How the Peachtree Road Race Works

Some of the 55,000 runners of the Peachtree Road Race struggling up Cardiac Hill.
Some of the 55,000 runners of the Peachtree Road Race struggling up Cardiac Hill.

On July 4, 1969, a group of running enthusiasts had just wrapped up a less-than-inspiring race at Ft. Benning in Columbus, Ga. and was making the hour-and-a-half drive back to Atlanta when someone in the car threw out an idea. Why drive far away to some small town for a modest road race when they could just run their own road race in Atlanta during the Independence holiday?

The group was part of the Atlanta Track Club, still in its relative infancy, and the race these runners came up with on that car ride home would become one of the most popular 10Ks ever. Little did they know what they'd spawned.

Held annually every Fourth of July, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race is the most popular 10K race in the United States. Staged for the first time in 1970 by the Atlanta Track Club, the race now holds the title of largest 10K in the world. In 2008, the Vancouver Sun Run had more than 59,000 entrants turn out for its 2.5K and 10K combo run, and more recently the Bolder Boulder 10K in Colorado has grown to nearly equal the size of the Peachtree (54,040 entrants in 2008) [source: Daily Camera]. However, at 55,000 entrants, the Peachtree Road Race still has the title of the largest 10K. But it didn't start out that way.

That first race in 1970, 110 runners showed up at the old Sears parking lot at the corner of Peachtree and Roswell roads. The popularity of the race grew almost exponentially over its first 10 years. It nearly doubled in size every year during that first decade until organizers capped registration at 25,000 entrants in 1980. It stayed that way until 1990 when it grew to 40,000 before capping at 55,000 in 1998 [source: Atlanta Track Club]. So what makes the Peachtree Road Race so popular?

That's what you came here to find out. Let's take a look at why the Peachtree Road Race is considered one of the top road races of any distance. We'll start by learning what you need to do to enter.

Running the World's Largest 10K

A thirsty runner pauses for refreshment.
A thirsty runner pauses for refreshment.

The Peachtree Road Race is an all-out festival when you take into account the number of people and organizational effort required to put it on each year.

Securing a number can be tough. Roughly 70,000 people apply for those 55,000 numbers. Since 2008, the first 45,000 have been awarded through registration either online (beginning March 21) or by filling out a paper application found in the March 28 edition of the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution." The other 10,000 are selected through a random lottery-type drawing. Typically the online registration is filled within hours of going live. For those who are chosen, a $33 entry fee (a far cry from the $2 fee for the inaugural race) gets you a number. It also garners you a coveted T-shirt, which we'll get into later.

With such a large race, there's a great logistical challenge with shutting down such a busy area of the city on a major holiday. So you'd better get there early if you're running or even watching the race. Because wheelchair racers start at 6:30 a.m. and the first runners head off at 7:30 a.m., the roads in the area around Peachtree Road and the route are shut down beginning at 5 a.m.

Before we take a look at the race route, check out some impressive facts and figures from a typical Peachtree Road Race.

  • More than 550,000 paper cups will need to be cleaned up after the race.
  • Forty-eight out of the 50 states and the District of Columbia were represented in the 2010 race.
  • Fifty percent of the field in 2010 was women. Only three women (out of 110 participants) ran the inaugural race.
  • Nearly 6 percent of runners have participated in 20 or more Peachtree Road Races.
  • In 2004, 500 troops stationed at Camp Victory in Baghdad, Iraq ran the first satellite race. It's a tradition that grew to 4,000 runners in the 2010 race.

[Source: Atlanta Track Club]

As you can see, a lot goes into the Peachtree Road Race and planning ahead dictates who gets in and who misses out. And for those fortunate enough to get a chance to run, be careful what you wish for. In the next section we'll break down the race course. And as you're about to find out, it's somewhat of a rollercoaster ride. Especially Cardiac Hill.

Peachtree Road Race Route

Part of what makes the Peachtree Road Race so alluring is its course and the challenge of tackling Cardiac Hill in the Georgia summer humidity.

Everyone starts out near Lenox Square Mall on Peachtree Road, then heads south past the original starting line near Paces Ferry Road. Because of the race's immense size, runners begin the race in one of several groups known as starting waves. The first two waves are reserved for the fastest runners, whose registered times must be verified beforehand for placement. Waves are usually sent out in 12-minute increments, and the last runners may not start until well past an hour after the race begins. The first mile is a gradual incline from 996 feet (303.6 meters) to the highest point of the course at the 1-mile marker, an elevation of 1,017 feet (310 meters). From there it's a steep decline over the next mile and a half.

The course bottoms out just before the end of mile three. By now, you've covered 21 feet (about 6 meters) of elevation change. This is where you must dig down deep because the next half of a mile rises sharply to 930 feet. Welcome to Cardiac Hill.

Cardiac Hill peaks in front of Piedmont Hospital (coincidence?) before dipping a bit at the four-mile mark near the on-ramp for Interstate 85. Mile five is a gradual rise in elevation to 973 feet (296.57 m) at 14th Street. From there it's a straight shot downhill to 10th Street where the course finally leaves Peachtree (now Peachtree Street) with a left turn on 10th Street. The final half-mile sprint to the finish is also downhill as the course enters Piedmont Park to the finish line.

Along the route, the participants are motivated by music from several live bands. It takes approximately 3,000 volunteers to put on the race, and more than 150,000 spectators show up to offer encouragement to runners, so it's truly a packed house.

That's the route. Now let's see what goes on once participants converge on Piedmont Park.

Peachtree Road Race Results

Among the spectators: "Uncle Sam," "Lady Liberty," and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, wearing one of the coveted T-shirts, from a past race.
Among the spectators: "Uncle Sam," "Lady Liberty," and former Georgia Sen. Max Cleland, wearing one of the coveted T-shirts, from a past race.

Back in the 1980s, the chic souvenir to bring back for someone you really didn't want to spend a ton of money on was a T-shirt that said, "My grandparents went to Hawaii and all I got was this lousy T-shirt." But if it read, "I ran the Peachtree Road Race and all I got was this shirt," people would drool. Why? The Peachtree Road Race T-shirts are a big deal. How big? Each year the "Atlanta Journal-Constitution" holds a T-shirt design contest in which the winner is awarded $1,000. But the money doesn't mean as much as seeing your design all over town.

Perhaps the reason T-shirts from the Peachtree Road Race are so popular is that only those who finish the race get one. Upon completion, T-shirts are handed out as long as the runner still has his or her number. In the race's early days, even those who finished weren't guaranteed a shirt because organizers often didn't have enough to give out. That only added to the shirt's lore. Whatever the case, these T-shirts are worn out and about with an almost ostentatious pride. They are a hot commodity.

T-shirts aren't the only things handed out after the race. Winners of the race's various divisions earn a decent paycheck too. The top prize for the men's and women's open is $15,000, while the top man competing for the USA Men's 10K Championship earns $10,000. The total purse for 2010 was $111,300 [source: Running USA].

With so many people, finishes can get exiting. The 2010 race went down as one of the closest finishes ever when Gebre Gebremariam beat Peter Kirui by a half a step with both runners timed at 27 minutes, 56 seconds [source: Atlanta Journal-Constitution]. Joseph Kimani's time of 27:04 in 1996 is the race record as of 2010, while Lornah Kiplagat turned in the fastest women's time of 30:32 in 2002. Olympic champion Mary Decker won the race in 1978.

It isn't uncommon to see celebrities take part in the race either. Former Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin as well as consumer advocate Clark Howard are just a couple of the high profile names to complete the race. And in 1996 when Atlanta hosted the Olympics, 32 Olympians ran the race.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • Atlanta Track Club. "AJC Peachtree Road Race." (Sept. 1, 2010.)http://www.atlantatrackclub.org/peachtree/peachtree_history.htm
  • Atlanta Track Club. "Fun Facts." (Sept. 16, 2010)http://www.atlantatrackclub.org/peachtree/Peachtree_Fun_Facts.htm
  • Bernarde, Scott. Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Atlanta race to relinquish title of world's largest 10K?" June 29, 2008. (Sept. 2, 2010.)http://www.ajc.com/sports/content/sports/peachtree/stories/2008/06/29/prrlargest_0630.html
  • Gumbrecht, Jamie. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Peachtree Road Race turns 40 with milestones." June 7, 2009. (Sept. 2, 2010.)http://www.ajc.com/sports/content/sports/peachtree/stories/2009/06/07/peachtree_40_milestones.html
  • Lamppa, Ryan. Running USA, "AJC Peachtree Road Race to Host 2010 USA Men's 10K Championship." February 18, 2010. (Sept. 16, 2010.)http://www.coolrunning.com/engine/3/3_1/ajc-peachtree-road-race-t.shtml
  • Sugiura, Ken. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Peachtree's world's largest 10K title at risk." May 28, 2010. (Sept. 2, 2010)http://www.ajc.com/sports/peachtree-road-race/peachtrees-worlds-largest-10k-537882.html
  • Sugiura, Ken. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "55,000 glory in 41st Peachtree Road Race." July 4, 2010. (Sept. 1, 2010)http://www.ajc.com/sports/peachtree-road-race/55-000-glory-in-564240.html
  • Thorburn, Ryan. The Daily Camera. "Bolder officials expect about 53,5000 entrants." May 28, 2010. (Sept. 2, 2010)http://www.dailycamera.com/ci_15187275?source=rss