It’s a great event, OK? As I’ve said before, it’s the great Atlanta event. But when you’ve observed as many Peachtree Road Races as I have, you pick up nuances. And this time it wasn’t a nuance. It was blatant.
I arrived Saturday morning at my viewing spot of choice — Peachtree Battle, about two miles into the course — and the first runners I saw were two ladies. One of them had a race number in the 30,000s; the other was higher still. Given that the seeded elite runners hadn’t yet passed, it was clear these two had not, shall we say, participated to the full extent of the rules. And then a spectator asked the question I was too angry to pose:
“Did you all start early?”
(In other words, did you cheat?)
And one of the ladies said, referring to the apparent difficulty of doing it the right way: “It just takes too long.”
A stipulation: “Cheating” in the Peachtree isn’t cheating the way Rosie Ruiz did it in the 1980 Boston Marathon — jumped on the course late, got to the finish line first and collected the winner’s medal. Peachtree course-jumpers and start-flouters don’t taking anything from anyone else. Every finisher gets the T-shirt. But I wonder how many of the 55,000 can wear it with real pride.
It’s only in recent years I’ve begun to watch the race numbers. My wife has walked five Peachtrees now, and she’s scrupulous about starting where she’s supposed to start. (On Saturday it was in the final group — the dread 90,000s.) Others are less attentive to detail. I saw a couple jogging on the right while the lead pack buzzed by on the left. The man was wearing a number in the 90,000s. That group wouldn’t start officially for another 90 minutes.
I posed the question on Twitter: Am I the only one bothered by this? Those who Tweeted back didn’t seem to share my indignation, and one respondent offered this: “How is it cheating? What are those people ‘winning’?” Then, in a confessional moment: “I’ve done both depending on who I am running with, number I get, et cetera, and have never felt I was cheating anyone.”
I can understand if it’s a matter of companionship: You’re running with someone whose number is in the 20,000s and yours is in the 40,000s. To alleviate the problem of finding one another in Piedmont Park, you simply move up. But over time I’ve seen too many examples of Peachtree cheating done simply for the sake of expediency. And that, to be frank, burns me up.
And it doesn’t sit well with the Atlanta Track Club, which stages the event. Said spokesperson Tracy Lott: “The race is meant to be run from start to finish. The T-shirt is truly a finisher’s shirt … [Cutting logistical corners is] not what the event is about by any means.”
That said, the ATC and its volunteers cannot police every foot of a 6.2-mile course. Said Lott: “We do the best we can we the resources we have. By timing all individuals [a first this year] we will hopefully cut down on [cheating].”
And we can hope. Because it is a great event, and it is held on the day we celebrate truth, justice and the American way. Even in the 21st Century, I don’t believe the American way has been amended to allow cheating.