Looking at the icy scene at Piedmont Park in mid-January, I wasn’t giving much thought to July 4th. But while most of us coped with snow and ice, organizers of the AJC Peachtree Road Race announced big changes for the 6.2 mile trek that’s about six months and a summer sizzle away.
The race has seen a lot of change since 1979 when I first ran it. Over the years it added many more runners, shifted finish lines – (current one pictured here) – and used new technology.
The switch to online registration in 2008 hasn’t cost me a spot in the field (yet). But I felt more confident I would make the field when I mailed an AJC registration form at the post office the Monday after the paper printed it. I’ve made it into 21 Peachtrees, mostly by being an early bird.
Last year I was more nervous than ever about making it into the field. I was one of thousands of people who jumped online at 1 p.m. on March 21, 2010 to sign up for the Peachtree. Web registration bogged down, even shut down for a while. I was able to register after an hour or so. But in my haste I neglected to enter my (slow) time from the 2009 Peachtree. Instead of qualifying for the “K” time wave, I wound up with the randomly assigned “X” – the back of the pack.
This year I’ll be paying closer attention. That shouldn’t be too hard, since I’m reprising last year’s role as voice-of-the-average-runner blogger for ajc.com’s Peachtree Road Race page.
The biggest change for the 2011 Peachtree is a new lottery system to select the race field. The lottery registration process will be stretched over ten days. So there won’t be a reason for thousands of us to hit the website at the same moment. You can wake up at 5 a.m. March 5th to be among the first to register. But I know of at least one person who will sleep in that Saturday.
I winced a bit when I read about the lottery, since that introduces a new element of chance that I won’t make the cut. I unwinced when I saw there is “special consideration” for old runners like me who have ten or more Peachtree shirts in the in the trophy case. Still, the only guarantee of a racing bib is for members of the Atlanta Track Club. Membership costs $35 at the individual level.
Expanding the field from 55,000 runners to 60,000 seems like a good thing. Every year there are stories of people who try to register but are shut out. That will probably still happen as long as physical constraints of the course limit the number of runners. The wave system introduced last year seemed to space time groups well and the race felt less congested, so a few thousand more might be OK.
Also new in 2011, up to ten people can enter the lottery as a group. I prefer to run the Peachtree in solitary suffering. But I often hear of families lamenting that they’ve been torn asunder by time groups.
To sum up my take: Lottery, a little unsettling because it puts my 21-year Peachtree streak at risk, but understandable; Expansion, good; Group running, good.
What’s your take? Do you think these changes are good for the race overall? How will they affect you?