By: Brian Elder
In 2014, Athens, Georgia hosted the 5th annual Athens Half Marathon. Since the race's inaugural event in 2010, it has continued to grow and has seen such tremendous success that another half marathon was added in the Spring of 2014 with the 1st annual Chick-fil-A Connect Half Marathon (2nd annual on April 18,2015). This year's race was once again a success as it saw an incredible presence from local runners and a nice cool morning to run. The course record was also smashed with a winning time of 1:06:03 (5:02 mile pace)!
Anyone who is familiar with this race or Athens, Georgia knows that it is a tight knit community. Unfortunately this can sometimes get lost when 93,000 people come to to watch the Bulldogs play between the hedges on Saturdays in the fall. You may know this is true though if you have been fortunate enough to be in the Classic City during the summers when students return home. The city of Athens quickly reveals its small town roots as the eclectic pockets of people begin to appear. One of the great things that the Ath Half does is highlight some of the areas of the unique areas of Athens.
When people think of Athens, they know about its incredible downtown atmosphere where there are tons of restaurants, bars, and music venues. The start line of the race begins downtown on Clayton Street near Amici Cafe, home to some of the best wings in town. When the race starts, runners take two quick left turns on Thomas Street by the Classic center and back into the heart of downtown on Washington Street where they pass the teal tower of City Hall, historic "hot corner", and the 40 Watt Club. Runners then take a right turn on Pulaski street before passing a relatively new yet welcomed staple, Creature Comforts Brewery, in the renovated Michelin tire garage.
Bottleworks on Prince
As the 13.1 runners turn from Pulaski to Prince, they make their way towards the local Bottleworks landmark. This old Coca-Cola factory was built in the late 1800's and later redeveloped for the first time in 2002. As feet pound the pavement on Prince the multi-purpose building is unmistakable from the sections of antique brick. Here runners pass The Grit and Hendershots, the local coffee shops where the Athens Road Runners meet for Saturday morning runs (and free coffee!). After this short run on Prince Avenue, runners pass Avid Bookshop and turn towards Cobbham neighborhood.
This is my only critique of the entire course. Missing one of Athens most eclectic neighborhoods at Normaltown is disappointing because its a place where runners could easily gain support from locals cheering without missing the experience of Cobbham. Without Normaltown runners miss out on the vibe from local restaurants and bars such as Ike and Jane, The Old Pal, and Hi-Lo.
Milledge Ave and Five Points
After making their way past the beautiful homes in Cobbham, runners turn onto Milledge Avenue and pass the Greek life sorority and fraternity houses before reaching five points and turning right on to Lumpkin Street. Until this point, the course has been relatively flat but Lumpkin offers the first chance to really pick up some speed as you make your way down a long hill towards Bear Hollow Zoo and Wildlife Trail. Unfortunately, runners know that the long downhill means you are probably going to have some hills and that is what you face in the next portion of the race.
Riverbend and Ramsey Student Center
After exiting the Bear Hollow Zoo, runners once again turn right onto South Milledge and reach their first hill crossing under "the loop." As runners make their way up the hill they continue and turn left on to Riverbend Parkway where they again face a long and gradual incline. The good news is that after passing the UGA Golf Course, once you crest the hill you have another long downhill stretch to regain some of the time you may have lost from the hills. Before you know it you are passing by the Intermural Fields and the Ramsey Student Center where University Students are able to train on the indoor track for the race.
UGA Campus and Sanford Stadium
The last few miles of the race make their way through the University of Georgia campus passing by Stegman Coliseum, the Dan McGill Tennis Complex, and the football team practice facility. Next runners pass Myers Quad, a place where the lawn is completely covered with tailgaters before a Saturday football game. At the conclusion of the race, runners make their way through Sanford Stadium where the Red Coat Band plays before they finish outside of the Tate Student Center. As a whole, the Ath Half Course is one that any runner would enjoy as it highlights the unique features of the Classic City!
Brian Elder is a learner, amateur explorer, and nomadic runner that is going to run until it takes him somewhere. He is a senior at the University of Georgia studying English and Religion. After running competitively on trails and roads, he fuels with an appetite so big you would swear it’s competitive. Follow Brian on Instagram.