By Clare S. Richie

Heather King, on a quest to run 50 marathons in 50 states, just took down the Publix Georgia Marathon with more than 500 African American marathoners. She inspired another 300-plus African American runners to register for the half-marathon.

After 18 weeks of training, sacrifice, and just plain running – what seemed like an insurmountable hilly distance – was likened to a family reunion.

“We trained for this, we worked hard for this, we did this,” King shared.

This journey started 26.2 miles and one year ago. After finishing the 2016 Publix Georgia Half Marathon, King decided it was time to cross Georgia off her marathon list, ideally with some folks that looked like her. Her Facebook post read, “If someone wants to join, we’ll take it down.”

That post started Team Take Down Publix Marathon. Within 2 hours, 50 people said “yes”. Within a day, more than 100 African Americans had committed.

King views “take down” as increasing the number of African American marathoners and breaking the stereotype of what runners look like. Its estimated that 1 percent of all U.S. marathoners are African American. Based on race registration, approximately 25 percent or one in four marathoners were African American on March 19. That’s a “take down”!

Realizing the passion she had tapped into, King tirelessly recruited black runners from across the U.S. to join the team.

“As I saw more and more of my run buddies committing to Team Take Down Publix Marathon, I upgraded from the half to the full,” local runner Pierre Penda, shared. “I wanted to be a part of this epic movement.”

He joined runners from 16 states and two countries (Zambia and Qatar) for this “party on the pavement” after months of group runs, gatherings, and social media encouragement.

Magic happened on Marietta Street, as African American half marathon finishers, sorority sisters, fraternity brothers, volunteers and fans, lined the final mile to urge marathoners across the finish line.

“My finish line experience was epic! It was emotional to see everyone from 16 states and two countries,” King said.

King has created a legacy. “This was a pay it forward for the future generation of African American runners and a thank you to those who came before us,” she explained.

King is sure to find another race to “take down” that offers a 5K, 10K, half, and full marathon– so more people can participate

Collin Kelley

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.