– Ron Clanton, cross country coach
ATLANTA — Let me tell you about Thursday’s 10-kilometer Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, which started out as the World’s Largest Wet-T-shirt Contest and ended in ankle-deep mud.
There were also costumes and cops, lightning warnings, acoustic bands and some Lone Ranger wearing a star-spangled cowboy hat, a large red-white-and-blue bow and little else.
As you probably know, Atlanta – like most Georgia cities – has been soaked in recent weeks by rain, storms, showers, thunder, lightning, sprinkles, mists, downpours, gully-washers, precipitation and even more rain. Usually several times a day.
Thursday was no exception and I was awakened at 4 a.m., not from the alarm clock in my parents’ Atlanta home but by the rain outside lashing the windows. It also knocked over a tree in a neighbor’s yard.
I assured my folks it would probably all be over by the time the race started and drove over to meet Gene Callaway of the Doraville, Ga., Police Department, who graciously gave me an escort to the race start area.
Security was tight this year because of the Boston Marathon bombings, and there seemed to be more police and roadblocks.
It was dark and it was raining. And I was thoroughly soaked within a few minutes, my feet making squish sounds with every step.
Not an elite athlete, I usually still make some pretense of stretching before a race. But on this morning it was easier to just sit and watch the rain fall from a dry spot beneath an office building awning.
I was eventually joined by about 20 others, damp and steamy, and collectively we smelled, I imagine, like the back cage of hell’s dog pound.
Many people tried to stay dry by wearing “rain ponchos” fashioned out of large black trash bags. In the pre-dawn gloom, they looked like walking garbage with heads sticking out of the tops and legs sticking out of the bottoms.
Eventually the sky lightened up, and then a strange thing happened on this strangest of July mornings – it quit raining.
We were all still wet. The streets were still slick. The sky was still cloudy and every tree was still dripping. But it wasn’t raining, and the 50,000 runners all began to discard their trash bags, leave their dry spots and head to their starting positions.
And we were off.
The race itself was relatively subdued, though some runners did compete in costumes, including the cowboy I mentioned before and several women who favored fairies with little wings on their backs.
I was wearing a T-shirt touting the CSRA Chapter of the National Parkinson Foundation and, out of support for these fine folks, I ran as slowly as I could to make sure everyone got a good look at it.
About an hour after I started, I trotted across the finish line into Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, where I was soon joined by my fellow racers along with their friends, family members, vendors, volunteers and photographers.
It was pretty much a soggy, muddy swamp, not unlike those old photos you see of the Woodstock concert in 1969, except people today have shorter hair and more access to port-o-potties. I waded through the throng and squished toward home.
Within two hours I was back at my parents’s house, showered and – for the first time since dawn – dry.
It was with smug satisfaction that I sat on their back porch, sipping iced tea and looking out at the trees across the old, familiar backyard.
This time I didn’t care that it was raining again.