In just one week, 60,000 participants, 3,500 volunteers and more than 200,000 spectators will take part in a celebration to which we’ve been looking forward to all year: The 50th Running of the AJC Peachtree Road Race. For the last 49 weeks, the Club has counted down the months, weeks and days to this historic moment, working to create an event that will properly commemorate an event so tied to this city that Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms declared that the race “IS Atlanta.”
The Peachtree 50 was part of that undertaking. Launched just two weeks after the conclusion of the 49th edition of the race, this collection set out to showcase the true fabric of what makes an iconic event like the Peachtree so special: its stories. The people who run it as a tradition every year; the race’s deep connection with the city; and the legacy the event has left on the city.
Across these 50 weeks, we’ve learned a lot. Did you know that Formula One announcer Bob Varsha was the Club’s first paid employee? Did you realize just how mind-boggling Joseph Kimani’s 27:04 event record is? And did you realize how registrations for this race used to take place as recently as 2008?
We’ve spent time across these 50 weeks reflecting on the legacy and importance of some of the race’s founding figures. Whether that’s Tim Singleton, (the race founder and Peachtree’s Papa), Bill Thorn (the last of the Original 110), or Hawthorne Wesley (a founding father of the Club who still volunteers), these stories have provided an opportunity to reconnect with the deep roots of both the Club and the race, and to remember how unexpected and genuine those roots are.
Of course, when you look for 50 stories, you’ll find a little bit of love along the way as well. There’s the Valentine’s Day story of an engagement at the finish line, featuring a few special couples of the Peachtree. There’s the story of love between Uncle Sam and Betsy Ross – an unlikely couple in American lore but a crucial one to the Peachtree very year. And there’s the love of country and running displayed by the Peachtree’s overseas races each year, in which the service men and women on base across the world have taken on their version of the world’s largest 10K.
Don’t forget about the greats, either: Acquaint yourself with the royal men and women of the Peachtree, who dominated the race and were crucial in expanding the reach of road racing in this country. Gayle Barron is one of those greats – a Southern girl with a purpose, profiled by Boston Marathon champion Amby Burfoot. Jeff Galloway is another, the man truly responsible for raising the Peachtree’s profile as a destination for elite runners. Plus, there’s Meb. He may not have raced to win in 2014, but he raised more than $30,000 by starting behind 60,000 people and weaving his way to the finish.
Finally, we’ve gained a deeper appreciation for the people who make the race go smoothly every year, and for those who turn it into an unforgettable experience of community. First and foremost are the volunteers. Now 3,500 strong, the volunteer corps started with about a dozen people at the first Peachtree, and today includes veterans of more than 40 years of July 4 volunteering. They’ve done every task imaginable, from painting signs to raising the giant flag to verifying names – lots of names. Along the course, churches have embraced the race, holy water included, and Piedmont Park has provided fertile ground for celebration at the finish.
Each of these stories will play a part in next week’s race. Together they weave a tapestry, displaying what the AJC Peachtree Road Race means and where it’s come from. If you’re participating, make sure to think about how you’re getting to the start line and what you can’t miss at the expo, but don’t forget this: You’re part of a web of people, tradition and events that have made this race something greater than the sum of its parts; something indelible and inextricably linked with the city of Atlanta. And soon, you and this 50th Running, will be yet another part of the story.