The fourth of July has come and gone and that can only mean one thing in Atlanta. The annual running of the Peachtree Road Race is in the history books. Just in case you have been living under the proverbial rock somewhere for the last few decades, with nearly 60,000 runners/walkers, the Peachtree is the biggest 10 Kilometer race in the known universe. It’s the U.S. championship race at that distance, which means it draws the world’s best elite runners from here to Kenya. It’s also the social event of the weekend, which means it draws once a year runners from all four corners of the world who, frankly, couldn’t keep up with the Kenyans if they were driving their SUVs.

For some it’s a tradition, for others, a rite of passage. Some bring serious game faces and others bring outrageous costumes and running outfits. Old, young, big, small, slender….uhhh, not so slender, they are all there. Every race, gender, walk of life and generation is represented. Hundreds of thousands bring coolers, flags, signs and cameras….and line the streets of the race route to cheer on their comrades. It is, without question, one of the most unique events I have ever witnessed or participated in.

This was year 11 for me. My first Peachtree was a celebration of getting back into shape after a multi-year “vacation” from exercise and the conquering of some minor health issues. In the years since, it has meant different things to me each year….but being competitive by nature, it always meant that I carefully tracked my time results and measured them against the effects of age on my body. Then, I either patted myself on the back or beat myself up for a minute depending on how things had played out. Like I said; competitive nature.

This year, however, I found myself struggling to find my usual level of pre-race excitement. Maybe it had to do with let-down after last year’s 10 Year milestone or maybe it was just the background context of some unrelated changing circumstances in my life. I’m still not really sure. I know I was looking forward to hanging out with the group of friends that I travel to and from the race with every year…that’s one of my favorite things about the day. But beyond that…no dice. So I made a decision.

This year I was going to don some patriotic gear and enjoy the race…no goal time, no self-flagellation, and no tough guy game face. My competitive nature was aghast. So I pulled my hair into Willie Nelson style braids, suited up with some red, white and blue running gear, strapped on big blue star sunglasses (Elton John would have been proud) and set out to see what I could see. Here are just a few…

Mile 0– Hottest start time temperature in 15 years. Even the African runners noticed. Despite this, spirits were high and the singing of the national anthem coupled with the military fly over gave me chills (the good kind…not the heat exhaustion kind). Everyone is ready to go. Foe the moment, everyone is on pace.

Mile 1 – Can’t quite break out of the tightly packed crowd. I guess it doesn’t matter since I am not going to stress about my time…but for an instant the “other” me creeps in as I try to pass a few folks. Watch those elbows buddy…

Mile 2 – OK. I have to say I am amazed and amused by how animated people can become when trying to grab a free t-shirt thrown out by our friends from Moe’s. You would have thought they were giving away sacks of gold. I giggle as I move to the right to avoid the flash mob. Starting to notice a few people taking pictures of me.

Mile 3 – Detour to the side for a dose of holy water provided every year by a few local men of the cloth….I sure can’t hurt. Man is it hot….this is a really lousy place for cardiac hill. I am huffing and puffing a little bit and cramps are setting in my calves and hamstrings.

Mile 4 – Two guys offer me a beer as I run by. They looked as if they might have already had one or twenty. I respectfully decline. Did I mention it’s hot? Starting to see more people fall off to the side to walk now… I really hope the paramedics don’t have to earn their money today.

Mile 5 – I see the Chik-Fil-A cows and I wonder how hot it must be in those suits. Where is PETA when you need them? I high five a spotted cow, yell “eat more chicken” and press on.  Lots of American flags everywhere…it makes me feel even prouder than usual to be an American.

Mile 6 – Man the crowd is fired up. The energy is keeping me going. People yell encouraging words and wave. Now I know how the Kenyans feel…all except for the running really fast part. Heat is now excruciating…water and PowerAde here I come. Kick the last 50 yards with sweat flying.

The Finish Line-I’m beat. I drag myself through the crowd to claim the coveted t-shirt and then head for the main stage area. Time to lie in the grass and listen to a little Yacht Rock Review while I wait for my friends to finish. At some point I notice a grandmother and her 12 year old granddaughter wearing shirts proclaiming that it’s Grandma’s 25th Peachtree and the girl’s first. How cool is that.

Oh, and in case you were wondering, this year was by far the slowest finishing time I ever had.

It was also the best Peachtree I ever ran.