AJC Peachtree Road Race: After 200-mile race, Joy Sandoz excited for first Peachtree

Credit: Photo courtesy of Joy Sandoz

Credit: Photo courtesy of Joy Sandoz

With sweat dripping off her face and soaking her clothes, Joy Sandoz looks to the sky, puts her hands on her head and slows her pace. She continues to jog down a road somewhere in South Georgia with only the occasional streetlight and her phone’s flashlight to guide the way.

Sandoz isn’t alone on her run. A mile ahead of her is her closest confidant — her husband, Matthew. And a mile behind her is one of her best friends and biggest supporters — Jimmie Turnage.

As the sun begins to rise, Sandoz finds a second wind. She takes a swig of water and munches on one of Turnage’s homemade cookies and marches down the highway.

Over the span of five days, Sandoz took part in the Run Across Georgia where she logged 201 miles from Tybee Island to just 70 miles out of Columbus.

Officially, the 270-mile route began in Savannah at 4 a.m. May 26, but Sandoz’s journey began more than a year ago. She registered for the 2020 event before it was canceled, so she would run a marathon a day, running around Sandy Springs and Dunwoody, running to the grocery store and just working to keep a steady pace for long distances.

When the time came to actually take part in the course, Sandoz was prepared as best as she could have been.

“The heat started right away as soon as the sun was up,” she said. “I had it all mapped out and was shooting for 35 to 60 miles every day. And then the temperatures hit the mid-90s and the plans for being able to run three to five miles at a time became running one to two miles at a time, with stops for ice and slowed us all down.”

Her support group, which consisted of her husband, Turnage and other friends and family members over the five days, rode along in cars in front of and behind Sandoz as she ran. When she needed a rest, they gave her ice or water or a chair.

Matthew was within a few miles of his wife the whole trip, and Turnage followed along the second half of the race.

“There’s nothing more inspiring than just to be sitting on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere and see that gal coming down the hill and just have a smile on her face for the whole time,” Turnage said while tearing up. “I mean, it was amazing. I want to be her.”

When Sandoz approached her husband with her intentions of running 200-plus miles across South Georgia, he wasn’t even surprised. The two settled on a time, Matthew took off work, and they set off for Sandoz’s big 50th birthday gift.

“I know finishing these things, challenging herself is really important to her,” he said. “And she just loves doing it. I mean, not while it’s happening. It’s hard, but afterwards.”

Knowing she couldn’t do it alone, Sandoz had Matthew and her support group with her.

Sandoz and Turnage first met in 2015, when Turnage joined a local gym, where Sandoz was a trainer and an admin. When she joined, Turnage wasn’t much of a long-distance runner, but Sandoz helped her train for her “first and only” marathon.

The two have run several races together across the United States, and there was nothing that was going to stop Turnage from missing being with her friend in this race.

Now, for Sandoz’s first time, they’ll be running The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race on Saturday, the first of two days this weekend for this year’s 52nd running of the event.

Sandoz always avoided running the Peachtree because of the amount of people at the event, but her friends did a strong job of convincing.

“When they turned 60 they said, ‘We just turned 60. You’re about to turn 50, so you have to do the Peachtree.’ So I signed up,” Sandoz said.

Sandoz, Turnage and their friend Mary Dean will be running Saturday. Not at the same pace as they would other competitions, but more for the enjoyment, the experience and the beer at the end.

After the 10K on Saturday, most people would take the rest of the Fourth of July off to rest, but not Sandoz. She signed up for Merrill’s Mile, which is a 12-hour run in Dahlonega.

To say Sandoz enjoys running is an understatement.

“When I first decided to sign up for the run across Georgia, I figured I might not make it,” she said. “There are all sorts of reasons and things that could go horribly wrong, but it can also go really well. I could learn a ton and have one heck of an experience, and I absolutely did.”