1970 was a pivotal year for Atlanta and the state.
Jimmy Carter was elected as Georgia’s 76th governor, the state ratified the 19th amendment 50 years after it became a law, and Hank Aaron became the first Braves player reach 3,000 hits.
That same year also saw the start of one of Atlanta’s most unifying events: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race.
On Friday, just feet from the starting line at Lenox Square, the Atlanta Track Club unveiled a traveling display about the race’s history.
More than 60,000 participants run the 6.2-mile race — the largest 10K race in the world — from Buckhead to Piedmont Park in Midtown. Initially non-competitive, now thousands enter a lottery to get a number for the race.
The anniversary display, which is about 20-feet long and 20-feet wide, features facts from the race’s history and artifacts such as the first Peachtree Road Race T-shirt and the 1970 winning trophy awarded to Jeff Galloway. Galloway, a native Atlantan, is an Olympic runner and founder of Phidippides Run store in Ansley Mall.
The Atlanta Track Club hosts the annual road race, which has been sponsored by the AJC since 1996.
“It feels as special as it is,” said Rich Kenah, the club’s executive director, of the upcoming anniversary. “It’s the world’s largest running party and the way Atlanta celebrates the Fourth of July. It’s only appropriate that we start it here.”
The traveling exhibit will stay at Lenox Square mall until March 12 and will then sit at Atlantic Station for three days. From there, the exhibit will travel to other popular Atlanta locations.
The yearlong celebration kicked off last July with the Peachtree 50, a collection of stories published on www.peachtree50.com each week leading up to the race. Some of the stories are featured in the exhibit, including one honoring women winners and the race’s volunteers, which began with 12 and has now swelled to more than 3,000.
In its inaugural year, the race was sponsored by United Kingdom-based beer company Carling Brewing Company. Then, there were 150 participants who entered for $1. Only 110 crossed the finish line.
One of them was Alabama native Bill Thorn, a track coach who runs the race every year.
“It’s become a way of life,” he said at Friday’s press conference inside Lenox Square.
Thorn moved to Georgia in 1954 after getting his physical education degree at Birmingham-Southern College. The then 24-year-old had played several sports except track and field.
It wasn’t until he worked at a local YMCA that Thorn familiarized himself with the sport and became a coach. Thorn is now 88 and a coach at Landmark Christian School in Fairburn. He has coached the sport for more than 65 years.
Running is still embedded in Thorn’s daily routine.
“It just became like brushing your teeth — a habit,” he said.
The Atlanta Track Club will announce upcoming events to commemorate the race’s history leading up to the July 4 race.
One of those events includes the annual T-shirt design contest. This year’s contest will feature celebrity designs from Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, author Emily Giffin, the Atlanta Braves, the Atlanta Hawks and Jeff Galloway.
Voting on the designs will open March 1 and will determine which design ultimately winds up in runner’s goodie bags at the end of the race.
Atlanta Track Club members can register for the AJC Peachtree Road Race from March 15 to 31. Non-members can enter a lottery during that time.
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