The Peachtree Road Race: ‘Bigger and hotter’ but unchanging

That's Blanche Roberts on the left, Joan Ingram on the right. (Photo by M. Bradley)

That's Blanche Roberts on the left, Joan Ingram on the right. (Photo by M. Bradley)

For a rookie watcher, Jeff Smith picked the ideal spot — on the shady side of Peachtree Battle, seated on a brick pillar. Then again, he did have some feel for the AJC Peachtree Road Race, having run the event 20 or so times.

But not on July 4, 2011. Smith’s foot had been hurting, and he was a spectator at the 2 1/2-mile mark awaiting his wife and his 12-year-old daughter, who were running/walking the Peachtree. And already Smith, an Atlantan since 1988 who’s a technology manager, had seen something new.

“Those guys up front,” he said. “They really run fast.”

Such is the scope of the Peachtree that you can run the race and see a couple hundred thousand folks along the way without ever espying the elite runners, who start first and are long gone by the time the masses begin their trek. “Those guys finished 40 minutes ago,” Smith said, and still the 42nd Peachtree was in its nascent stages.

The massive race grew even bigger this year, growing to 60,000 participants. Think of this way: If you took everyone in a sold-out Turner Field — counting Braves and umpires and ushers, too — and arrayed them in rows in front of Lenox Mall, you still wouldn’t quite approximate this elephantine event.

“If it gets much bigger,” Smith said, “it’ll turn into a big walk.”

Not that he was complaining. Smith was having a fine time watching the runners and his young son was enjoying himself leaping at a tree branch. For all that the Fourth of July in Atlanta, Ga., entails — runners and watchers and dogs and crazy costumes and blaring music and the army of volunteers and even a fighter-jet flyover this year — griping doesn’t register. “You notice that nobody is upset,” Smith said. “Everybody’s in a good mood. All these people are in good spirits.”

It was hotter and more humid this Peachtree, and the good-spirited participants were sweating harder than usual after 2 1/2 miles. “And they haven’t gotten to the hill [in front of Piedmont Hospital] yet,” Smith said. But still: Over its four-plus decades of existence, this signature Atlanta event has proved indestructible.

Why, Smith was asked, is that so? Why is the Peachtree such a humongous deal?

“People are always looking for ways to celebrate the Fourth,” he said. “I’ll see people at the Peachtree that I only see once a year.”

Not far from Smith’s perch sat Jean Ingram and Blanche Roberts, sisters-in-law from Sharpsburg, Ga. They used to park themselves in front of the big water oak at Peachtree Battle, but a few years ago they scooted up the street because the tree’s roots grew.

When last this correspondent encountered Ingram and Roberts, the year was 2002 and they were accompanied by two of Ingram’s grandchildren, the younger of them in a stroller. On this day those grandchildren — Taylor, 19, and Tiffany,  13 — were running the race. As ever, so was Ferma Ingram, the 73-year-old husband of Jean and brother of Blanche.

“It’s bigger and hotter,” Roberts said, speaking of this installment of the Peachtree.

A few updates: Since 2002, Ingram has retired as postmaster of Sharpsburg and Roberts from her job as a teacher. Their Peachtree ritual, however, hasn’t changed: They left home at 5:30 a.m., were in place by 6 and came wearing red, white and blue. (Although Ingram’s sequined vistor of years past had, alas, fallen apart; it has been replaced by a “Peachtree Road Race Spectator” visor.)

Afterward the family — some 32 members were expected this year — would convene at Ingram’s house for the staple grilling-out. As for her indefatigible husband, who was running the 42nd Peachtree at age 73, Ingram said: “He’s had cancer; he’s had open-heart surgery.”

“About ready for brain surgery,” said Roberts of her brother.

“One year he ran with a kidney stone,” Ingram said. “Another year he ran with a cracked rib. After his open-heart surgery, we had someone run with him to make sure he didn’t fall over.”

Let the record reflect that Ferma Ingram and the other five members of the Ingram/Roberts running party — each of their names were pasted in glitter on a poster mounted on a wall — made the 6.2 miles without wilting Monday. “They’re still coming into the house,” said Ingram, speaking by phone from Sharspburg shortly after noon.

Earlier, someone had wondered when big becomes too big. Not just yet, came the sisters-in-law’s considered verdict. Said Ingram: “They organize it so well.”

Said Roberts: “Sixty thousand is a good number.”

By Mark Bradley

43 comments Add your comment

JAWJeRDAWG

July 4th, 2011
12:58 pm

A good article, Mark.

And all, remember to give thanks today to all that serve in America’s Armed Services (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, and Coast Guard) so that we can have the freedom we enjoy, and say a prayer of thanks for all that have lost their life in this service so that we have the freedom that they ensure.

Hope all have a safe July 4th holiday! .. Go Dawgs!

Badgerina

July 4th, 2011
1:05 pm

The Peachtree road race is one of the best things about Atlanta. Unbelievable how well organized it is.

Just Me

July 4th, 2011
1:16 pm

It is so well organized because very little of the planning is done by the city, politicians, or anything having to do with Atlanta anything. The Track Club does a great Job. Thank GOD it is basically a Private run event.

Biff Pocaroba Fan Club

July 4th, 2011
1:17 pm

I wish Atlanta still had the Chattachoochee Raft Race. They should bring that one back. That was even more exciting than the Peachtree Road Race.

Tucker

July 4th, 2011
1:29 pm

There is no better way to start the Fourth of July!!!!

Cobb Dawg

July 4th, 2011
1:32 pm

Great article, Mark.

Paragraph 12 — shouldn’t that say “brother of Blanche”?

Brent

July 4th, 2011
1:37 pm

Sonny Clusters

July 4th, 2011
1:52 pm

We was trying to break in some new shoes and because of that we pulled an adductor and an oblique during the race. We was trying to get some medical help and we tweaked our groin a little bit doing it. Then, when we was on the way out of the medical tent some guy threw us two pitches we thought was outside so we just went off on him right there. Last thing we remember they was going to fine us but we didn’t care because we saw a deer running up Peachtree and we had a clear shot at him. Then we woke up and realized it was all a uh, dream. Happy Fourth of July, Everybody!

UGA Dawg

July 4th, 2011
1:54 pm

Mayor Kasim Reed is one of the best things about Atlanta. He’s a true leader — he’s taken charge, and he’s doing well. The tee shirt still is one of the worse things about Atlanta. Again, that is the ugliest piece of crap I have ever seen. They’re so ugly, I would prefer something else that says we’ve finished — we could put our brains together and come up with something.

Jay H.

July 4th, 2011
1:59 pm

>>> THANK YOU, VOLUNTEERS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Sam

July 4th, 2011
2:11 pm

The Peachtree is our shining civic event, thanks to a great working relationship between the public and private entities involved. I’ve just returned from running it for the fifth straight year, and I’m grateful to the Atlanta Track Club, all the volunteers, the MARTA employees, and the police, ALL of whom were visibly helpful to everybody there. Kudos!

jeffrery b

July 4th, 2011
2:11 pm

thanks to all the friendly volunteers

PRR Vet

July 4th, 2011
2:52 pm

Sonny, that was a classic! Chipper has come a long way to be able to just walk away from the umpire like that!

Thanks to all the fire, police and EMS personnel who lined the streets and did a great job!

PRR Vet

July 4th, 2011
2:53 pm

UGA Dawg….you truly represent your school well! Big whiner!!!

whatever for

July 4th, 2011
3:02 pm

Hey UGA Dawg – you are the very reason why I dislike your Dawgs – fans like you who find everything to cry and whine about. Maybe you don’t like “the ugliest piece of crap” tee shirts because you CAN’T earn one.

Jeff

July 4th, 2011
3:05 pm

It’s a little sad that the normal runners can never watch the elites. Other races (like the Bolder Boulder 10k in Colorado with 55,000 runners) allow all of the runners to finish in a football stadium where they can relax and watch the elites finish after the course has cleared. Unfortunately Atlanta’s weather makes it impossible to do this. I know I would skip this event if I were an elite and this were enacted since I’d be racing at 11 am. Otherwise the peachtree is still great, I did it again today for my 8th time!

Mark Bradley

July 4th, 2011
3:07 pm

Yes, it should, Cobb Dawg. Thanks.

coop

July 4th, 2011
3:19 pm

happy 73rd birthday shoutout to Yankees John Sterling born on the 4th of July in 1938

http://www.usatoday.com/sports/2010-03-25-announcers1_N.htm

Andy

July 4th, 2011
3:21 pm

Nice story Mark.

AdmiralPRR

July 4th, 2011
3:30 pm

Instead boasting the biggest 10K in the world, I would much rather have the best 10K in the world. I wish they would cut down the number of participants by 20-30%, reduce the number of walkers (through the on-line registration process which previous year’s times can be used), and manage the walkers much more effectively. I’m okay if some are going to walk, but I wish some would think of others whilst walking slowly in the left where runners are then forced to dodge very slow and inconsiderate walkers. Love the PRR, and will run it every year, but this could be substantially improved by some very simple measures. Thanks to all the police, volunteers, medics, ATC, sponsors, and excellent fans along Peachtree! Happy Fourth!

DHD

July 4th, 2011
3:54 pm

What “Just Me” said. To bad we have to ride MARTA to get there.

@coop……post in a NY paper if you’re going to hijack.

dawg4u

July 4th, 2011
4:18 pm

Good column Mark. The Peachtree is one of my favorite Atlanta sporting events. I used to be a regular participant but no longer am. I have graduated to walking now. I liked that word “elephantine.” The crowd at the starting line now is larger than all but a handful of cities in Georgia. It’s a fine event.

Wrong again, honey

July 4th, 2011
4:32 pm

@JustMe – The City of Atlanta has plenty to do with pulling the PRR off. Maybe you didn’t notice all the COA first responders along the route because you don’t care much for those folks. The Track Club is also to be commended, including it’s longtime executive director, the recently retired Julia Emmons. She is also a longtime member of the Atlanta City Council. And also? You apparently don’t know the first word in ATC. It’s Atlanta. @JustMe – Suburban by birth, clueless by the wrath of God.

Slow Poke

July 4th, 2011
4:52 pm

Just as I’m ready to give up on cardiac hill I see the folks from the Shepherd Center cheering me on. With all they are going through they are out cheering the runners on. I always tear up, count my blessings and then get up the hill. Thank you for the inspiration.

Hillbilly D

July 4th, 2011
5:00 pm

If there’s a worse baseball announcer than John Sterling. I’ve never heard them.

Swoopin

July 4th, 2011
5:21 pm

Coming from a family where both parents served a combined 30+ years to the AJC, and had participated 3 years in a row, we were left out of the race this year.

Makes it hard to want to support it in the future.

Swoopin

July 4th, 2011
5:23 pm

Meanwhile, the AJC pats itself on the back for not leaving many people out, and then proceeds to give away “bonus” spots as contest prizes.

It’s really just too sad.

Much ado

July 4th, 2011
7:30 pm

As a sponsor, the AJC would never publish anything but breathless praise of the race, which is very well-organized and also very very boring. Sixty thousand people and you get to the end and everyone’s staring at each other, eating a banana, and throwing their ugly t-shirt over their shoulder. There are great races all over the country — Bay to Breakers, anyone? — that are huge parties, where the race is just a preamble to an amazing time. Here you get to Piedmont and then everyone’s trying to find a way to get home the fastest. It’s a great opportunity squandered.

East Point Bob

July 4th, 2011
7:42 pm

This is NOT a sporting event. Why cover it ? Totally NOTHING. Just NUTS what ajc covers !!!!

Dr. Warren

July 4th, 2011
8:15 pm

Nice article, Mark. Makes me even more look forward to the time I move back to Atlanta.

TheAntiMe

July 4th, 2011
8:29 pm

When a guy from Africa (Kenya) says it’s too hot then you don’t have to be Glenn Burns to know it’s true.

Brian Harris-Georgia Southern University

July 4th, 2011
8:49 pm

Something needs to be done about the shirts the past couple of years. There is no mention of Atlanta, and NO RED WHITE AND BLUE. Also the finger painting this year is terrible. It needs to have a whole peach on the shirt not a C with a leaf. We can do better Atlanta. This is the biggest 10k in the world and any city in the world would want their name on the shirt. It just puzzles me why these ugly shirts keep being selected the past couple of years.

Go buy a clue

July 4th, 2011
11:01 pm

@ East Point Bob – Not a sporting event? I suppose your idea of a sporting event is a hot dog eating contest. Go have another donut.

fred

July 4th, 2011
11:40 pm

The best thing about the PRR -the wheelchair racers how the heck can they do what they do? Unreal!

Gen Neyland

July 5th, 2011
6:32 am

Say what you will but next to the Varsity, the PRR is one of Atlanta’s crown jewels….and the beauty of it all is that one can shed a few calories early then pack on a few by lunch time.
1 chili dog, 1 chili steak, a ring, a large PC and a Peach Pie refuels this old slogger after 6.2 in the July heat…

akm

July 5th, 2011
6:57 am

@AdmiralPRR – I appreciate your feelings but not all of us walkers are inconsiderate. I walk the PRR because of a problem with my knee. I have done this for the last 10 years. I always stay to the right because I want to give the runners as much room as possible. I did see several walkers staying left this year. However, I was almost knocked over several times by runners weaving in and out (even running up on the sidewalk) – and I was very close to the right sidewalk. I don’t think they should limit the number of walkers but there should be a way of organizing them better so that walkers all stay on the right side of the line and runners to the left. I just don’t know how they would enforce it.

Reid in EAV

July 5th, 2011
9:00 am

My Peachtree highlights:
* Blue Angels flyover
* The ginormous flag
* The traditional cheering sections, largely made up of Ladies Of A Certain Age, along the downhill portion of the route.
* Holy water at St. Phillip’s
* Shepherd’s Center patients making me feel really stupid for thinking Cardiac Hill is hard.
* Water stations that must be a half-mile long
* Thousands upon thousands of volunteers, especially the ones who pick up all the discarded cups and other clutter
* Clever signs.
* The guy who said “c’mon, let’s go” to those around him during the last 800 meters. We went!
* Yacht Rock Revue, and the ability to hear them all the way to Piedmont and 14th

Brave Hokie

July 5th, 2011
9:10 am

Thanks for another wonderful P’Tree RR ~ my 15th, I hope to never miss one!

T3

July 5th, 2011
9:30 am

whowastheguy

July 5th, 2011
12:01 pm

@ mile 5? Not sure if it was a cop or a volunteer but he was just gettin’ in everyones face if they were walking or slow jogging telling them,THIS IS MILE 5 PICK IT UP!!! I thought one guy that was walking was going to bust him in the face, The guy said,Hey pal,get your @$$ out here and run this race I’ve been running for 5 miles and I’m taking a 30sec break…Guess you had to be there,it was funny!

luvs to run

July 5th, 2011
12:04 pm

The PRR is a great race, however I agree that the walking on the left is not only annoying but hazardous! It is simply not safe for runners and walkers to be mixed in together. I almost took out several walkers on the left myself. If you want to walk that is great but please be courteous and stay out of the runner’s way! Not to mention that really cut into my time! Additionally, please note this: spectators cutting across the road to the other side in front of someone who is running is NOT your brightest idea. Stay out of the road unless you are a participant. You and the runner and/or walker could be seriously injured. Isn’t it enough that we have to battle extreme temps and humidity?

[...] Bradley: Tradition [...]

Here we go again

July 8th, 2011
12:41 pm

JustMe, I wonder where those paved roads that the runners run on came from? And who would stop me if I, the Autonomous, Free Citizen decided to exercise my right to drive down those roads during the race? And I wonder where the funding came from to have that nice big park to finish the race in?

You’re right, some government employees don’t do their jobs well and are disorganized. But if government work were actually valued instead of mocked, more talented people might want those jobs. And if we would only raise taxes enough to pay them more, then those jobs would really attract high achieving, motivated people.