Custodian of a tradition cherished by thousands of Georgians, Kenah acknowledged feeling the aggravation shared across the state and region, saying that, “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I feel as if we’re here as a result of a failure of leadership and collective sacrifice. And that frustrates me.”
Kenah added that he was not referring to any leader in specific.
“No, we as a country just need to own this together,” he said. “I’m not pointing fingers, but it disappoints me that, here we are, that our schools are day to day, our sporting events are being taken down one by one, and the rest of the world seems to have made the sacrifices necessary to try to get back to a new normal.”
Runners approach Cardiac Hill during the AJC Peachtree Road Race on Wednesday, July 4, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Before the decision not to hold the in-person race, a track club task force charged with developing alternatives delivered one intriguing option – holding four separate races over the Thanksgiving weekend in different parts of metro Atlanta – north, south, east and west. It would have been a possible field of roughly 34,000 – out of the initial pool of about 45,000 entrants for the July 4 race, about 11,000 passed on participating in Thanksgiving, either running the race virtually on Independence Day, deferring their entrance to 2021, donating their race fees back to the club or asking for a refund.
In that four-race format, the club was considering spreading start times across a window as wide as 10 or 12 hours and having participants sign up for start times staggered in five-minute intervals. The track club has organized smaller in-person races over the summer and believed that it could replicate it safely on a much larger scale. The task force had potential spots, such as shopping malls, scouted out.
But, doing so over four consecutive days would have been a considerable undertaking for the track club and its many volunteers.
“It would’ve been unique, and we were up for the challenge, but over these last few weeks, we started to look at each other on our Zoom calls and saying, ‘What have we created?’” Kenah said. “And, while it’s safe, it’s not Peachtree.”
For those still registered, “I’d like to believe that the virtual experience that we will bring to the Peachtree will be best in class,” Kenah said.
Entrants will receive the finisher’s T-shirt, a race bib and “a number of other swag items,” according to Kenah. The track club is teaming with its registration platform to create a race-day app that will use GPS technology to track progress on the race and enable entrants to compare their times against the rest of the field.
“It’ll show where you would actually be on the Peachtree course, and it’ll deliver the sights and sounds of that traditional July 4 morning that we are all accustomed to,” Kenah said.
For instance, reaching the two-mile mark will trigger a blessing from the Rev. Sam Candler, who has sprinkled holy water and offered blessings upon Peachtree participants along the race course outside the Cathedral of St. Philip since 1999.
The T-shirts will be the same ones that were printed for the July 4 running of the event, but will be decorated with an additional screening created for this most uncommon edition of the Peachtree. Registration will be reopened Aug. 31.
Like nearly all businesses and non-profits, the track club has been hit hard by the effects of the pandemic. Kenah said that the club had projected revenues for the year of about $11 million with a modest gain, but will instead run a deficit of about $1 million and will have to dip heavily into reserves to make up the balance. The club has already laid off about 10 percent of its staff, and remaining employees will all take a one-month unpaid furlough before the end of the calendar year.
But, on a day for giving thanks, perhaps a race can offer a respite from a dismal year and a foretaste of hopefully better days ahead.
“I recognize that, as we make this announcement, there are going to be tens of thousands of people who are disappointed, but I am confident that, by the end of the day on Thanksgiving, they’ll be pleased with the outcome and be looking forward to July 4 of 2021,” Kenah said.