7:30 A.M. on what is likely to be a hazy warm morning this coming 4th of
July, 55,000 runners in the 38th running of The Atlanta
Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race will line up from Lenox Square
north to the horizon. Over 900 volunteers will help coordinate the
start, and it will be a full hour and 15 minutes before the final runner
gets a chance to begin his or her 6.2 mile run down Peachtree Road to
finish on 10th Street.
The Peachtree is the world’s largest 10K road race and arguably the best
and most prestigious.
race’s inauguration in 1970 held few indications of such future glory.
The idea for a Fourth of July race down the city’s main thoroughfare
germinated the year before when a carload of Atlanta Track Club members
went to Fort Benning for its modest Independence Day run. On the way
home, someone suggested Atlanta should have its own Fourth of July
event; another added it could go down the main street given the light
holiday traffic. Approximately 110 runners gathered together at the old
Sears parking lot at the corner of Peachtree Road and Roswell Road and,
at 9:30 a.m. on July 4, 1970, headed downtown towards Central City Park
in the first Peachtree Road Race.
race was but one of a series of small, local races put on by the Atlanta
Track Club. The club had begun in 1964 when a group of post-collegiate
runners joined together with some metro area coaches to support track
and field and road running at the local level. The 1960s were the
pre-dawn of the running boom; those who ran for exercise were viewed as
amusing eccentrics. Road races were small and infrequent, with runners
driving long distances to take part in these low-key competitions. To
help fill this void, the ATC began a modest series of races in the late
1960s, administered informally and attended by a few stalwarts.
Peachtree would become one of this series.
first Peachtree differed somewhat from its companion races, even in the
beginning, for it attracted a sponsor, Carling Brewery. That modest
support allowed the race to afford trophies, a luxury not easily funded
through the $2 entry fee. Nor did the budget include T-shirts though it
compassed the 15-cent bus fare given to each finisher to return him back
to Peachtree to his car at Sears.
who ran the inaugural event recall its jovial lack of pretension.
Founder and race director, Tim Singleton, put the event on with a
handful of volunteers. He, himself, set up registration and started the
event. He then jumped in his car, got to the finish well before the
lead runners, and oversaw the finish and awards.
the early years, the course went from Sears in Buckhead to Downtown
Atlanta. The runners ran down Peachtree’s far right lane, kept close to
the gutter by vigilant police. At Pershing Point, the course veered
onto West Peachtree, rejoining Peachtree near Davison’s (Macy’s). The
race ended at Central City Park. There was no water on the course as
track and field rules at the time discouraged such aid for distances 10K
or shorter. Spectators consisted of a few surprised pedestrians walking
their dogs. Though modest, the race nonetheless attracted the local
elite: it was won by Jeff Galloway, to be an Olympian two years later,
and Gayle Barron, whose career would be capped with a 1978 win of the
Despite the heat and lack of pomp and frill, the race caught the
imagination of the town’s running community, and of those in the
neighboring states. The 1971 Peachtree nearly doubled in size to 198, a
growth which took organizers by surprise. That year they used the
Carling money to buy T-shirts, but had not ordered enough. They decided
to give the shirts to the finishers until they ran out. Those who
missed the cut vowed to return the following year and get one. Many did
return, though in some cases their luck had not improved. Organizers
this time had ordered enough for 250, with the exact design of the year
prior, but this time 330 showed up. Close to a hundred left
disappointed, promising to return and finally earn the shirt.
1973, earning the Peachtree shirt had become a goal of local runners.
Its appearance belied its importance. The white shirt was undated, and
was merely reprinted each year with little or no change, not even a
date; those who had succeeded in earning all three shirts now owned
three identical bits of cloth. As the importance of the shirt grew, so
did the number of people who ran. Running as a recreational activity
began to boom in the early
following Frank Shorter’s win in the 1972 Olympic Marathon. The name of
this new sports hero, coupled with the growing popularity of Dr. Kenneth
Cooper’s book on the benefits of aerobic exercise, had thousands buying
Nike waffle trainers and hitting the streets. Running was no longer
just the activity of the scrawny eccentric.
1974 event doubled again, to 765 finishers. And, once again, organizers
ran out of shirts. In 1975 it fared little better, when over a thousand
runners finished. The 1974 and 1975 now carried the name Tuborg rather
than Carling but were otherwise unaltered.
major shift took place in 1976, the first major change in the history of
the race. Carling, with lessening ties to Atlanta, dropped its
sponsorship. The title sponsorship was taken by the Atlanta
Journal-Constitution, largely at the instigation of Jim Kennedy, a
runner and member of the inner circle of the Cox organization, the
newspaper’s owner. Affiliation with the newspaper brought added
coverage and corresponding popularity. The race organizers, for their
part, began inviting the nation’s elite road racers to participate. The
field swelled to 2,300; Olympian Don Kardong won. Peachtree was swiftly
becoming among the best known in the United States. But the shirt still
looked the same, with the newspaper’s logo replacing that of Tuborg.
There was still no date.
large fields were straining race organization. The 6,500 who entered
the 1977 race overwhelmed Central City Park. In 1978, the race course
was modified. The Start moved north to Lenox Square and the finish line
was put in front of the Bath House in Piedmont Park. Runners followed
the original course onto West Peachtree. They turned left at 12th Street
and then entered the Park towards the Bath House. The 1977 shirt also
carried a new look: the familiar peach made its first appearance and as
did the date.
1979, the field had reached over 20,000. The course by now had again
been slightly altered, with runners entering the Park at 14th Street.
That year, as well, Bob Varsha was hired as the first paid director.
1980, race entries were limited at 25,000. The limit was set because,
at five and half miles, the course narrowed to two lanes where it
entered the Park from 14th Street.
Organizers felt congestion there was too thick to allow more. Thus race
numbers remained until 1990. Though the race limit remained steady,
however, interest in the event continued to flourish and the race closed
earlier and earlier. In 1989, the 25,000 was reached in just 9 days.
Those not making the cut bellowed in anger.
organizers took heed. The start was redesigned. Time groups of 5,000
each were sent from the start at three minute intervals, allowing the
crowd to stretch out sufficiently to ease comfortably through the 14th Street
gate. In 1990, 40,000 ran, with a start lasting 30 minutes. The race
took two weeks to close.
1980’s saw other changes as well. In the early part of the decade, the
Atlanta Journal-Constitution dropped its sponsorship. It returned in
1985. And later in the decade, in an effort to better meet the needs of
children, for whom the Peachtree was both too long and too crowded, the
Atlanta Track Club began Peachtree Jr., a fun 3K run for children 7-12.
Run the first Saturday in June, it attracts approximately 2000 kids.
decade also saw the emergence of Peachtree’s Wheelchair Division.
Presently among the most beloved aspects of the race, the Division took
formal shape in 1982. Today, more than 100 athletes take part, in what
has become one of the world’s finest wheelchair events, attracting top
international competition. Sponsored by the Shepherd Spinal Center
since its inception, the event has produced several world
record-breaking performances with top contenders covering the 6.2 mile
course in under 20 minutes (the course record for those on foot is
this period, Peachtree also found its niche in Atlanta’s effort to win
the bid to host the 1996 Olympics. Bid organizers invited International
Olympic Committee (IOC) organizers to observe the race, and Peachtree’s
fourth mile (I-85 overpass to Colony Square) was dubbed the Olympic
Mile, complete with salutational banner and Olympic theme music over the
sound system. In 1990, Peachtree hosted a breakfast for visiting IOC
members along the Mile. In honor of Atlanta’s winning bid, banner and
theme music continue there.
Continued as well has been the race’s popularity. In 1992, the race
expanded to 45,000. That year, it closed in nine days. In 1993, it
closed in six days. And for its Silver Anniversary, it attracted 60,000
entries the first weekend it opened. The first 40,000 were accepted,
the final 10,000 taken from a lottery of those entries postmarked in
March (the race opened March 20). Over 10,000 were rejected.
anticipated, the 1996 running of the Peachtree was memorable. July 4th was
but two days before the Olympic Village opened to welcome the 10,000
athletes coming to town to participate in the Centennial Olympic Games.
Thirty-two Olympians made Peachtree’s elite field the most illustrious
ever; it was little surprise that both men’s and women’s course records
fell, the men’s being broken by Kenya’s Joseph Kimani in a world best
10K time of 27:04.
post-Olympic era has little dampened Peachtree’s popularity. When the
race opens the third Sunday in March each year, over 60,000 runners
routinely vie to enter. In 1998, 55,000 runners were admitted, up from
50,000 in 1997. Among other changes that year as well, all runners who
qualified for the early time groups by running a certified 10K in 50
minutes or under were timed, their names listed in the following
morning’s Atlanta Journal- Constitution.
1999, Peachtree faced new challenges. Sewer construction in Piedmont
Park required the final mile of the course be rerouted; for the first
time since 1978 the race finished outside the Park. The new finish, on
at Charles Allen Drive, is broader and downhill, and has been greeted by
runners with enthusiasm. All finish area activity remained in the
Piedmont Park meadow, the same as in 1998. In 1999, as well, the race
added a new time group Time group 1B, which opened documented placement
to all running under 55:00.
a fairly serene 2000 and 2001, major challenges occurred for the 33rd running
of the Peachtree in 2002. The meadow area of the park, which the race
generally uses for the finish area, was under construction. After long
debate on alternatives, the race moved its finish area in the Athletic
Fields, a half mile walk through the Park. This constituted altering
over 25 years of planning. As usual, the Peachtree Committee and the
thousands of volunteers rose to the occasion, making this “Special
Edition” a resounding success. Indeed, most enjoyed the cool-down walk
through the Park and urged the format be continued.
The 34th was
similar to the 33rd.
The meadow remained under construction, and runners again received their
T-shirts at the Athletic Fields. Unfortunately, Hurricane Bill came
through three days before the race, leaving the fields sodden, and
unable to support the heavy tanker trucks for PowerAde and Crystal
Springs water. These were parked on the narrow road
the field, leading to memorable congestion. New touches that year
included the introduction of Silver Numbers. Two hundred and fifty
randomly selected numbers were replaced by Silver Numbers, qualifying
those runners for a special drawing for a trip for two to next May’s
Vienna Marathon via Delta Air Lines. The drawing took place from the
awards stage following the awards ceremony. Matt Minter of Smyrna was
the lucky winner.
The 35th running
was a major anniversary year and the 110 original finishers were invited
back. This in addition, Peachtree hosting its first satellite race: at
Camp Victory in Baghdad. Dubbed Time Group Ten-Baghdad Division, 500
soldiers wore Peachtree Road race numbers to earn the 2004 Peachtree
T-shirt—a special edition with “Baghdad Division” on its sleeve. The
Silver Number drawing was won by Nazeen Desai. Much to everyone’s
delight, the renovation of Meadow in Piedmont Park was finished, and
could once again welcome Peachtree’s finish area festivities.
the success of Baghdad’s Time Group 10 of the Peachtree, runners in both
Kuwait and Afghanistan expressed interest in having their own Peachtree
Divisions. In early June, the Atlanta Track Club sent over numbers,
special edition T-shirts, and a banner to all three off-site locales.
Therefore, in addition to the 55,000 runners in Peachtree-Atlanta,
another 750 in Baghdad, 1000 at Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, and 500 at
Bagram Air Force Base just outside Kabul earned the 2005 Peachtree
T-shirt. Patricia Early of Atlanta was the lucky Silver Number winner on
a July Fourth morning that was welcomingly cool and overcast.
37th running was a very special race for many reasons. It was the 22nd and
last year under the excellent leadership and guidance of Julia Emmons,
an icon in Atlanta and the sport of running. We also celebrated the 10th anniversary
of the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, emphasizing the fifth mile of the
race (Brookwood Station to Woodruff Arts Center), with signage and
music. The Silver Number drawing sent Rick Young to the Dublin, Ireland
Marathon in 2006.
year we will host the USA Men’s 10 km Championship and crown our
country’s fastest 10K runner on Independence Day. We will also continue
to support the satellite races in Afghanistan, Iraq and Kuwait with an
anticipated number of 3,000 military personnel crossing the Peachtree
finish line a world away from Atlanta, Georgia. The Silver Number
drawing will again conclude the awards ceremony with the lucky winner
headed to the Dublin, Ireland Marathon.
one of the runners who drifted up to Sears for the inaugural run in 1970
could have foreseen he would be among the founding fathers of an event
which would, 38 years later, attract well over 55,000 applications in
the first few days it opened, four months before the event itself. Nor
would have they foreseen the 150,000 spectators, the scores of elite
runners from around the world, and the two and half hours of live
coverage on TV. One thing they would have understood, however, is how
the race represents Atlanta. In 1970, it was a gathering of people from
all parts of the City coming together to enjoy their sport and celebrate
Independence Day. It still is.