Callaway Gardens Marathon 2015 – Race Report

Marathons: Paul #54, Leah #44, State #37 : Callaway Gardens Marathon 2015
25th January 2015, Pine Mountain, Georgia, USA
Finish Time (Paul) = 3:42:56
Finish Time (Leah) = 3:43:55

Paul: 1st Place Age Group (5th Overall)
Leah: 1st Place Female, 1st Place Age Group

After only 2 full days back home following Hawaii we were back on a flight with both our work clothes for the week ahead and marathon gear for the weekend (all packed into a carry-on), this time bound for Georgia. After driving from Atlanta to Pine Mountain and checking in to The Lodge at Callaway Gardens we made our way over to the expo to pick up our numbers.

View from the hotel balcony

View from the hotel balcony

It was a small setup in the Dome but what we love about smaller events is the ease of the logistics and the more personal feel. After collecting our numbers we made use of the Callaway Gardens pass we received with our hotel package and explored the grounds, visiting the Butterfly Conservatory, the Pioneer Log Cabin and the Discovery Center.

Pioneer Log Cabin

Pioneer Log Cabin

We’d got up at 3:45am to catch the first flight out so were hanging by the afternoon but didn’t want to drink coffee due to needing an early night. After a while we went back to the hotel, squeezed in a 2 mile tune up run and got some dinner before calling it a night.

On the morning of the run logistics couldn’t have been easier. We didn’t need to leave the hotel until 7:45am for an 8am start. 5 minutes later we were parked right near the start line and a few minutes after that we were ready to get going.

Start line - not a cloud in the sky

Start line – not a cloud in the sky

We’re all stupid!

The race director gave us a speech about what signs to look out for on the course and how it was marked well. He said that you’d have to be stupid to get lost, however one year a runner did follow a random jogger who he thought was in the marathon but wasn’t. Bearing that in mind, we all lined up, the race started and we sped off. Moments later a voice started shouting “WOAH, WOAH, WOAH… IT’S THAT WAY!!!!”. We had all turned immediately left out of the start line when it was supposed to right. We all had to make a quick turn to head back to the right.. it seems even when you think you’ve accounted for every possible wrong turn or decision that could be made, there’s an obvious one which isn’t covered. I don’t know if it wasn’t signed properly and the race director assumed everyone would know which way to go from the off or whether the first line of people didn’t pay attention and we all just followed them. The rest of the course to be fair, was well marked and turns were very obvious.

The weather was set to be 31F at the start, sunny, ending up at 50F at the end. It’s tough to dress for a 20 degree temperature difference. We tried to go with as much warm but removable stuff as possible, and opted for t-shirts with arm warmers (thereby covering all arm skin), gloves and a hat. It turned out to be the perfect choice. We were a little chilly to begin with but then for the majority of the race we were good and towards the end were able to remove items as it got warm.

It was a 2 loop course for the full marathoners with some rolling hills and the scenery was really nice. It was all road surface but being in private gardens it was well kept and smooth, the only exception being on the bike path sections which did have quite a few raised cracks, from tree roots. We ran through woods and over lakes with the sun lighting up the morning frost. We had read from other people’s race reports from previous years that portable toilets were not allowed inside the gardens and that finding somewhere to use was a challenge. This rule must have changed since then as they did have plenty of them along the course and a good number of aid stations too. We didn’t carry water and didn’t need to.


Given that we had both just PR’ed the weekend before in Maui our goal was really to just complete the State and if we were able to get the sub 4 then it would be great. We didn’t know how we’d feel getting into the run and into the later miles. However a combination of the cool weather, peaceful and picturesque scenery seemed to work well and we sped along at a strong pace not even feeling fatigue. At the half-way point most of the runners around us peeled off to head to the finish line for their half-marathon. As we carried on the announcer spoke out on the loud speaker “And ladies and gentlemen if you look across the road you’ll see 2 full marathoners going by right now, look at the pace they’re going, a time of 1:52 and they’re still going to do another loop. Incredible.” It definitely gave us a smile and a boost to push on and the people cheered as we continued on for our second lap. After we left the crowd at that point we were completely on our own, no runners in front us, none behind us. The rest of the race was much like that, although we would come up to the occasional runner and carry on past, as we were maintaining a consistent pace with our first half rather than slowing down.

Coming around one of the final turns

Coming around one of the final turns

With a few miles left to go we were still feeling good and saw a few runners up ahead so we picked up the pace for a strong finish. I broke away from Leah to catch some people, running a 7:26 for mile 26, which was my quickest mile of the race. As I ran through the finish line in 3:42 they announced “And the one and only Paul Piper, crossing the line in 5th place, 1st in his age group” … WHAT?! I couldn’t believe it. They put the medal round my neck and handed me a plaque for winning my age group. I didn’t have to wait long for Leah to finish and only one other person finished between us. She crossed the line a minute after me in 7th place and the 1st female finisher, therefore also winning her age group.

1st place in my age group and 5th overall!

1st place in my age group and 5th overall!

Leah finishing as the 1st female

Leah finishing as the 1st female

We couldn’t quite believe we’d both won something (although that makes it twice in 7 days for Leah). The result was unexpected and the marathon was much nicer than we could have thought it would be too. It was a great choice for Georgia and our 37th State completed.

3 marathons in 3 States in the last 15 days, all sub 4, both of us achieving new PRs, and altogether 3 first place age group finishes. Definitely a good start to the year!


Elevation Graph from my running watch:


There were definitely some short, steep inclines and rolling hills but overall still a fast course I would say


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