What I love about the Peachtree Road Race
It’s been exactly one month since 960 other Fayette residents and I ran the 41st annual Peachtree Road Race, a major part of celebrating the Fourth of July in Atlanta. Since the race fell on Sunday, the challenge was not only running the race, but also timing everything to get back to church by the 10:55 morning worship start. I made it by 10:15.
Running is good stress relief, and I find it a good outlet for a pastor. I’m getting exercise, staying fit, burning calories and praying all at once. In addition, I enter a 5K or 10K every now and then for the thrill of competition.
The Peachtree is not just a race. It’s an event, a festival of freedom. I was thinking about, in no particular order, the things I love about running the Peachtree.
First, the anticipation. You register in March. Around 45,000 people are attempting to register online at the same time, and it’s a relief to see your application go through and to get the message that “You’ve successfully registered for the Peachtree!” The remaining 10,000 register by mail and are randomly chosen. Then, in June, the race packet comes with that coveted race number. The race is just around the corner.
Second, the crowd. I enjoy running with 55,000 people. It’s pretty wild, but I don’t mind the mob. I’ve always enjoyed people watching. There are a few nuts, a number of costumed runners, and plenty of regular folks just trying to enjoy the race. The street is lined with spectators encouraging the runners, cheering, and waving American flags.
Third, the run itself. This year I found myself in the back of the 2600 or so runners in group C. We had a 7:41 start time. As soon as the groups ahead of us moved up, we made our way to the start and got underway. The first two minutes were pretty thick before runners spread out enough to set a good pace. My first mile was not that great, but I think I had a pretty good pace overall.
Fourth, the atmosphere. People making their way to the start pause for the Star Spangled Banner at 7:15. We face the huge flag hanging over Peachtree just beyond the starting line. Television station helicopters are hovering overhead. Throughout the course, there’s red, white and blue, John Phillip Sousa marches blaring on sound systems, and plenty of cheering. Revelry and excitement fill the air.
Fifth, the freebies. As you run down Peachtree, different businesses share freebies. Moe’s and Shane’s Barbecue tossed T-shirts into the crowd. Smoothie King handed out cups of smoothies. Someone was handing out Krispy Kreme doughnuts, while another handed out frozen ice pops. Have you ever tried to eat, drink and run simultaneously?
Sixth, the finish. We cross the finish line and then spill into Piedmont Park. Volunteers direct us to the t-shirt lines, and then we grab a water. Next we head to the grocery store tents for free nourishment, where this year I picked up granola bars, peaches, and various energy drinks. I missed the banana tent, but I was in a hurry.
Just outside the park were the Coca Cola reps and the Blue Bell tent. There’s nothing like a Blue Bell ice cream sandwich after running a 10K. Or two. And a popsicle. And two vanilla ice cream cups. That’s all I could grab and eat before they melted.
Seventh, the blessing. Around the start of mile four, runners hit a gradual incline that levels out in front of Piedmont Hospital. This stretch is known as “Cardiac Hill.” Nearby is the Shepherd Spinal Clinic.
As grunting and straining runners are trying to make it up this “hill,” to the right and sitting on the sidewalk are people in wheelchairs clapping, cheering, waving flags and encouraging us runners. For me, this is a very inspiring and touching moment as these guys who will may never be able to walk again, much less run a race, are out there in the heat cheering for me.
And I’m thinking, “Thank you, God, for the ability to run this race. Thank you, God, for this blessing.”
David L. Chancey is pastor, McDonough Road Baptist Church, in Fayetteville. The church family gathers at 352 McDonough Road and invites you to join them for Bible study at 9:45 a.m. and worship at 10:55 a.m. each Sunday. Visit them on the web at www.mcdonoughroad.org.