“The reason that the race was canceled today is because we had a lightning strike within eight miles of the course,” said Jay Holder, vice president of marketing and communications of the Atlanta Track Club.
In 2012, as a safety measure, race officials started placing different-colored flags to indicate race conditions, throughout the 10K course.
Holder said the race started under a typical moderate yellow flag alert, which warns people to take caution and stay hydrated. As it got warmer, they moved to the high-alert red flag.
Holder said that a race has to be paused for at least 30 minutes after a lightning strike. Because it happened so close to the official end time, they had to pull the plug.
“There was no way we could reopen in time for people to finish,” said Holder.
Aside from the 2020 race, which was virtual because of the pandemic, the race has never been canceled. There was a 30-minute pause in 2015, but that came earlier in the day, Holder said.
There were no major medical incidents during the race and the vast majority of participants had already finished when the race was called.
About 50,000 people braved the heat, humidity and rain to participate in this year’s edition of the race, an Atlanta tradition since 1970.
Among them was Laura Gold, who was determined to run The AJC Peachtree Road Race even though she was 20 weeks pregnant.
It’s not like she hasn’t done it before.
Gold was 32 weeks pregnant when she ran the race in 2015 and when she was training for this year’s race, she found out she was pregnant again.
“I figured I could push it,” Gold said.
Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, Elvis and Santa Claus were also seen running the race.
There were veterans, first-timers, and girlfriend crews wearing matching sports bras and leggings, and people continuing family traditions of pushing their loved ones in wheelchairs along the route.
There was even a wedding proposal.
Warnock, who is running in his third race and helped greet runners at the finish line with Dickens, called it a “diverse scene of humanity.”
“This is what our country’s about,” he said.
The race is also about runners like Laurie Wharton, who made her 43rd appearance. She hasn’t missed a race since she started at the age of 16. She ran virtually in 2020 during the pandemic, which she called a unique way to mark her then-40th anniversary.
“I love to run,” said Wharton, who plans to one day set the record for most consecutive appearances at the race. “It’s one of my passions.”
Dan and Rob Berschinski grew up in Peachtree City and have been running the Peachtree since high school. Dan lives in Buckhead and Rob is now based in Washington D.C., but they reunite almost every year to run the 10k race.
The race’s placement on the Fourth of July is particularly significant, as they are both veterans. Rob served with the Air Force in Iraq, while Dan was an Army officer in Afghanistan where he lost both of his legs in combat.
”We both just do it for fun now,” Dan Berschinski said. “Our competitive days are behind us.”
For some, the competition is the point.
Billed as the world’s largest 10K race, the Atlanta Track Club-managed event is also one of the jewels of the competitive racing circuit.
In what may have been the closest men’s elite division race in AJC Peachtree Road Race history, Kenyan Charles Langat won with a time of 27 minutes, 43 seconds.
Tanzanian Gabriel Geay and Ethiopian Nimbret Melak finished second and third, respectively. Langat, Geay and Melak all finished with nearly identical times, also recorded as 27 minutes, 43 seconds.
Fotyen Tesfay won her first Peachtree Road Race women’s elite division title with a time of 30:43. She upset heavy favorite and defending champion Senbere Teferi, who led much of the race before she appeared to make a wrong turn in the final sprint.
In the elite wheelchair divisions, Daniel Romanchuk and Susannah Scaroni successfully defended their titles.
At around 7:40 a.m. it started to rain, but that didn’t stop runners from shouting with excitement. If anything, the energy picked up as it eased the humidity a bit. “Rain On Me” by DJ K-More started blasting to set the scene.
But for anyone who has ever participated in or seen the Peachtree Road Race, it is clear that the sidelines can be just as entertaining as the race.
Supporters shouted encouragement from the sidelines and waved American flags and red, white and blue pom poms. Some shouted from restaurants and leaned over the rail of apartment buildings to watch and cheer. The faint clang of cowbells was constant.
“It just kinda brings everybody together,” said Barb Aleksa, a former runner, who now waves her red cowbell to offer encouragement. “They’re all just like happy to be around each other. It kinda gives me hope, you know, that we’re all gonna get along.”
Lyn Olliff used to run in the race, but stiff joints forced her to find another way to participate. She is now in her fourth year playing in a band of the University of Georgia Redcoat alums.
“Let’s say I haven’t played in a while,” she said with a laugh. “So I have to get used to it again.”
Atop the infamous Cardiac Hill, between Peachtree Valley Road and Brookwood Valley Circle, Celeste Bateman and her son, Devin, wearing pink Fourth of July shirts, passed out neon green Shepherd Center wristbands.
Devin Batemen is rehabbing a spinal cord injury at Shepherd.
Volunteers and supporters, on the hot morning, were also eager to hand out plenty of water, sports drinks and tequila.
Halima Mason and her group stationed themselves around the mile marker for the last six years dishing out words of encouragement along with tequila shots and Jell-O shots to keep the runners motivated.
”We love to give our spirits, literally, to the crowd,” Mason said. “Give ‘em a boost.”
At the finish line, as the rain pelted down on Piedmont Park, Holder said runners calmly evacuated the park.
Our goal was just to get them to a safe place as quickly as possible,” Holder said. “We didn’t really have the option to leave the park open. People were really responsive. Nobody hesitated.”
But the most important question might be, how do runners who didn’t finish get their coveted T-shirts?
“We’ll have them here at the office,” Holder said. “And we’ll give them ample time to come and get them from us.”
AJC interns Alice Tecotzky, Davis Giangiulio, Sarah Davis, Evan Lasseter, Olivia Wakim, Toni Odejimi and Avani Kalra contributed to this report.