Peachtree Road Race
Today in Atlanta
Starting line: The race begins along Peachtree Road between the Ritz Carlton and Lenox Square in Buckhead
Start times: wheel chair division starts at 6:45 a.m., followed by invited and seeded runners at 7:30 a.m. The final of 24 wave groups begins at 9 a.m.
Transportation: Runners are encouraged by the Atlanta Track Club to take Marta to the Lenox Station for the starting line and midtown station from the end of the race.
FLOWERY BRANCH — Charlie Patterson was right in the middle of things when the Peachtree Road Race kicked off with just 110 participants in 1970. Today, he’ll be packed in with the 55,000 runners expected to turn out for the annual 10-kilometer Independence Day Race that cuts through some of the normally congested streets of north Atlanta.
Patterson, from Hall County, has seen the race grow from its roots where there was no pre-entry and cost $2 the first year, to where a bib to run the race is almost as coveted as playoff tickets to a sporting event. As a runner of approximately 35 Peachtree Road Races, he loves it all the same, despite its profound changes since Year 1.
The only races he’s missed were when he was living in south Georgia in the 1980’s, working in management with Georgia Power.
“The Peachtree is a special event,” said Patterson, 68, who still runs 40-45 miles each week. “The Fourth of July is about appreciating our freedoms we have as Americans.
“The big crowds for the Peachtree are part of the event, part of the fun.”
Patterson isn’t the only local runner taking part in the Peachtree Road Race. Many families make it a mission to come together and start the holiday running the race that begins shortly after sunrise. Runners from high schools and colleges also circle the calendar each year to be a part of the nation’s largest 10-K road race.
The Peachtree Road race is also known for its festive atmosphere. Runners decked out in red, white and blue is one of the most common themes. With so many runners, it’s also easy to pick up the sound of feet slapping the road’s surface as they make their way toward the finish line.
“This is my first Peachtree Road Race and I’m really looking forward to seeing all the people,” said Gainesville High freshman Sara Hayes. “The more people the better ... I’m really looking forward to it.”
Despite the size of the race today, crowd control was not even a consideration when the race began in 1970. The only crowd control on hand were three motorcycle cops to lead the pack, says race creator and Dahlonega resident Tim Singleton. Runners in the first race were forced to the far right lane of Peachtree Street and had traffic constantly passing by.
To hold the race, Singleton applied for a parade permit and the only public water relief was provided when runners passed a fire station located along the race route on 14th Street, which had agreed to leave its hydrant open.
Back then, early entree for a road race — a sport which really hadn’t taken off in mass yet — was a foreign concept. People found out about the race the good old fashioned way: word of mouth.
The parking lot at a nearby Sears in Buckhead, was more than adequate for the inaugural race. Today, race day transportation is one of the biggest hurdles to ensure getting to the starting line in time.
“The first year of the Peachtree Road Race, people paid on an honor system by putting $2 in a cigar box,” said the 73-year old Singleton, a retired college professor from North Georgia College & State University. “We just had someone sitting there at the table to keep an eye on the cigar box.”
Despite the race’s informal beginnings, Singleton loves that the race has grown and remained strong for so many years. He never started the race with the intentions of it becoming so well regarded nationally.
Despite its size now, the Atlanta Track Club, Peachtree’s organizing body, honors those that were part of the first race and still part of the running community. In 2009 and to mark the 40th anniversary, Patterson was one of approximately 20 of the “Original 110” Peachtree runners to take part in the race. They were honored with a special start and an eight minute lead before the first wave of runners got the green light.
In fact, Patterson was one of the leaders to the race, before being passed around the Mile 3 mark on the gradual downhill run across Peachtree Creek bridge by the group with the eventual top placers.
“My goal was to beat them to the Mile 3 marker,” Patterson said. “When I got to Peachtree Creek, I knew they were coming up behind me.”
“I remember I was down there at Peachtree Creek and though to myself, ‘Man, Charlie is flying right now,’” Singleton said. “It was good to see him going like that out there.”
Over the years, and with the longevity of the Peachtree Road Race, the yearly T-shirt given to registered runners is usually the most coveted collectable — it contains a different design each year.
However, Patterson didn’t know at first that this race was going to stay around for so long. Many of the T-shirts Patterson earned became tattered and worn out. From those he has salvaged, he may eventually make a quilt with the logos, says his wife Annie.
“Those early T-shirts got worn out,” Annie Patterson said. “Eventually, people that ran every year started to save them.”