Other than the drivers on Peachtree Street honking their horns and screaming out their car windows, few people paid much attention to the first running of the Peachtree Road Race: 150 “maniacs” running down the busiest street in Atlanta in the heat of summer was hardly news. It was just weird. In fact, a search of Atlanta Track Club’s archives finds the first major coverage of the race in 1973 when the New York Times published a recap of the event, framing it as a Fourth of July oddity rather than a sporting competition. Roy Reed described the race as “less daring than General Sherman’s march down Peachtree, but it was at least as courageous as Mao Tse Tung’s swimming the Yangtse.”
But, as the race grew, so did the attention and respect paid to it by local and national media outlets. In 1976, thanks in part to a new partnership with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, the Peachtree was literally front-page news, and participation more than doubled. In 1981, it was broadcast to a national television audience for the first time, with former race director and current Motorsport commentator Bob Varsha calling the race.
Since then, millions of words have been written and probably even more spoken about the AJC Peachtree Road Race. We reached out to some names you may recognize from their coverage of the race over the last five decades and asked them to share their favorite Peachtree memory, whether from the press box or the middle of the action.
Fred Kalil, Sports Director, CBS 46, Atlanta
“We had just arrived in Atlanta July 3, 1992 from Indianapolis. With stuff still in boxes and a moving truck in the driveway I set out for the race. Luckily, I had just called the Indy 500 Half Marathon, so I was up to speed, no pun intended. 11Alive (I’m now on CBS46) put me at the finish line and as the men’s winner crossed I stopped Sammy Lelei of Kenya and congratulated him, then asked his name after which we talked on camera for a few minutes. I did the same with Francie Larrieu-Smith, the women’s winner. It was live TV and we had no producer to give me names and bib numbers, so I just asked.
Fast forward to 2014 and Rich Kenah (Atlanta Track Club’s executive director) is at the TV station and we’re talking about distance running. I told him I ran the two-mile my freshman year in high school, won the conference freshman meet and ran just under 10:40; a record at the time. The football coach stopped me from running so I could put on 50 pounds over the next the three years. Rich said, ‘you need to run again,’ so I took him up on the offer and ran the Peachtree that year and every year since. I am right at an hour flat. I can’t get under 60 minutes and now that I’m 60 it’s going to be harder. I also enjoy the half marathon every Thanksgiving. So, a big thanks to Rich for getting the fat two-miler back into running. I’m training for a second triathlon now.”
Jerry Carnes, Reporter/Anchor, 11Alive, Atlanta
“The summer of 1980 provided me with my first opportunity to run the AJC Peachtree Road Race. Because my father was the U.S. Olympic Track and Field coach that year, I spent part of the summer in Eugene, Oregon, where the Olympic Trials were held. Since I got to train in what was the distance running capital of the U.S., I got to Atlanta on July 4 in pretty good shape. Thanks in part to the enthusiastic crowd, I got carried away and ran the first mile too fast, but settled in and ran one of my fastest 10Ks. I will never forget the thrill of turning onto 10th Street and entering Piedmont Park. It felt like the entire city of Atlanta was there to encourage us. Their help virtually lifted and carried me to the finish line. Never before or since have I run a race with more history and energy.”
Jeff Hullinger, Anchor/Reporter, 11Alive, Atlanta
“Sometime in the late 1980s I was scheduled to broadcast live from the Runner’s Expo at Colony Square. A Peachtree official asked if I would mind shuttling a guest of the race. I said ‘sure’. The guest was the legendary four-time winner of the Boston Marathon, four-time winner of the New York City Marathon and U.S. Olympian Bill Rodgers. The Tom Brady of running in America. A ubiquitous figure on network television, a superstar that even nonrunners knew in another era. I remember apologizing to him for my dirty Volkswagen Jetta. Rodgers was cool, casual, friendly and appreciative of the ride.”
Kaitlyn Ross, Reporter, 11Alive, Atlanta
“I had no idea what I signed up for when I ran my first Peachtree! I was new to Atlanta and 11Alive asked me to run a 10K on the Fourth of July. WOW, was I blown away. I was expecting to keep my head down, and hope to cross the finish line … instead, I saw amazing costumes, made new friends, and danced across the finish line to amazing music. Every person out on the course is encouraging, kind, and happy to be there. It’s incredible to see so many people out there rooting you on! It’s an incomparable experience and each year it gets better!”
Monica Kaufman, Retired Anchor, WSB, Atlanta
“Three things I remember from the race: Taking forever to get across the starting line. Heart Attack [Cardiac] Hill by Piedmont Hospital. Don McLellan told me to pinch my thumb to my fingertips to help me get up the hill. That seems to lift you, give you energy. I was glad I did that. And when I got to the corner where I live, my daughter and my husband were waving at me, “Go Mom!”
People recognized me. They’d say, ‘oh that’s Monica Kaufman. We can’t let her pass us.’ They were surprised I was in such good shape. They think because I can sit on a set, that’s all I do.”
-As told to Karen Rosen in 1994
Furman Bisher (1918 -2012), Columnist, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“When Allison Roe of New Zealand won the women’s race in 1981, I said to myself ’Wait a minute. They come all the way from New Zealand to do this in Atlanta? This doesn’t make any sense.’”
-As told to Karen Rosen in 1994
Ken Seguira, Reporter, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“Having covered every AJC Peachtree Road Race since 2010, and written about it many years prior, one thing I really appreciate about it is how so many finishers have a story to tell. In the first race I covered, for instance, I met a woman at the race start who was participating despite the fact that, less than two years earlier, she was paralyzed with a neurological disorder. And had an air cast on one ankle. And was five months pregnant. Not everyone’s story is that dramatic, but it’s truly inspiring to meet so many people who are running in memory of a loved one, have overcome disease, have achieved dramatic weight loss or are extending a tradition or family or friendship. It’s far more meaningful than just another 10K. It’s a celebration.”
Carrie Tollefson, NBC Sports Broadcaster and 2004 Olympian at 1500 Meters
“Every year I wake up and from my hotel I can see the mass of wheelchair athletes making their way to the start line. Speaking with those athletes leading up to and during the coverage of the race, it’s so inspiring to hear from those who are just getting in their chairs and learning to race to those who have won major races around the world. What Atlanta Track Club and the Shepherd Center have done with the wheelchair division is changing the landscape of road racing. All of these athletes coming together on a great day in a great city … it’s amazing.”
Toni Reavis, Veteran Road Racing Broadcaster and Blogger
“My first visit to Atlanta came in 1989 at the 20th running of the AJC Peachtree Road Race. That was the year we brought our ESPN Road Race of the Month Series to town and were treated to a spirited battle through Piedmont Park between 10K road world record-holder Mark Nenow of the U.S. and 1988 Boston Marathon champion Ibrahim Hussein of Kenya.
In the end, though Hussein was the marathoner, he still could bring out the speed that saw him anchor the University of New Mexico Lobos 4x400-meter team to a school record in 1983. Hussein won the 20th Peachtree by a single second in 28:13. 1983 and ’85 Peachtree champ Michael Musyoki of Kenya finished third in 28:34.”
Don McLellan, Reporter, WSB-TV, Atlanta
“My first Peachtree memory is coming to begin my day at WSB-TV on July 4, 1976. I was hardly in the door when our assignment editor said, ‘there's a lot of people running on Peachtree. Check it out.’ I did, with a photographer and an intern. Only one curbside lane was reserved for the runners. Vehicles were crowding in the other lanes. We were driving south on West Peachtree. I was wearing dress shoes, but had been running recreationally for several years. These people on West Peachtree didn't seem all that fast ... so with our intern driving our Ford Bronco and our photographer on the back deck, I began running. We pulled up beside one guy and asked him about his time. “About … (breathing hard) six minute mile,” I wrote and I edited the filmed story for the noon news. Later, I thought ‘a six minute mile isn't so tough … maybe I'll do the whole thing next year.’ I did. 1977 was the year of my first Peachtree, and the year I learned that running one mile in dress shoes is much easier than 6.2 miles even with the advantage of running shoes.”
The AJC Peachtree Road Race will be broadcast this year on 11Alive in the metro-Atlanta area and on NBC Sports nationally, as it has been for the past several years. And of course, the AJC will have complete coverage. So, there will be plenty of opportunity for journalists to start saving their memories of the next 50 years.