Five Questions about the AJC Peachtree Road Race with Wheelchair Racer Talbot Kennedy
Kennedy talks preparing for, finishing the country's largest 10K .
This is Talbot Kennedy’s sixth year participating in the AJC Peachtree Road Race, a 10K run whose route passes right in front of Shepherd Center. A former patient who sustained a spinal cord injury during a high school trampoline accident in Memphis, Tennessee, Talbot, 33, is now a peer support liaison at Shepherd Center. We talked with him a week before the big race.
Q: How tough a race is the Peachtree?
Talbot: I do a lot of 10K wheelchair races and this is one of the harder ones. The first half is pretty easy, it’s mainly downhill, until right about when you get to Shepherd Center. That’s where it becomes what they call Cardiac Hill. But passing Shepherd is my favorite part even though it’s the hardest part. You see all the patients and therapists and friends and families out there supporting you. It’s tough not to stop and start talking with them. It’s definitely the best part of the race.
Q: Do you have a training routine?
Talbot: Because I’m on the USA Wheelchair Rugby team and we’re in the middle of our season, I do a lot of training in my rugby chair. But I’ll go out to the Silver Comet Trail and push in my racing chair for about seven miles. I also get on rollers (a kind of treadmill for chairs) at Shepherd and train for 35 to 40 minutes. The Sunday before the race some of us go out and do the actual course. That’s when we notice if there’s any potholes we have to watch out for on race day.
Q: Any pre-race rituals?
Talbot: The night before I like to have pasta – I’m a pasta guy anyway but I load up on carbs. I also make sure my equipment is ready to go, there’s nothing worse than being ready on race day and finding you have a flat tire. So I make sure my tires are aired up and look over my wheelchair -- make sure the compensator and handle bars are all good. In the morning, I usually have a fruit smoothie I bought the night before, and bananas and apples and muffins. I definitely like to eat. I know some racers just drink a cup of coffee and go do it but that’s not me.
Q: What’s your race strategy?
Talbot: There are a few people who are definitely faster than me in the T52 division (one of two divisions for racers with quadriplegia), so I do have a strategy. At the start of the race, it’s flat or slightly uphill for about a mile, and I’m thinking in my head if I can just hang with those guys until we go downhill, the rest of the race will go pretty well. Then when we go downhill I’m usually with a teammate, and I just let it go as fast as possible. We may or may not draft on each other, but there’s not too much of an advantage because everyone’s pretty much going to stop when we get to the bottom of Cardiac Hill. Once you get up the steepest part, that’s when you know you’re going to be tired, so the hardest part of the race for me is to keep going until 10th St. – I just push through it. Then it’s pretty much downhill from there. Usually by then there’s somebody who’s trying to catch you, or who you’re trying to catch, and that’s pretty good motivation. But at that point I just want to get to the end quickly, get to brunch and celebrate.
Q: How does it feel to finish the Peachtree?
Talbot: It’s definitely an accomplishment every year. Last year was my fastest, 32 minutes, and I’d love to beat that this year. But one of the biggest things for me when it comes to wheelchair racing or rugby or whatever sport, is we’re all out there competing to win and beat each other, but when it’s all over the best feeling is that we’ve all done it together.
Written by Drew Jubera
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.