It is hard to forget the moment you wrote your name in the proverbial history books. While the 110 runners who took part in the inaugural Peachtree Road Race don’t remember every detail of that day, they have stories from the race that offer a unique perspective to accompany the story we’ve all heard. From jumping in a fountain post-race to getting stuck running behind a bus, to finding a gun on the course, these pioneers of Peachtree experienced a very different road race than the one we run today.
The brainchild of Georgia State University professor Dr. Tim Singleton, the Peachtree was a crazy idea dreamed up on a road trip to a July 4 race at Fort Benning. With a start time of 10 a.m. and runners sharing Atlanta’s busiest street with cars, busses and motorcycles, 107 men and three women finished that first race. By now, you have read detailed accounts of the big names; Singleton, Jeff Galloway, Gayle Barron, Bill Thorn. But every member of the Original 110 is an equally important part of the race’s legacy. With weeks to go until its 50th Running of the AJC Peachtree Road Race we reached out to Atlanta’s most exclusive sports club and asked them to share their still vivid memories of July 4, 1970.
I remember running with Jeff (Galloway) and Joel Majors for the first part of the race before they pulled away. I ran the remainder of the race by myself and focused on maintaining a pace that would allow me to finish in the hot conditions. There were parked cars to run around and traffic control was pretty much non-existent. The final couple of miles seemed like it was uphill. I finished third behind Jeff and Joel. Actually, that initial route was much more difficult with the uphill finish compared to the finish after moving to Piedmont Park.
-Michael Caldwell (35:52, 3rd Place, 2nd 19-21 division)
I remember that it was hot and sitting on the curb waiting for the race to start. The course was very tough and I wasn’t sure I would survive getting up the Macy’s hill before the finish. The fountain at the end was a wonderful surprise. We had a great time and had no idea it would become what it is today.
-Charlie Patterson (36:21, 4th Place, 2nd 22-29 division)
I was a full time evening student at Georgia State University and our cross country coach was Tim Singleton.
Mr. Singleton started the race then drove to the finish line to coordinate the finish. Runners had to stay in the right lane and we had about five motorcycle cops to watch the traffic.
I finished 16th and received a case of Carling beer that was awarded to the top 20 finishers.
-Jack Moore (38:55, 16th Place, 9th 22-29 division)
I saw a friend, Jon Ward; he was in a downtown fountain, cooling off. He jumped out, said “hey Stan wait up” and I replied “Jon, It's a race.” I knew the finish line was coming up, but I wasn't sure where it was. The finish line was about 100 yards after there was slight bend as you got close to the Equitable Building. I got passed right there, I finished 22, I still have my trophy for finishing 5 in the 18 and under division.
-Stan Hess (40:23, 22nd Place, 5th 18 & Under division)
As I was running along within sight of the police officer, I saw, what I thought was a cap pistol on the sidewalk. Thinking it might be funny to finish the race with a toy pistol stuck in my waistband, I ran over and scooped it up. To my great surprise, I found it to be a real weapon. Without breaking stride, I ran over to the police officer and handed him the item. I again, without breaking stride, headed down West Peachtree.
-Talley Kirkland (40:34, 23rd Place, 10th 22-29 division)
I ran with Charles Rappold and Claude Crider. It was so hot that several of us jumped in a fountain to cool off somewhere mid-race. In those days, there were no water stations so we took matters into our own hands! In the Peachtree Road Race book (25 Years of Peachtree by Karen Rosen), Claude says he passed me while I was in the fountain, but I must have later caught up because I finished 34th while he finished further back. We ran pretty fast but we were having fun too. My photo also made it into the book – I’m the cute guy in the Atlanta Track Club shirt behind Tim Singleton as he hands the trophy to women's winner Gayle Barron.
-Jonathan Ward (43:12, 34t Place, 9th 18 & Under division)
As the trophies were handed out, the photographers wanted to get pictures and they chose the fountain as a good background. When they handed Gayle Barron the trophy for top female runner, we started shouting ‘Gayle, Lean Back, Lean Back!’ So a little confused, she did that just as the camera clicked. This opened up a gap, which revealed the runners in the fountain. So now we can all truthfully say that we have our picture in the Peachtree Road Race Hall of Fame. We were runners before running was cool.
-Claude Crider (46:57, 50th Place, 8th 19-21 division)
We only had one lane of Peachtree Street and then somewhere about halfway I found myself following a bus. Anyway, I decided to go up on to the curb and pick up my speed to pass the bus so I could get away from the exhaust fumes.
-Tom Durham (47:02, 51st Place, 15th 18 & Under division)
The first Peachtree was also my first race of any kind. I talked with Dean Singleton to ask his opinion as to whether I should try the race since I had never even jogged over four miles.
He said that it would be a “piece of cake.” He lied!
Everyone seemed to be an experienced runner and I was sure that I was in over my head. That thought was further enhanced when Jeff Galloway (winner) jogged into the lot and responded to the question: “Where have you been?” by casually stating that he had checked out the course by “running to the finish line and back.” I thought “these people are crazy!”
Looking around, I saw three women in running attire. My thought was (remember this was 50 years ago) “well, at least I can beat the women.” As it turned out, just as I was crossing the Downtown Connector at about the 5 ½ mile mark, and facing what appeared to be an enormous climb to the finish, Gayle Barron pulled up beside me. I looked over and said, “damn you, now I have to run this last hill.” My only Peachtree claim to fame is that I finished two steps ahead of Gayle, who went on to be great runner.
-Oliver Porter (48:56, 61st Place, 9th 30-34 division)
I ran as long as I could, and then the heat got the best of me and I had to walk for a little bit, then run a little bit, then walk a little bit. I stopped at a Fire Station and they poured a hose over me to cool me off. I came in 74th place.
-Robert Jones (51:10, 74th Place, 12th 30-34 division)
That first race changed my life. I started seeing myself as a runner and athlete that could compete for a lifetime. I went on to run about 12 marathons - two New York City marathons - and complete the Ironman at Lake Placid in 2005. Really none of that would have happened without that great experience at the first Peachtree.
-Sam Clemence (53:37, 84th Place, 14th 30-34 division)
I don't remember much about the start or the race itself. I do remember learning that my shiny new Adidas Olympias were NOT running shoes and that big blisters hurt a lot. My mom followed along in the station wagon and even picked up some Fresca. It was disgusting but any liquid was good. Eventually I found the finish line, more through 13-year-old pigheadedness than through any preparation or training. Soaking my poor hot feet in the fountain afterwards felt wonderful.
-Ed Eldrod (56:13, 91st Place, 22nd 18 & Under division)
I was in 9th grade at Shamrock High School. Charles Harris was the Assistant Principal then. He had posted a notice about the race in the school locker room. I was on the track team so I thought I was in good shape, but I had no idea how long 10K was. I had to have my parents drive me down for the race as I was only 14. I found out that day that 10K is a very long way. I recall walking up most of the hills. My parents had an easy time watching me run as all the side streets were empty so they could stop often and watch. I made it to the end then into the fountain afterwards.
-Brad Rosselle (67:12, 108th Place, 28th 18 & Under division)
*Edited and condensed for clarity and space.