ATLANTA - February 28, 2021 - There wasn't much about the 16th running of Atlanta's Marathon Weekend that looked like the previous 15. But the elated expressions of the nearly 5,000 finishers in the 5K, half marathon and marathon were a familiar sight in a year like no other. Then, of course, they were immediately covered by masks.
Atlanta Track Club staged this year's event at Atlanta Motor Speedway instead of its traditional home of Centennial Olympic Park in downtown Atlanta. Strict COVID-19 safety measures were enforced including mandatory face coverings for all attendees, health screenings and near-contactless aid stations. The participants were spread out over ten hours of racing spanning Saturday evening and Sunday morning and afternoon to ensure social distancing on the course.
"One year after this weekend played host to the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Marathon and the largest Atlanta Marathon in the event's history, we took a very different approach to this year's event," said Rich Kenah, Atlanta Track Club's executive director. "Much like the runners and walkers here in Running City USA, we were excited to get back to in-person racing, but only if we could do it in a way that put safety front and center while still providing a memorable experience for the participants."
On a weekend that ended up being more humid and much warmer than the February average in Atlanta, nearly 900 participants began arriving at the speedway Saturday evening to take part in the 5K. Start waves of 40 runners were sent off every five minutes with the final finishers finishing under the lights on the race track. The fastest women's 5K time of the night was 18:43 run by Jill Braley of Atlanta. The fastest men's time was 16:33 run by Seth Yerne of Peachtree City, GA.
Sunday morning began before dawn when the nearly 4,000 half and full marathon and half marathoners started to arrive. Heavy fog and light rain greeted the first start wave was made up entirely of elite runners.
Molly Seidel, a 2020 Olympian who was a surprise second in last year's Trials in Atlanta dominated the women's half marathon, winning my more than two minutes. Her winning time of 1:08:29 was not only a personal best by 51 seconds, but also the fastest half marathon ever run by a woman in the state of Georgia. The performance places her eighth on the U.S. all-time half marathon list.
"It was a good day. The humidity was very different from what we have been having in Flagstaff," said Seidel, who has been training in Arizona. But, coming from a family of race car drivers, she was excited to burn the rubber of her racing flats on a NASCAR track. "It was awesome, when you come in through the tunnel and come back out its pretty wild. It was a good chance to go out and run hard."
The men's half marathon was a much more competitive affair with three men in the mix when the race turned onto the one-and-half-mile Atlanta Motor Speedway. The final mile was a battle between Michigan-based Hansons-Brooks Distance Project teammates Abdisamed Abdi and Zach Panning. With a final kick down to the finish line on pit road of the speedway, Abdi clocked 1:03:59 to Panning's 1:04:00.
Video of the elite half marathons can be found here.
Nearly 30 push-assist teams from the Atlanta-based Kyle Pease Foundation continued their tradition of making this the group's annual flagship event. And while the number of teams racing was fewer than in years past, the Foundation was glad to find themselves on a start line again. "When we saw the first athlete smiling down the hill at mile nine, it brought back all the great feelings," said Shawna Block Gray, development and programming director at the Kyle Pease Foundation. "It was special to be together and share inclusion with the Atlanta running community."
This weekend also included a kids' marathon event and nearly 1,000 runners took part in the Virtual Publix Atlanta Marathon, Half Marathon, 5K and kids races. The Publix Atlanta Marathon Weekend returns to Atlanta on February 26-27, 2022. Registration opens Monday morning.