Former Tech standout ready to race the Peachtree

Wearing a large tattoo of a phoenix that covers her right hip, Renee Baillie said the image symbolizes her new chance at a running career.

Baillie, a former All-American runner at Georgia Tech, spent Chapter 1 of her career competing mostly on tracks, which contributed to chronic Achilles pain that resulted in surgery. Now healthy, Baillie has switched to street racing and found she seems to have a talent for it. Baillie will compete in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race on the Fourth of July.

“That basic drive to compete is exemplified in road racing,” she said. “I want to be out there. I want to fight. I want to grit my teeth. I want to compete at its most basic level.”

Despite living in Atlanta for three years while a college student, she never competed in the Peachtree because it always coincided with her outdoor track training.

“I’ve always wanted to run Peachtree,” she said from her home in Bend, Ore. “I used to do many of my long runs on Peachtree. I have a lot of ingrained memories of the course.”

Baillie transferred from Georgia Tech to Colorado for her last two years of athletic eligibility because she wanted to get an early jump on her professional career. She said Colorado offered better opportunities.

Baillie stuck to road racing and 5,000-kilometer races, constantly fighting an Achilles that troubled her for seven years. She elected to have surgery in 2011 to repair the injury and said she is pain-free.

She elected to transition from tracks to roads in 2012 and had instant success. She started with a 20K in New Haven, Conn. She followed with her marathon debut in Chicago, where she placed eighth and was the first American finisher in a time of 2:27.17. That time was good enough to earn Baillie an invitation to this summer’s IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Russia.

However, Baillie has elected not to compete in the race because she said she wants to earn more experience in the longer races before she takes on the world’s best.

“I don’t want to be just the top American in a race,” she said. “Being the top American is always a goal. (It’s) always an honor, but I want to challenge everyone in a race. … I have big goals. I’m looking long-term.”

She said she is still learning the difference in strategies required between the narrow tracks and the wide-open streets, as well as the need to listen to her body rather than to focus on splits.

“While in college at Colorado, one of coach (Mark) Wetmore’s favorite phrases was ‘listen to your sensory data,’” said Austin Baillie, Renee’s husband and coach. “It has taken us years to understand fully what that means. We have tried very, very hard to embrace that philosophy. We are always trying to have her tune into her body. ‘What do I feel, what can I accomplish on the next lap, next mile, next straightaway. …’”

A few weeks before Chicago, Renee Baillie chose to get the tattoo, and she had the color filled in two months ago.

“The way it looks, it’s done very artistically to look proud, fierce, tough and beautiful,” she said. “It embodies myself.

“It symbolizes my whole view on everything. The rebirth of my Achilles and my career. Now, my best days are ahead of me.”

Baillie hasn’t been in Atlanta since she left in 2003, but still has many friends and former teammates in Atlanta who she will meet after the race, and she has a busy schedule.

She will attend the runner’s expo July 3 to sign autographs for her sponsor, Atlanta-based Mizuno. She will go to a postrace party at Phidippides shoe store, and she will end the day meeting old friends and Tech teammates at another party.

Baillie still has fond memories of Atlanta. She hopes to do a run through Virginia-Highland, one of her old training grounds, and visit the High Museum before she leaves Friday.

Her best time in a 10K is 32:31, nine seconds slower than last year’s winning time in the Peachtree.

Baillie was sidelined earlier this year by a cold that she said she couldn’t shake and has only recently begun her 2013 season.

She planned to compete in a half-marathon in Duluth, then the Peachtree as she prepares for the Twin Cities Marathon on Oct. 6, which also is the U.S. national championship men’s and women’s race.

If she wins, Austin Baillie said he will consider getting a matching tattoo, to which Renee could be heard in the background saying, “I’m going to hold you to that.”

“She is going to make me regret that,” he answered.

Baillie said his wife’s training has gone very well, and she seems to be progressing well in her transition.

Renee Baillie is enjoying the next chapter in her running career and wants to fulfill those big goals.

“So many things that I’m just learning about,” she said. “I’m loving every minute of it.”

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.