From 110 runners dodging traffic in 1970 to 60,000 commandeering Atlanta’s signature street now, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race has evolved into the single greatest celebration of a city’s spirit. Nothing else can even approach it (not that anything else would want to, being that it’s better to keep a discrete distance from that many runners in a full summer sweat).
Imagine if this race went away one day. Might as well crate all the fireworks and the Sousa marches and cancel the Fourth of July in Atlanta.
No other event could tap so many different moods, motivations and sensations as this.
You could not get this many Atlantans to gather in one place at one time unless there was major championship to be decided or if Herschel Walker was granted one more year of college eligibility. And either scenario seems equally unlikely at the moment.
It is not just the limbs that get exercise. Picking up a good, healthy habit is merely a side-effect of running a Peachtree, unintended in some cases (for those who just need something to do before some serious day-drinking).
What gets the real workout is an area-wide sense of whimsy. Check out this mob sometime, some of it dressed in novelty red, white and blue, some of it painted, all of it in some state of outward glee. You run 6.2 miles, you should look like you’ve just finished a 10-hour shift shoveling coal. Yet, these folks are running around like it’s a crime not to smile.
A Peachtree strengthens the sense community in profound ways. It is impossible to either run it or watch it without feeling a powerful connection to all involved. You are all together in this mad enterprise, choosing to rise early on a day off and willingly throw yourself into a human traffic jam. And if you get a T-shirt at the end, it is a treasure admired by all you pass in the mall or at Kroger.
And, yes, per the Fourth of July requirement, a Peachtree is a perfect way to exercise your patriotism. For how better to celebrate dear freedoms than to take them on a 10-kilometer joy run/walk.
The Peachtree is the Fourth of July in Atlanta. It is Atlanta.
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