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Earlier start can’t stop AJC Peachtree Road Race fans from having fun

Thousands of runners, walkers and wheelchair athletes didn’t let an earlier start to the AJC Peachtree Road Race or the recent spike in the summer heat keep them from enjoying the annual Atlanta Fourth of July tradition Wednesday.

Peachtree, the city’s signature thoroughfare, was packed from Buckhead to Midtown with every permutation of 10K competitor, from walkers and casual runners to those who can traverse more than six miles in 30 minutes.

“Running the Peachtree is how I found a love of running,” said former Atlantan Patti Cobb, who lives in Birmingham and was taking part in the festivities with her son Jack, 11. “We have friends who run it every year so we wanted to start the same tradition.”

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Officials moved the official starting time 30 minutes earlier in hopes of getting the 60,000 participants across the finish line before Atlanta’s notorious July heat and humidity kicked in.

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For the most part it worked. Atlanta fire spokesman Sgt. Cortez Stafford said a few people had been treated for heat exhaustion and knee problems, but there were no widespread medical issues. By 10 a.m., however, officials sent out a heat advisory to remind participants to stay hydrated as the temperature climbed.

Runner David Eames of Grayson said he appreciated the early start time.

“It was definitely a little cooler,” said Eames. “The humidity was more moderate and there was a breeze.”

Former Atlanta resident Travis Elrod, who now lives in Tampa, agreed, though he said losing that extra 30 minutes was tough. The first races started around 6:30 a.m.

“It’s a fun race,” Elrod, who has run the AJC Peachtree Road Race at least 13 times, said. “It’s one of my favorites.”

Five-time Olympian Bernard Lagat won Wednesday’s race after coming in fifth last year with a time of 28:35. Stephanie Bruce, 34, was the top women’s finisher with 32:21.

Michael Martinez, an Austell resident, has been unveiled as the winner of this year’s AJC Peachtree Road Race T-shirt design contest. (Erica A. Hernandez/AJC)

As is tradition, the event was full of colorful pageantry. Runners came dressed as Abraham Lincoln, Ben Franklin, Peter Pan, Uncle Sam, Captain America and the Statue of Liberty. Many donned Fourth of July T-shirts, novelty Independence Day glasses and American flags as capes.

Chamblee resident Maureen Lovett, who has been running the Peachtree for 23 years, and her family dressed as Star Wars characters for the race. Picking a theme is a tradition for the family, which includes Lovett’s daughter, 30-year-old Erin Lovett, who started running with her mom in 2001. Last year’s theme: Power Rangers.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and rapper Jeezy ran the race, as did several area firefighters who took to the streets in full gear to promote fitness. Also participating was Betty Lindberg, 93, who became one of the oldest finisher of an AJC Peachtree Road Race on Wednesday.

Regan Rinehold and her fiancee’s daughter, Lola, came out with dog Pumpkin to watch the race. Originally from Puerto Rico, Rinehold has lived in Buckhead for 18 years and has run the race several times herself.

“You either have to participate or watch,” Rinehold said. “It’s just so exciting.”

Josef Schuster of Marietta ran eight to nine miles a day in preparation for the Peachtree. An elite runner, the 21-year-old’s best time so far has been 36 minutes.

“My dad signed me up for my first race,” he said. “It’s been fun to see my progress.”

For Wish Simango, this year’s AJC Peachtree Road Race was special. Simango did her first Peachtree is 2015 and ran again in 2016.

In 2017, however, she had to bow out because of a battle with breast cancer. But she was determined that the disease was not going to beat her and she would return in 2018.

“This is my celebration year,” said Simango, who was joined Wednesday by her daughter Panashe Gundu. “I want to celebrate life.”

Dick Jones, 62, was running his 12th AJC Peachtree Road Race on Wednesday. His second time running, Jones finished in the top 1000 and his personal record is 44:58.

A native of Maine, Jones said his first Peachtree Road Race inspired him to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

“It’s a great way to start the 4th of July,” Jones said.

Ben Brasch, Tess DeMeyer and Max E. Marcovitch contributed to this article.

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