On Thanksgiving weekend, it’s easy to get caught up in shopping, eating, and watching football, but roughly 500 runners took an all-important break to partake in the fourth-annual ZOOMA Atlanta Women’s Half Marathon & 5K on November 26. Starting and ending on the grapevine-dotted grounds of the Chateau Elan, the race felt an ocean away from Atlanta, rather than a mere 45-minute drive.
“ZOOMA picked the perfect venue at a perfect time of year,” said Courtney Stewart, a 5K’er from John’s Creek, who said the race was helping her stay focused on staying healthy during the holidays. “It’s great to be out of shopping mode. Instead of walking in the mall, I was out running among the vineyards.”
In the past three years, ZOOMA race day had dawned chilly in Georgia, but this year high cloud cover held in some heat, making for ideal racing conditions. The race course traversed quiet country roads, taking in some avoidable climbs. Many competitors commented on the “challenging” hills, but Mary Katherine Hutchinson ran her fastest 5K ever, beating her previous record by more than two minutes in a time of 28:52 and being the first woman in the 35-39 age group in the process. “I chose to run ZOOMA because it’s a women’s race—and it’s on my birthday! I was impressed by how well organized it was, especially the aid stations.”
The birthday gal was one of several who remarked on the race’s diverse participants. “Some were walking, some were sprinting,” said Hutchinson. Mary Smart, in Georgia from Portland, Oregon, to visit family, walked the 5K with her 72-year-old mother. “I loved that there was a huge range of runners from sprinters to fast walkers—and everyone was cheering each other on.”
The half-marathon course produced some personal records as well: Amanda Partee-Manders, a high school teacher from Winder, knocked three minutes off her 13.1-mile PR. Taking first place in the 25-29 age division and 8th overall, this mother crossed the line in 1:39:06. “It was my first race back after a stress fracture, and I PR’d. So now ZOOMA holds a very special place in my heart.”
While the race spectators were mainly family members enjoying the day along with their loved ones, race volunteers provided additional energy. “The volunteers were fabulously encouraging and positive,” raved Lisa Kirk of Cumming, who ran the ZOOMA half in 2:19:02 after doing the Atlanta Half Marathon two days before. She said she did the Thanksgiving Day race for time and the ZOOMA race for “camaraderie” as many of her girlfriends were running it. “Plus, who doesn’t want to finish a race and be handed a piece of jewelry,” referencing the lovely Satya pendant each ZOOMA finisher receives.
Jacqueline Welch of Lilburn, who ran the 5K in 30:14 after completing the Atlanta half on Thanksgiving, echoed Kirk’s sentiment: “This is one of the most energetic races I’ve ever run; it’s very cool.” And Welch knows from races: ZOOMA was race #6 for her in November, and she is on track to complete a dozen 10Ks in 2011.
There were as many reasons to run the ZOOMA event as there were racers. Wanda Johnson of Alpharetta chose ZOOMA as her debut 5K because she wanted to run with three sisters, one cousin, and a friend. In addition, she chose it based partly on the non-profit it benefits, The Orange Duffel Bag Foundation, which provides coaching, training, and ongoing mentoring to at-risk youth (several of whom ran the ZOOMA race). “I felt good running the race because the children definitely need the help.”
Laura Hutchins, who ripped up the half-marathon course in 1:46:35, chose it because she loves running with women. “Women know not to slam out of the gate. Women are even keeled and low key at the same time,” said Hutchins, who reeled in three men who passed her in the early miles of ZOOMA. “I think women embrace every step.”
First-time half-marathoner Diana Bishop is proof-positive of Hutchins’ statement: “I loved the race, and I’m going to sign up for ZOOMA Atlanta again in April.” That’s right: Racers don’t need to wait another year to experience a ZOOMA race in Georgia: In 2012, the event is moving to Lake Lanier Islands Resort, being held on Sunday, April 22. With sweeping lake views, it promises to be another unforgettable race experience. Registration is open at the event website: www.zoomarun.com