Forecastle Festival 2017

Crowds, summer heat, portable bathrooms.  These were the reasons against accepting my concert buddy’s invitation to Forecast Festival, located in his hometown of Louisville, KY.  They weren’t compelling reasons to not go, just part of the deal.   It’s not so different from going to a concert in Atlanta and dealing with standing on concrete floors for hours after sitting through congested highways.  You do what you gotta do.

Forecastle is a three day festival – neither of us had a desire for a full weekend, so we picked the third day – my concert buddy’s favorite due to PJ Harvey, mine because of Spoon, a fairly lackluster Saturday lineup, and, hey, don’t argue with the Cruise Director.   So, let’s begin. 

#1.  Where’s the line?  A quick frisk and we were in.

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#2. Hey!  A beach party!  Well, the festival is located on the banks of the Ohio River (as I gaze from KY to IN, but, then, the Mississippi River starts in Minnesota so I guess it’s okay).

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#3.  Stuff.  I like stuff.  If I went to the whole festival, maybe I’d drop the cash for the $30 souvenir T-Shirt.  But for only one day… nope.  And, nope again for the $10 boxer.

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#3.  Festival goodwill. Bring in your own sealed water bottle and you can refill it for free at the hydration station!  Well played.  Didn’t use it once.

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#4.  It’s a music festival!  What the?  (consults the Festival app)  Oops.  Wrong stage.

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#6.  Right stage.  COIN, “bright, synth-spiked indie pop.”  Yeah, not for me, for what they do, they do well.  The show was delivered with a lot of enthusiasm and with a surprising strange presence given the seeming youth of their lead singer.

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All of that goes to show why there was no one at that other stage and were gathered here, almost all of them 25 years old or younger.  A band on their way up, I’d say.

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#7.  Well, it turns out the average age was probably south of 25. Therefore, these guys’ wardrobes make sense in context.  For their needs, they were later seen with girls on their arms, soooo, good investment guys.

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#8.  Sierra Nevada was a sponsor for the festival, and this collaboration with Treehouse brewing, East Meets West IPA, was a great surprise.  This is why I didn’t visit the hydration station.  Treehouse is my fav, and it begged repeats.

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#9. Aaron Lee Tasjan.  He/they were the next band up and… they won “Best of the Day.”  Tasjan is a singer/songwriter at the core, but compared to his recordings (which I listened to afterwards), this was much more a rock show.  Even his delicate songs sounded strong with the punch.  He definitely held the over 25 crowd, but he deserved more.  His latest CD should arrive at my door Tuesday.  Thank you, as always, Amazon. 

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#10.  Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires.  We left a show that we were very much enjoying to go to one that we expected to very much enjoy.  There has been a resurgence in funk/soul bands of late, many of them anchored by a previous generation newly “discovered” and now finding an audience.  It was a completely different vibe from Tasjan, of course, but I don’t think that influenced my opinion.  This band didn’t rise to expectations.  

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#11.  Foxygen.  I listened in advance.  Decent.  In person… Decent.  I probably should have listened to them more carefully, as they demonstrated that they have a variety of music styles well suited to festival audiences,.  As the photo below shows, he’s got a bit of McCartney in him, mime face notwithstanding.  I wouldn’t pay to see them as a headliner, but they were a good addition for the day.

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12.  Big Thief.  Stole my time. 

13. Conor Oberst.  Critics darling.  But if I want earnest, I’ll just skip to Damien Rice, who fills that niche in a single CD.  Good band, but didn’t really hold my attention.

14.  PJ Harvey.  My concert buddy said she was good.  I took a break in the shade, reflecting on my IPAs.

15.  Spoon.  I’ve wanted to see them, and now I have.  I like a good number of their songs – simple, upbeat.  And dang if they don’t sound just the same in concert (not a good thing for simple music).  And, with zero stage presence, I’ve no need to see them again.

15.5 We skipped Weezer, the closer, just because.  Well, because we had to get up, and, really, other than that odd song on the radio (like “Buddy Holly”) I really have no use for them.  The under 25’s appeared to rush that way after Spoon for the “oldies” act though.

16.  Elsewhere around the show… given the demographics, I expected a lot more tattoos.  Here’s a couple.  The left one says “Welcome to the tragic kingdom,” no doubt No Doubt. Nevertheless, it might be a warning sign to guys?  I would have asked the one on the right what the story is, but it’s kind of hard to hear at these things anyway, but, given the detail, I don’t think I’d be disappointed in the story.

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Here’s where all the cool kids hang out… Yeah, in the shade.  Where they had to listen to a DJ.  Sense the excitement?

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The even cooler ones hang out here.

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I saw this guy a few times during the day.   A lot of work for a little advertising.

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Overall, the festival was a lot less crowded than I expected (the crowd built to the evening, but there were no lines for anything), and other than people holding cups of beer, it was very much a G rated affair.  One benefit of the great weather (mid 80’s, low humidity) was that someone was able to comfortably wear her mom’s jeans from the real festival days.  Well, okay.  Maybe these were made in China, but it’s the spirit that counts.

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Overall, glad I went, and this particular festival overcame my initial fears – no overwhelming crowds, no oppressive heat, no lines at the portable johns – which were cool because they were placed under the bridge.  This festival did everything well.

One the better songs from Tasjan.

Woodford Reserve Distillery Tour

This is the second major Kentucky bourbon distillery I’ve visited, but the first on the official Kentucky Bourbon Trail.  Pay to play, perhaps? 

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Like Keeneland Race Track, part of the attraction of this visit was the drive through the beautiful Kentucky countryside.  We arrived about 15 minutes early for the 10:00 tour, which departed maybe 10 minutes thereafter.  The tours are offered by the hour, but it appears they cycle through about every 15 minutes.  The lobby, as expected, is beautiful, and they have a shop for your souvenirs and “end product.”

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The tour begins with an introduction on the reception center’s porch, then involves getting on a small bus to circle around to the distillery.  It’s not that far as a bird flies, but no doubt many people’s feet have flown down the fairly steep steps between the two.

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Observing the distillery, the tour guide talks about the history of the grounds – this the oldest of the nine (major) bourbon distilleries in operation in Kentucky (as of 2010).  The building was built for this purpose, but went through a series of ownerships until Brown-Foreman purchased in in 1941, then closed it in 1968 when public tastes moved away from bourbon.  They sold it in 1971 and repurchased it in 1993, after apparently being fully abandoned and left as a plaything for the kids of the idle rich who lived nearby.

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Inside, the facility has been beautifully restored and remains in operation.  They have a separate distillery elsewhere on the property.  You get the usual talking tour about mash and fermentation, the latter of which you can lean over for a whiff and taste from a provided sample.  Not good, not terrible and not to be repeated.  The tour is helped by speakers so you can hear the guide’s narrative over the background din.

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The distillery has been expanding and renovating since 2013, including these copper distillation pots.

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Our guide was a good entertainer, and if you aren’t familiar with distilleries, you would learn a good bit.  One thing you learn is that their barrels sit around for many years, on average seven for Woodford.  Adjacent is one of their warehouses, with thick stone walls that reportedly keep a fairly even temperature year round inside.

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The plugging and positioning of barrels was not reviewed, but it’s an interesting process to position them correctly because otherwise they just sit there, losing alcohol by volume over the years while accruing in value.

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Then, you get on the bus and go back to the visitor center which has a handy tasting room.  The size of tours are limited in part to the bus and in part to the number of seats at the table.  Everyone got two samples – their Distiller’s Select and their Double Oaked bourbons.

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What follows is a decent group instruction and discussion of how to sip bourbon and the flavors detected after your palate is acclimated (the first sip is to essentially burn, the second is more about the acclimation) and then… subtle notes of whatever fruits and veggies you care to observe – well, okay then.  Caramel, cocoa, oak, butterscotch, but you can say anything and get away with it.

The double oaked had more of the wood color and flavor, as it is aged in separate charred oak barrels, the latter “deeply toasted before charring.”  Smooth and great flavor, but, of course, it comes at a price. 

For those afraid of straight bourbon, there are ice urns positioned around the table, as shown above.  They also provide a bourbon flavored chocolate, which is delicious.  Overall, the tour was great and I can’t imagine anyone being disappointed, despite the awkwardness of the buses.

We shortly after stopped at a local legend for our take home chocolates, “invented” when the namesake Ruth Booe “overheard a friend remark that the two best tastes in the world were a sip of bourbon and Miss Booe’s mint candy.” 

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Long Strange Trip

I’m not a stranger to biographies of musicians and bands.  The backstories are often interesting, and they offer glimpses of what the celebrity experience is like in the quiet moments when the lights are off and the audience adulation is absent.  Long-Strange-Trip

I’m not a Grateful Dead fan, and I won’t become one, but it’s not for a lack of respect of their accomplishments.  So, Amazon’s Long Strange Trip was not an imperative, but of interest and certainly easier than reading a book.  And the band remains relevant, whether in the form of the musical offspring of its remaining band members, various cover bands, jam bands like Widespread Panic or the stickers on cars or T-shirts worn by “Deadheads.”  (My last remembered observation was form NBA player Bill Walton at the Atlanta airport, sporting Dead gear…)

In any case, the following holds true for many:

Q: What did the Deadhead say when he ran out of drugs?
A: Man, this music sucks.

I haven’t tried drugs and thus lacked their influence when I sampled the band’s music.  In the early ‘80’s, I had already investigated the music of the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Even at that age, I saw it as my sister’s generation, who was 11 years older.  It didn’t reflect the “now,” about which Garcia commented: “It’s tough to come to an adventure in this new lame America.”  I had friends at the time, and would see others over the next decade, who become latter-era Deadheads.  I get that many seek to latch onto something greater than themselves and be a part of it – we all do in our way – but… why the Dead? 

One interviewed megafan grants absolution for these latter day adjuncts:  

“I’ve seen kids now who are too young to ever have seen Jerry Garcia and yet they’re just as much a Deadhead as people my age ever were in the 70’s.  I don’t feel like anything has been diluted or lost, and the one sad thing that I would relieve them of is their feeling that they missed it because the thing that the Dead and the Deadheads created together will keep working its magic in whatever form its transmitted into the future.”

Sorry!  It’s just a bunch of people who missed out on the hippie era and will continually ask, “Wow, I wonder what this used to really be like!”  And then throw in the perspective of the speaker, proud to be a legitimate deadhead but perhaps desperate that his experience, to mean something significant, must necessarily endure.  The music will, in any case.      

The Grateful Dead’s music, as any other, is a personal thing.  There’s not enough about it for me to really like – no melody or key refrain - but there’s enough to the musicianship and the spirit for which it was intended for me to understand why other people might.  Long jams don’t appeal to me, at least without a scorching guitar, and while the band certainly has suitable vocalists, none of them appeal to me.  That’s okay – the world of Rock and Roll is full of vocalists who can’t “sing” but are perfect for what they do.  Mick Jagger, Roger Daltrey, Bruce Springsteen… Don’t get offended anyone.

The above hopefully serves as a suitable disclaimer as I review the movie, essentially admitting that I’m as objective as the next biased person.

Long Strange Trip includes six episodes that trace the band chronologically, totaling about a four hour investment of time if skipping the credits.  It does a very nice job of interviewing surviving band members and others who were close to the band.   The details of the times, the places, the personalities, the development of the band’s style (bluegrass, anyone?) and the trials overcome on the way to their ultimate success are exactly what the viewer hopes to see. 

Visually, there is much to like.  The imagery, archival footage of places and concerts, snippets of video of band members behind the scenes, etc. add great visuals to keep pace with a crisp narrative.  The movie holds to its themes and does not linger or extrapolate too long on any particular subject or period of time.  And, of course, it’s mostly about Jerry Garcia.

The movie features the band’s music as their styles and skills evolved, this in uncritical terms, unless praise counts.  It’s often heard in the background during general narratives and is addressed more directly when speaking to the contributions of specific band members.  It’s presumed that the viewer is a fan, though more probably a fan of their concerts rather than (studio) recordings.  

The early years of the San Francisco hippie culture were of the most interest, and Garcia’s overarching commitment to “fun” is introduced early – succinctly put by bandmate Bob Weir: 

“In eternity nothing will be remembered of you.  So why not just have fun?”

Nihilists rejoice!  Fun.  Free from authority and rules.  Working for the enjoyment of something without a particular purpose.  Sounds nice.  In other words, that’s autonomy – self law.  The remainder of the movie details a career of excesses in and around the band.  Fun, it is seen, is very much a thing of the moment, but the indulgences permitted in a one word litmus test for practical living reach their logical conclusions…  Rampant drug use, living/touring with an unwieldy entourage, the continual partying during lengthy tours, the problems encountered when no one wants to take authority and make decisions and a general neglect of personal health risks.  These built the band’s culture as much as they decreed its eventual end. 

Curiously lacking is any criticism between the surviving band members themselves.  It suggests that a deeper story is still out there waiting to be told as the only faults revealed are about those band members who have passed away, including Garcia.  The pride they take in their career is evident, but as evident is their regret regarding Garcia’s death, but not to the point where anyone admits they should have helped their friend and de facto leader who visibly needed an intervention. 

Perhaps to justify this, they speak of Garcia’s “toughness,” his energy, his push to tour constantly, his recurring drug relapses.  And none of them seemed to register shock when he died of a heart attack.   With friends like these…  Had Garcia died earlier along with Joplin, Hendrix and Morrison, they would have merited only a footnote in music history.  Part of their legacy is that they survived as long as they did.

But they’re not the Grateful Survivors.  I particularly liked the opening of the movie which begins with a thematically suited stanza of a poem by Emily Dickinson:

  • Because I could not stop for Death -
  • He kindly stopped for me -
  • The Carriage held but just Ourselves -
  • And Immortality.

The movie takes that focus on death and relates it to the passing of Garcia’s father in his youth and links it to the suitability of the band’s name.   Death is a more frequent subject to their songs than I realized, but it’s easily missed due to the the optimism in the tunes themselves, general inattention to the lyrics or the celebratory reaction of their audiences regardless of the subject.  Renewal, freedom, escapism – the band’s avowed fun celebrates life while both mocking and conceding its eventual end.

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The day Garcia died, a music buddy asked me, “Is Jerry Garcia grateful?”  By the film’s recounting of Garcia’s latter years, the answer seems to be “yes.”  His lack of anonymity to enjoy going out in public (thereby trapped in hotels), a relapse into his drug addiction, and the responsibilities of shouldering a band which supported the livelihoods of so many more than suggest that the fun was over. 

Bob Weir’s reflections at the end of the movie fairly well sum the outworking of the band’s philosophy:

  • “Jerry wasn’t interested in building something that would stand the test of time, but I don’t think that what we see as time can put an end to what we had…  Those moments are more alive than anything a heart pumps out.  That’s what we were living for and that was what we were trying to coax through on any given night onstage. That was the fun.  That was the fun that he was talking about.  That’s eternity.”  

Assigning metaphysical value to music is a dicey proposition, but we each justify our time on earth in different ways.  Perhaps their accomplishments and the accolades of millions provide some solace to the costs of the “fun.”

Long Strange Trip succeeds as both a documentary of music history and human nature.

5 of 5 STARS_thumb

(Go Austin, Go!)

A Visit to Keeneland

Keeneland, a horse track in Lexington, KY, begs a visit among things to do while visiting Kentucky, even if they’re only open for racing for three weeks each in April and October. During the off-season, hour long tours are offered at 8:30 in the morning.

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Part of the beauty is getting there.  “Lacking” the vintage in-city clutter and congestion of Churchill Downs, the drive includes miles of rolling fields of Kentucky blue grass with an almost continuous boundary of what becomes ubiquitous dark stained fencing.  It speaks of both the wealth and longevity of horse breeding in the region.

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Upon arrival, you find a parking area that is maintained better than any State park, or about public parking area.  I could brighten the picture, but this is an accurate view of the shaded morning light.

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There were other tours being given, some by commercial enterprises, but the venue guide was great – entertaining and informative.  That said, it costs nothing to enter off-season and wander around.  Our guide went over the history of Keeneland – its failed beginning and successive owners – and it has been conducting live racing since 1936.  We arrived on a morning when training was underway, which certainly amplified the experience.


So here’s a horse, a pretty one.

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The average thoroughbred weighs 1,200 lbs. and runs at 40 mph.  We learned a little about stride length as well, the average being 20’ – the distance at which one of the horse’s feet returns to the ground when running.  Secretariat was 25’ and Man of War was 28’.  Maybe they should publish that info racing tip forms. 

With the goal of the horse running to its full stride during a race, it was pointed out that the jockey is positioned on the horse not to “ride” it but to find that center of motion where he doesn’t interrupt the horse’s natural movement, which makes sense.

We stopped by the jockey weigh in station, where they each visit before the race and the first four finishers repeat after the race, with saddle and all of their gear.  The total jockey and gear weight is measured to meet the handicap weight established for the race.  Lesser experienced horses may not be required to carry the full weight to make them competitive.  The winners are weighed immediately after the race to ensure that jockeys did not remove weights between the weigh-in and the finish.  Jockeys can personally weigh whatever they like, but it helps to weigh close to the allotted amount as it is easier for the horse to carry a human that can move with it rather than a static load fixed to the saddle.  Jockeys usually fall within 4’10'” to 5’6” in height.

Related to possible improprieties, Thoroughbreds are tattooed with a serial code on their lip, which is inspected prior to each race to ensure a “ringer” is not inserted.  Keeneland charges $80 if you’re interested.  All of Keeneland’s rules are published online and make for an interesting perusal.

For prize money, the winning horse gets 60%, 20% to 2nd, 10% to 3rd, and smaller percentages to 6th place.   For a horse owner, 10% of their winnings are given to the trainer and 10% to the jockey.  The guide also indicated that owners pay $50K in training fees per year, per horse.  Trainers, per a Google search, seem to average only $25K per year, so, as the one who chatted ad-hoc with us confirmed, she does it for love.  The horse is Swindle, by the way.

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Keeneland is unique in the U.S. for having a grandstand that faces to the west.  While this makes for shaded viewing of morning training runs, it puts the sun in the eyes of spectators during late afternoon and evening races.  The grandstand includes significant netting to prevent birds from roosting, and the speakers play a threatening screeching sound periodically to keep them away.

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The guide said that they have their own nursery and can replace any tree or bush on the grounds, though I doubt pre-spelled. 

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Keeneland features both dirt and grass tracks, the prior 1 1/16 mile long.  They also have a special training chute that a horse has to successfully launch from three times in a row to be “certified” to run on the track, as the chute is the most dangerous place for a horse and rider.

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Training occurs in three lanes.  The outer rail is for horses new to being trained – they may be walked or lightly run as they get used to a course environment and people watching.  Even experienced race horses are skittish in new surroundings, and apparently a removed bush can upset a horse as much as a different grandstand.  They have to settle in.  Keeneland also has an alarm that sounds when a rider loses his horse, so that others pull up and take caution for a loose horse.  We heard it sound once, though we didn’t see the offending horse.

The next step includes running in the central part of the track, basically to gallop, then they race along the inside rail for advanced training, singly, or, as we observed, with two horses running side by side at full speed.

The public facility is not unusually large, though there are ample offices.  The structures are listed on the National Register, but it’s more the landscaping that makes Keeneland stand out.

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The central Sycamore tree was arguably said to be 150 years old, but it’s hard to miss and dominates the courtyard.  Here’s looking at you, kid.

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That courtyard area includes holding pens and individual walking circles for each of the horses prior to the race where they are first seen by the public.

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There are also a wall of jockey statues.  These are not for “famous” winners, but are rather updated each season with the colors of winning horses in certain races.

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Keeneland manages to make money between their sparse racing seasons.  Tucked to the side is the world’s largest Thoroughbred auction house, with three sales each year.  Per the guide, they sold about 6,000 horses last year for $500M (average of ($83K each).  I’ll assume there’s a nice commission.  It’s like going to church for many, I guess, except there is a small airport directly across from the property for reserved parking, of a sort.

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Overall, a great tour, but for the best experience, see if horse training is scheduled. 

Peachtree Road Race 2017

I’m actually glad I blogged about last year’s race as a reminder of what I thought up on completing it.  Overall, it was a failure in mental toughness.  I can blame the heat and humidity and be correct in doing so.  But running isn’t entirely physical – it’s a mental exercise of telling oneself, “I can run for or until [fill in the blank].”  That might be two minutes, it might be to the next water station, or to a particular building or intersection ahead of me.  Many of those sub-goals were not met last year, basically due to exhaustion.

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So, I’m pleased with this year’s result. Starting temperature was 74oF(+1oF) and humidity was 90%(+7%), both worse compared to last year.  This year, I “trained” a little differently – quotation marks are because 1) I dislike running 2) I travel a lot and therefore 3) It’s not something I do as often as I should or, like in-race goal setting, accomplish as often as I plan.

In any case, I usually run a treadmill at 6.0 mph – this year I stepped it up to 6.3 or 6.4.  I also ran with an incline of 0.5 or 1.0 – which isn’t a significant incline, but it takes its toll by way of, hopefully, preparing a little bit more for hills.

End result, I still walked the major hills, but I had enough energy to run the last 1.5 miles without walking for a quick breather, I actually sprinted to the finish… and felt pretty good physically during and after the race as opposed to last year when I just wanted to lie down and stay there a long, long time.

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For slightly harder conditions, I improved by four minutes, but the satisfying part is the results compared to others.  Against all men, finishing in the top 42% compares very well to 2016’s 52%.   Go me.  Would I like to finish higher/faster?  Well, sure.  But I don’t have a desire to be one of the rail thin sprites that float down the street, either.  I like my (lack of) diet.  On another note, my assigned wave (they break the 55,000 people into manageable groups) was particularly slow at the start; it wasn’t until past the one mile marker that space began to emerge where I could run at the pace I wanted.  The 5K should have at least been a couple of minutes faster… you see how easy it is to become competitive with yourself.

In related news, the race felt different this year, I think largely due to security precautions.  I can’t say that I dislike any of them – large City dump trucks and other heavy pieces of equipment blocking intersections so that cars couldn’t mow into runners or the crowd, scattered police officers with assault rifles, and security checking bags – along with a policy that the containers be clear.  The last is what made the difference – there were fewer spectators, I think largely because many like to sit, cheer and hoist an alcoholic beverage from their cooler.

It really does help to have people along the way being encouraging – a “Go Tigers” when you’re wearing a Clemson shirt gets pretty individually encouraging, but there were fewer people out there this year.  This also reduces the humor, such as posters with “If Trump can run, you can!” – “Press here for a power up” (Image of a mushroom from Super Mario), and the like.  If I walked the course, it would be fun to photograph a lot of it, never mind the costumes some runners wear.  Disappointingly, the Episcopal priest who flings holy water at runners was not present this year, instead replaced by a holy water sprinkler system… not the same.

And bless those who stretch presupposed age expectations.  There was one person running his 41st consecutive Peachtree, and I passed a number of others presumably in there 70’s making a good and/or determined effort.  I hope to be in as good shape when I get there.

The biggest disappointment goes to the T-shirt.  After a couple of years of really good, colorful designs, generic won out this year…