AJC Peachtree still spry after 40 years

The Peachtree Road Race turned 40 on Saturday, entering middle age on just the right note.

No longer young, but stubbornly refusing to act its age, the world's largest 10K race threw a lollapalooza of a Fourth of July party. The weather was perfect. The mood was light. And the 55,000 guests once more proved it possible to run and revel at the same time.

At 40, the Peachtree has put on a little weight. It has slowed down some while evolving from strictly a test of speed and endurance to, "an amazing, amorphous event," as race emcee Creigh Kelley called it this year.

But never say the Peachtree is out of step.

So hip is it that this year for the first time runners were outfitted with the kind of technology usually deployed only in a Keanu Reeves movie — a disposable ChronoTrack D-Tag strip that charted every single trip time.

Back when the race was new, timing was done by "somebody with a stopwatch at the start who rushed ahead to the finish and shouted the times out as you passed." That quaint testimony courtesy of Bill Thorn, the one man who has run them all.

Some things never change, however: A Kenyan, as it has happened seven of the past eight years, won Saturday. Sammy Kitwara was his name.

But the sheer size of this race always has dwarfed any one winner, and that was the case again Saturday. At 40, the Peachtree is known as the product of great numbers, a mosaic of thousands of pieces.

As most should be at this age, the Peachtree at 40 seemed to know itself, and its place in this world. Having been forced to finish on a landing strip of asphalt last year because of drought conditions, it wound up back on the green of Piedmont Park on Saturday, to the relief of almost everyone.

"Last year, I didn't like [the finish] at all. This is like being home again," said John Bacheller, an oil executive who for the past several years has flown in from Indonesia to run in Atlanta on the Fourth. He was one of the original 110 to brave the first Peachtree.

Confirmed race director Tracey Russell, "This is a great way to celebrate and honor the 40th race; the park is linked so strongly to the event."

At 40, the Peachtree was secure enough to show its softer side. When runners reported to the start near Lennox Square at sunup Saturday, a low-70s temperature welcomed them. To boot, someone had turned the dehumidifier on high, and forgot about it on overnight.

"I think it's the best [Peachtree climate] I've run in. When I got here this morning, I thought, 'This is not Atlanta,' " laughed Bacheller.

The most interesting collection of people turned out to join the Peachtree on its 40th, none traveling quite so far as Bacheller to be a part of the celebration.

To name but a few:

• The daughter of Swiss chicken farmers who won the women's wheelchair race, Edith Hunkeler.

• The Linck twins, Jim the University of Georgia professor and Paul the home-theater consultant from Atlanta. Wearing identical running clothes from cap to shoes, as well as identical faces, the twins almost ran as one. But as it was 44 years ago when Jim was born 10 minutes ahead of Paul, he remains a hair faster. He finished 25 seconds in front of Paul.

• The Atlanta attorney who turned 75 on Saturday, just a month removed from a cross-country run-walk-bike trip that he survived surprisingly well, if you don't count the angry boil that had to be lanced outside Kingman, Ariz.

Jim Hoover showed up Saturday dressed for a whimsical run, what with the In-N-Out Burger T-shirt and the UC-Santa Cruz Banana Slug cap. His bucket-list, two-month journey from Tybee Island to Santa Monica, Calif., "didn't help me any today," he said. "But I did beat my age [beating a minute-per-year pace, finishing just under 75 minutes]."

His postrace plan suited the approach he took to the morning: "Three parties and a nap."

• The Dalton cancer survivor running her fifth Peachtree on Saturday with a new outlook on the day. "I've always done it for fun," said 43-year-old Connie Corbin, "but last year it took on a little different meaning."

Diagnosed with breast cancer last May, undergoing a radical modified mastectomy in June, Corbin was determined to be a part of the Peachtree last season. She walked and completed the course, then began chemotherapy and radiation treatments.

With the treatments finished and the cancer in remission, Saturday's Peachtree was a symbolic victory: "It's like, 'I'm done [with recovery], now it's a new start. Let's do this," she said happily.

Over 40 years, you should make a lot of friends. The Peachtree certainly has.

Old friends such as Hoover's 40-year-old son, Craig, who began running the event at 10 and has missed only two since. "The Peachtree is the one thing everybody talks about — your neighbors and friends, everybody," he said. "I ran track at Florida, but nobody cares about what you did at college or what you did at Marist. It's: What did you do in the Peachtree? I'm prepared to hurt for this race."

As well as new friends such as Savannah's Isaiah Douglas, who in just his second Peachtree has developed a deep fondness for the Fourth of July in Atlanta.

"I cannot imagine not being here, I think it is now a part of my life," Douglas said. "It's all about the freedom. You can run six miles and can't anybody stop you. That's freedom."

From start to finish, the Peachtree seemed to wear its age particularly well Saturday.

Why, it didn't look a day over 39.