The 52nd running of Atlanta’s Peachtree Road Race is so past tense since we’re deep into July, but it was a helpful step in our journey to get beyond this pandemic’s restrictions and return to some sense of “normalcy.” I missed the in-person experience last year as Covid kicked us in the teeth on a lot of fronts.
The 2020 version moved to Thanksgiving Day. I ran the virtual-only race but didn’t turn in my time since I wasn’t sure I charted an accurate 6.2-mile course.
The world’s largest 10K race with a maximum of 60,000 runners shifted this year to emphasizing the “world’s safest 10K” as planners took steps to create spacing and focus on Covid safety.
Instead of having a jam-packed one-day event, the race divided into two days. Because of Sunday obligations, I ran on Saturday, July 3rd. Rather than start waves leaving every five minutes, start waves released every ten minutes, assuring more space between runners.
As runners crossed the finish line and spilled into Piedmont Park, only runners were allowed into the park. Usually, the park has a festive, high-energy party atmosphere as runners, family members and friends reunite and celebrate the completion. This year, the atmosphere was quite subdued. Corporate gatherings were out, and many people did not linger.
Also, those picking up race numbers either showed proof of their Covid vaccine or went through another screening that included Covid-sniffing dogs and a free rapid test if you were “sniffed” out. According to race director Rich Kenah, about eighty percent of participants showed proof of vaccination.
Other factors made 2021’s version different. On Saturday, there were 13,000 registrants, while Sunday’s field included 17,000-18,000. An additional 8,000 ran virtually, including my daughter Rebecca running in Kenya. And the usual crowd was way down along the course. Spread out pockets of spectators still dotted the way, cheering, clanging cow bells, and watching for their favorite runner.
The Atlanta Hawks cheerleaders were present spreading enthusiasm, along with the Very Rev. Sam Candler of Atlanta’s Cathedral of St. Phillip, who annually blesses runners by sprinkling holy water if you can maneuver close enough to the sidewalk to benefit.
Still the jubilant onlookers urged us on with signs and shouts:
“Go, USA!” (I had USA across my running shirt).
“You can do it!”
“Great job. Keep it up!”
“Go, runners! Woo-hoo!”
“You’re halfway there!”
The usual freebies were mostly absent. Most years, various businesses throw T-shirts into the crowd, hand out doughnuts, offer fruit, or even beer. In 2019, some group handed runners cheap, red sunglasses. I still wear them occasionally. I was about to pick up a second pair someone dropped when the runner in front of me stepped on the discarded shades and crushed them.
Despite the changes, the race was great, and it was so good to be back out there. The comradery, the patriotism, the red, white and blue, and the festive atmosphere are hard to describe. You just have to experience it.
I got off to a stronger start because we weren’t packed together elbow-to-elbow and I maintained my pace the entire race. I had my best Peachtree running time since 2009.
Here are some tidbits highlighting the 2021 version:
• Sunday’s 64-degrees was the coolest temperature since 1989’s 62-degrees at the start.
• Five thousand, five hundred thirty-one runners ran the Peachtree Road Race for the first time.
• Three hundred eleven runners ran at least their 40th Peachtree.
• Six hundred volunteers put in 11,000 hours to make this event happen.
• Forty-seven runners ran on their July 4th birthday.
• The last time the Peachtree’s field of runners was this small was 1978.
• The oldest runner was Betty Linberg of Atlanta, who is 96. Tyrone’s Bill Thorn, age 90, ran his Peachtree virtually. He’s the only person to run all 52 Peachtree Road Races.
If I make it to 90, I plan to continue running the Peachtree, a major part of my July 4th tradition. And hopefully, if we can keep progressing beyond Covid, we’ll be back together in a one-day event in 2022. I can’t wait!
[David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, Fayetteville, GA. He is an avid runner who loves to preach, write, and cheer for the Braves and Georgia Bulldogs. Join MRBC this Sunday for worship at 8:45 a.m. and 10:55 a.m. in person or online at www.mcdonoughroad.org. Contact Chancey at firstname.lastname@example.org.]