In one of our last articles, we published the numbers of participants at the largest running events in the world – the Peachtree Road Race with over 50,000 participants was of course included. With this article, we would like to take note of the great appeal of the incessantly growing traditional races and of the continuing popularity of the sport of running. The Peachtree Road Race has been around since 1970, for 35 years; the Bewag City Night with its 10k race down the Kurfürstendamm boulevard in the centre of Berlin and almost 9,000 participants is only 14 years old, and the backlog demand is great.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race may be the largest 10,000 m footrace in the world * 55,000 official runners and plenty of “bandits” who jump into the event from the side of the road.
The race route follows Atlanta’s famous main street, called Peachtree Road. Actually it’s a road built on the top of a mountain ridge that forms part of the continental divide for the Eastern USA. Rainwater flowing off one side of the street empties eventually into the Atlantic Ocean. Water flowing down the other side ends up in the Gulf of Mexico.
This should make it fast
The course is point-to-point, with 39 meters of net drop. This should make it fast. However, quick times are difficult to achieve because the course is hilly and the event is staged on America’s birthday * July 4 * when Atlanta’s weather is hot and steamy. The first mile is slightly uphill, making runners think they are starting out with a bad day. All of the second mile and half of the third are downhill, through a posh residential district * Elton John has his condo overlooking this area. Half of the downhill elevation is regained during the second half of the third mile on an unforgiving segment called Cardiac Hill. Several heart attacks have occurred on this hill, but Piedmont Hospital is on top, with its staff of emergency physicians waiting curbside to act quickly if necessary.
Lined with hundreds of thousands of spectators
The remainder of the course is rolling, net downhill, and lined with hundreds of thousands of spectators * friends of runners, and those who couldn’t enter because there was no more room. The limit of 55,000 was determined through complex mathematical equations that solved a crucial question: knowing the time dynamics of a bell-shaped curve of runners entering the race, and realizing that the narrowest part of the course occurs in the final mile, what is the largest number that can start on an 8-lane street and not get dangerously too crowded together on a 4-lane street 6 miles further along? Race entry forms appear in the Sunday edition of the sponsoring local newspaper in mid-March, and by Tuesday morning the entry limit is reached!
The 36th edition this year
The Peachtree had its first running in 1970, so this was the 36th edition this year. It has been tradition that runners must “earn” their tee shirt "it is “awarded” as they cross the finish line. Runners are arranged at the start in one of nine Time Groups behind the elites and sub-elites "slower runners at the back" based upon what they predict their running time will be. The elite runners at the front get a clear fast start when the gun sounds at 7:30 a.m. The nine Time Groups are released in sequence such that the last runner to cross the starting line does so about 90 minutes behind the lead elites! A large elapsed-time clock above the start line gives an accurate indication of when their race began. Most runners turn on their running watch as they cross the start line, and then time their own journey.
The course records are held by Kenyans Joseph Kimani (27:04, 1996) and Lornah Kiplagat (30:32, 2002) on “good-weather days.” Only 14 times by men in the history of the race have been faster than 28 minutes. For the women, only 4 times have been faster than 31 minutes. This year’s 22C warmth and 90% humidity at the start caused considerable slowing up front, and the winners were Kenyans Gilbert Okari (28:18) and Lornah Kiplagat (31:17).
Four start lines
The Peachtree Road Race is probably the only running event in the world that has four start lines * in four different countries! This year, Time Group 10 started in Baghdad, Iraq at Camp Liberty, Time Group 11 started in Arifjan, Kuwait, and Time Group 12 started in Bagram, Afghanistan.
The idea developed a few years ago as a result of the large number of military personnel stationed in Georgia, many of whom entered the race only to learn that they subsequently were called to active duty. Tee shirts are shipped to these other locations, as well as a start and finish line banner. An open communication line is established using a cell phone, with an official starter shouting the appropriate command.
It is a fitting touch to this most patriotic of American races that celebrates its nation’s birthday!.