Yesterday I finished my 10th Peachtree. For those of you not from Georgia, the Peachtree Roadrace is the biggest 10K Race in the USA, with close to 60,000 runners and is a 4th of July tradition in Atlanta. It is early in the morning, hot, crowded, and a highlight of my summer.
Runners either love the Peachtree or hate it. Whole races are set up as “anti Peachtree” runs on the 4th. Some people have gotten angry because the registration is based on a lottery and some veteran runners don’t get in. Personally, I think Georgia residents should get priority, but since I can’t change it, I just pay $35 to join the Atlanta Track Club each year and that guarantees me early registration. It’s worth it to me, and I also got a very nice magnet this year for my $35.
Others complain about the crowds, and the hills, and having to ride Marta, but for me, that is just all part of the Peachtree experience.
So in honor of my 10th consecutive year, here are my top 10 reasons for loving the Peachtree:
1) The crowds
I love the huge crowd. I love the mix of people, which includes all sizes, from zero body fat sprinters who will finish in 30 minutes to plus size folks struggling to walk that 6 miles, to all the rest of us in between. In addition to the 60,000 participants, people line the entire route cheering and encouraging. Some bring out white linen tablecloths and sausage biscuits and mimosa, while others jam the sidewalks with homemade signs and noise makers. I like to pretend they are all there to watch me.
Okay, this is weird, but I like the Marta ride in to the race. ‘Peachtree morning Marta’ is not a normal Marta ride. The scene is a little like a zombie movie – early in the morning, before the sun has come up, people in running outfits are seen all going in the same direction, drawn to Lenox Square as if pulled there by some unseen force. We all quietly pile into the trains, and it is crowded, yes, but with mostly clean and excited people from the suburbs wearing shorts and singlets and assorted costumes. I have done it the opposite way, and ridden Marta after the race – not as enjoyable.
3) The hot weather
The idea of running anywhere in Georgia in the summer is enough to send most people inside to pour another glass of iced tea, but the Peachtree is a celebration of Southern heat and humidity. People in the north have winter festivals of snow and ice – in Atlanta, we celebrate sweat. We hydrate the days before, wear our lightest clothes, put on our hats and carry our water bottles, and we are good to go. I stop at each water station and drink half a cup of water and pour the rest over my head. By the end of the race I am soaked and cool! Besides, sweating cleans out the pores, so I should have great skin.
4) Lots to look at
The Peachtree is never boring. I have done races where the big excitement is a chance to see a deer in the woods – back to nature is great, but for entertainment while running, come to the Peachtree. All along the route, bands are playing, radio stations are blaring music, and people are clanging cow bells. The most fun is seeing all the costumes – people are decked out for the 4th in tutu’s, American flags, body suits and Speedos ( do I hear chafing?), as well as the occasional bridal party and German barmaid outfit. I saw a cross dressing Uncle Sam that was a little disturbing and another guy dressed up in a Rocky Balboa boxer’s outfit. We passed a woman who had pasted together all her race numbers for many years in a sort of train down her back. You never know what you will see.
5) It is run on the 4th of July
The Peachtree would not be the same if it was run on any other day of the year. I love seeing folks out showing their love of our great country, waving flags, wearing red, white and blue and all sorts of Stars and Stripes. At the start is a humongous American flag that we run under, and it always makes me proud. Over the years, when we have been at war, it felt special to be together proclaiming ourselves as Americans. Even the cross dressing Uncle Sam is showing his/her patriotism.
6) The route
Since Adam has been living in Atlanta for the past 3 years, I have come to appreciate what a great city it is, and the Peachtree runs right down the heart of it. Sure, Atlanta has its problems. like any big city, and it is still pretty young as far as major cities go, but it has some beautiful buildings, world class universities and hospitals, and a little history if you look hard enough. The dreaded “Cardiac Hill” that is supposed to be so bad is nothing compared to what we run here in NW Georgia, plus it comes right at mile 3, so after that, the run is not bad at all. The best part is that the last half mile is all down hill, with cheering crowds lining each side – what a rush!
7) The Expo
A big runner’s expo is held at the World Congress Center the 2 days before the race, and my friends and I love to go. We pick up our numbers, buy stuff we don’t need, take goofy pictures and fill our bags with free samples of protein bars, energy jelly beans, and chips. This year some distance running celebrities were there, like Jeff Galloway, a former Peachtree winner and encourager of all older runners, and the winner of this year’s Boston Marathon, Meb Keflezighi, a surprisingly small man signing copies of his book. We get pumped for the race and plan our outfits. Plus we have an excuse to eat out somewhere besides Calhoun!
8) The food!
The Peachtree folks are not stingy with the after race food. I finished a half marathon last fall and got a cereal bar and a bottle of water and some pretzels. That was for a half marathon! The Peachtree sponsors include Coca Cola (of course, this is Atlanta) and Publix, and they offer unlimited cereal bars, bagels, bananas, peaches ( makes sense), cookies, Mellow Mushroom Pizza, Cokes, Powerades, and the best thing – ice cream sandwiches and popsicles! As much as you want! They actually have volunteers walking around with boxes of ice cream sandwiches asking if you would like one! That is my idea of heaven!
9) The patients from Shepherd’s Spinal Center
A part of the Peachtree that doesn’t always get recognized is the wheelchair race that takes place right before the running race. These men and women are unbelievable – I can’t imagine the strength it takes to push yourself up Cardiac Hill with your arms and shoulders, but they do it. The race goes right by Shepherds Spinal Center and patients in wheelchairs and their family members line up in front. I always make a point to slide over when I get there and fist bump or touch as many of them as I can. I thank them for coming out. Seeing them, especially the teen-agers, humbles me and helps me realize how blessed I am to have a healthy body and to be able to run.
10) My friends
I could keep going and mention the Episcopal priest who throws holy water on the runners, the volunteers, the Christian music coming from various churches, or the free t-shirts thrown into the crowd, but the number one reason I love the Peachtree is sharing it with my running buddies. For the most part, I have gone to the race with the same friends for 10 years now. We have gone through ups and downs in our lives through the years, sharing early morning runs, injuries, and week-ends going to races. We have also shared the joys and pains of seeing our children grow into young adults, deaths in our families, and a few weddings. They are what make running fun and special to me! Hope to make it back for the Peachtree next year!