ATLANTA – February 23, 2017 – Hours after completing the Publix Georgia Half Marathon in 2016, Heather King posted on Facebook about running the marathon in 2017. She was just looking for some company as she checked Georgia off her 50 States, 50 Marathons list. “If someone wants to join, we’ll take it down,” she shared. Two hours later, 50 people had committed. Within a day, that number surpassed 100, and Team Take Down Publix was born.
As the group grew, King, who prefers marathons to 5Ks, began investing heavily in her goal of bringing as many African Americans as possible to Atlanta’s only marathon. Recruitment and organization of the group became her second full-time job. She rallied African American running groups in Atlanta. She hosted a coffee and conversation series for new runners. She traveled across the country, recruiting members of the black running community.
Through her dedication, word of mouth and a “fear of missing out,” Team Take Down Publix is bringing 415 participants to this year’s Publix Georgia Marathon. Runners and walkers hail from 16 states and two countries. Participants even include two-time Guinness World Record holder, Tuendon Morgan, the first Nigerian to run a marathon on the North Pole.
Months before race day, the camaraderie around Team Take Down Publix is profound. Every Saturday, more than 50 runners of all ages and paces meet at Phidippides for a long run. Wednesdays are for shorter, neighborhood meetups. Out-of-state runners use the Facebook page to find training partners in their area. Social media holds people accountable, as people share workouts and achievements, and provides encouragement. “No matter your pace,” King says, “we’ve all got respect for the fact that you’re a marathoner or want to be one.”
The movement has expanded beyond the marathon. After finishing, half marathoners are expected to line the final mile. “Nobody gets to leave,” King says. “Your job is to bring everybody in.” Seventy-two others have volunteered to cheer along the back end of the course, encouraging their teammates through those often lonely middle miles.
Team Take Down Publix isn’t all about race day, either. King likens the March 19 weekend to a family reunion. “The funny thing is,” she says, “I don’t know half of them!” Events over the course of the weekend will culminate in a finisher party on Sunday afternoon.
“I didn’t set out for this,” Heather says of the group, “but I have embraced it. The experience has opened our eyes to a larger running community. I don’t know where we’ll go from here, but we’ve had 18 weeks to meet someone new and become a family. It’s an experience that none of us will forget.”
Registration for the Publix Georgia Marathon is sold out, but spots are still available in the Publix Georgia Half Marathon at atlantatrackclub.org.