One on One Physical Therapist (and Atlanta Triathlon Club member) Carrie Smith PT, DPT, had the opportunity to run the Peachtree Road Race on July 4th as part of the push assist division. She ran the 10K race while pushing a young girl with cerebral palsy in her wheelchair. Her time is outstanding, not only for a push assist but would beat many solo runners! Below Carrie recaps her unique running experience:
Peachtree Road Race 10k
Date of Race: 7/4/2016
Total Race Time = 45:30
Division Place = 5th out of 5
Division = Push Assist Division
I wanted to write this report up because this was such a unique experience. I was a member of Team Bentley Grace for this race, and we joined 4 other push assist teams in the largest field yet for the Peachtree 10k. Through the tireless work of the Kyle Pease Foundation, this is the first year that there was an official Push Assist category that was eligible for awards at the race, and Bentley Grace and I were proud to toe the line as the first female team to compete.
For the wheelchair divisions and push assist divisions, pre-race starts the day before. The wheelchair division is a stacked field of world class athletes, 12 of whom had just qualified for the US Paralympic Team in track and field the day before in Charlotte. Shepherd Center hosts a luncheon at the Intercontinental hotel and we all attended. We hung out for a while, got our packets there, and then headed home.
The morning of the race starts super early for wheelers. The Shepherd Center and Kyle Pease Foundation has to load up every athlete’s everyday wheelchairs and get them to the finish line before the road closes, so everyone had to be in the hotel meeting room and into their racing chairs by 530a. Bentley Grace is spunky and super competitive, so even as she was laying on the floor stretching out she was trash talking every racer who went by. They all loved it and gave it right back to her. BG had no idea, but Tatyana McFadden, the best female wheelchair racer in the world, had agreed to come meet her and talk. Tatyana is BG’s idol and BG knows just about everything about her. Tatyana spent several minutes hanging out and it made BG’s day. It was cute and this was the one racer BG couldn’t trash talk as she told her we would “finish right behind her” instead of beating her! After a few pictures and laughs we were all ready to start warming up.
All the wheelers have to check in at the Lenox mall in the morning and then be at the start line by 6:25a. It is several minutes from the hotel so that was our warm up. As we started running, though, BG’s chair kept pulling hard to the left. Oh man that’s not good! Fortunately I saw Brad and his friends Joe and Rafy (also members of the ATC Paratriathlon Program) and they helped me correct the compensator, which controls the steering, on BG’s chair. We didn’t have the tools to totally tighten it down but at least we were rolling in a straight line. So warm up ended up being limited but we did at least get a few minutes in. We hung out in the corral with the rest of the Kyle Pease crew and went over our game plan again. BG was going to stay focused on the course and turns so she could sit as tall as she could the whole race, and if we started to slow down on the hills she was going to yell at me. Let’s do it!
Our wave went off at 647a. Right from the start we took off but fell behind the other racers. BG and I were racing the clock, though. There is a loose cut off time of 45 minutes for the wheelers, and though we had assurance that we weren’t in danger of being pulled from the course as long as we were under 50 minutes we still wanted to get under 45 minutes. We were hoping to do the first 5k in < 20 minutes with all of the downhill and then just go all out on the 2nd 5k since we knew it would be slower. In our practice runs I had been disappointed that we weren’t able to go faster downhill. Other push assist racers I’d talked with had said the downhill will really pull you faster than you typically run, and at the Publix ½ marathon our team was able to fly down the hills and even get under 5 minute pace for moments. That has not been the case for BG and me, though. Our fastest downhill mile was 6:30 pace, where last year at Peachtree the fastest mile for me solo was 6:12. Complicating matters, BG and I hit something within the first mile and knocked the compensator out of alignment again. Our chair started pulling to the left (though not as bad as pre-race), and on the downhill sections we were constantly pulling it back to the right. My right arm was getting really tired from the constant micro-adjustments, but all this was magnified on the downhill and not as difficult to control elsewhere so it was ok.
Anyway, gear and maintenance of it is all a part of racing so I don’t want to sound whiny that the compensator was a little off, but wanted to write it down for anyone else who may read this and be interested in being in the push assist category. We hit the 5k mark in around 20:30 and BG was sitting tall and strong. Time for the climbing! I put my head down and just tried to keep a steady cadence going. This is where you run by the Shepherd Center, and all we could hear were the cheers from the patients and it was freaking awesome. I almost want to say that I didn’t want that hill to end! I could tell BG was digging the cheering and it was cool. It is a different feeling going uphill with the chair. Definitely challenging, and I think I would compare it to trying to ride the gaps in a bigger gear than you are used to. The gaps are always hard, but in your own cadence/gear it is a hard you are used to. In a lower gear it is a different hard and feels like more of a muscular strength effort. We just kept grinding up the climbs on the second half. I swear to you BG must know everyone in Atlanta. People were screaming her name at all different parts of the course, and it was really motivating. At that time we were on the course by ourselves so all the attention was on her and it was awesome. We pushed up the final climb before turning on 10th street and just tried to let loose for the last ½ mile.
Crossing the finish line with BG was one of the coolest experiences I have had in a race. She was really happy but also wiped out! These racers are getting bumped around and feel every hit we take on the road. Many of them don’t have good trunk control, so sitting tall in the chair like she did for 45 minutes takes a lot of muscular effort and she rocked it. Her family was waiting for her at the finish and she had a ton of congrats from spectators and the racers from Shepherd.
Mile splits: 6:45, 6:30, 6:31, 8:24, 8:05, 7:23, 6:27 (last .2)
After some finish line photos we headed into the parking lot at Grady High School where all the wheelers meet up. Race stories were shared and then we all loaded up on the bus to head to Shepherd for the awards ceremony and brunch. BG loves Brad and was stoked to have the whole bus to ourselves. The post race experience at Shepherd is awesome. They have a nice banquet and brunch and recognize all the countries who participated before handing out over $40,000 in prize money to the top racers. Matt Shechtman and Ricardo snagged the top spot in the push assist division this year and were recognized on stage with the other wheelchair winners. BG screamed her head off for Brad when he went on stage for top 20 in the open field and again when Tatyana went up for first overall female.
What would you do differently
I would do some more running with BG prior to the race. We got 4 good runs in, but it really is a different feeling running with the chair. Generally, I feel like some resistance training and a little more lower body strength would help. Specifically for Peachtree, I would do some downhill intervals without the chair first and then with it. I’d use those sparingly but consistently as the hard downhill running creates a lot of impact and the eccentric muscle action also does a lot of soft tissue damage. I think it is essential for this course, though. You’ll adapt and become a little more fatigue resistant, and even without the chair that is key to not having your legs shot when the real running begins on the 2nd part of the course. I also wish I knew a little more about checking the compensator on the chair, but I will know for next time!
Rate your overall experience with this race:
Being with the world class wheelchair racers, the crew from the Kyle Pease Foundation, and having the Shepherd Center embrace KPF was special and made this different from other races. You’re not going to have that any place other than Peachtree. Also, racing solo with BG was special. I totally recommend doing this and spending a little time training with the athlete prior to the race. Racing Publix with a team was a blast, but there is just something different about just tackling the event with your athlete. I guess I don’t have very good words to describe this…so you’ll just have to try it and see for yourself! You won’t regret it!