year at this point in my life, I realize after my opening ten-minute mile I’ve got to pick up the pace a bit the remaining five miles to have a chance of finishing under 50 minutes.
I meander in and out of countless runners and walkers; walkers with numbers in the 80,000’s and 90,000’s who apparently started their Peachtree well before 7:30 a.m. Several runners spot an aid station on the side of the road and veer directly in front of me towards the aid station to get a cup of water. You would think by the look of desperation and/or excitement on their faces that it was the last cup of water on the planet; however, a simple glance at the multitude of tables at each aid station made you realize there was enough water to hydrate a small European country (or two, and perhaps even three).
There are two local eateries on the left side of the road tossing rolled-up T-shirts to the runners, creating countless melees and unwarranted congestion along the course (Moe’s and Chick-Fil-A, I have two questions: (1) What the hell were you thinking? (2) Did the Atlanta Track Club actually give you permission to create the havoc you caused?
Speaking of the Atlanta Track Club, 30 years ago I believe the entry fee was $5. There were maybe 8,000 runners. Today? $33 and 55,000 runners, which makes me wonder where the (almost) $2 million goes? But I digress…
After running well over six point two miles meandering in and out of the human obstacle course that has become the Peachtree Road Race, I cross the finish lines a few seconds under 50 minutes. Halleluiah–Next year I’ll be starting on Peachtree Street. After having sworn ‘this will be my last Peachtree’ countless times over the past couple of hours, I’m greeted by the smiling faces of the many volunteers strewn all over Piedmont Park. I’m no longer wishing I was home in bed or getting a root canal.
I’m handed a finisher’s bag and open it, only to find yet another butt-ugly Peachtree Road Race T-shirt (Lord, I miss the days when only a simple peach adorned front of the shirt).
But then I look around—and find I am completely surrounded by others who are spending their Independence Day morning toiling in the hills, heat and humidity of Atlanta and I remember why I love being in here on the 4th of July.
I’ll be back next year to run #32. After all, I’m a little bit OCD, you know.
DARKSIDERS in the Peachtree Road Race Atlanta, GA July 4, 2009 Bob Dalton 37:41 Doug Cassiday 39:34 Carolyn Bowen 48:09 Jeannie Smith 48:09 Scott Ludwig 49:47 Janice Anderson 49:56 George Songer 57:12 Ed Tokash 1:03:46 Karen Pearson 1:05:15 Tom Adair 1:10:10 Chris Lowery 1:14:12 Winston Davis 1:21:36 Anne Rentz 1:21:49 Susan Kolbinsky 1:28:27