For 90-year-old, running the AJC Peachtree Road Race is a family affair

‘If I’m determined to do something,’ says Jere Allen of his push to complete his 45th race through the heat and heart of Atlanta, ‘I’m going to do it.’
Jere Allen (left) and wife Faye Allen with son Bill (right), daughter-in-law Lisa (center) and their three children after the 2022 AJC Peachtree Road Race.
(Courtesy of Bill Allen)

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Jere Allen (left) and wife Faye Allen with son Bill (right), daughter-in-law Lisa (center) and their three children after the 2022 AJC Peachtree Road Race. (Courtesy of Bill Allen)

A mile from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race finish line, at the corner of Peachtree and 10th streets, Jere Allen will search for Faye, his wife of 64 years. Surrounded by their family, Faye will be searching the crowd of runners for him. She’ll wave with relief when she spots him, thankful her 90-year-old husband is OK, then she’ll bask in the joy of the occasion, of this family tradition that Jere unwittingly began 45 years ago.

Jere and his older brother Marion grew up thick as thieves. When Marion died from a sudden heart attack in 1976, Jere was devastated over the loss of his only sibling.

“We were close, and it was so awful, such a shock,” said Jere, of Birmingham, Alabama. “I realized when he died that the same could happen to me. I was 43 years old and that’s when I started running.”

Jere took to it immediately. Easy and enjoyable, running became a part of his daily routine, one that, aside from a few exceptions, he has not missed since January 1977.

Jere was a pilot in the Air Force for three years after graduating from Auburn University and became a pastor in his late 20s. In 1979, he took a job with the Southern Baptist Convention, and he, Faye, and their three children, Bill, Lorena and Dawn, moved from Birmingham to Atlanta. By then, Jere had a few 5Ks and 10Ks under his belt and decided to register for his first AJC Peachtree Road Race. He remembers it as a great run with maybe 20,000 runners — a huge contrast to the 50th anniversary race in 2019, he said, which had three times as many participants.

Jere made his best time ever at age 55 when he completed the PRR in 48 minutes. He’s battled prostate and vocal cord cancers over the years, neither of which kept him from running the annual race. He and Faye moved twice after leaving Atlanta, first to Washington, then back to Birmingham, and still made sure to return to Atlanta for the race every July 4th.

“I’ve always said the Peachtree is not as much a race as it is an event,” said Jere. “They’ve made some course changes over the years, all of them good, and it’s always a memorable experience to be part of such a large group, a community of people taking exercise seriously. And now not only am I running, but I’ve got my family running with me.”

Jere Allen (left) celebrates the finish of his 44th AJC Peachtree Road Race in 2023 with his wife Faye (front) and children and grandchildren.
(Courtesy of Bill Allen)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Bill Allen, 57, joined his father in the race for the first time in 1996 when he was 29.

“I’d watched dad since I was 13 or so and. for all those years after, wanted to join him,” said Bill, a Peachtree Corners resident. “I didn’t realize until I had kids of my own that it was a sacrifice for him that first year. He was fast, and he slowed down for me.”

Like his father, running came easy to Bill, and it’s something he continued after his first AJC Peachtree Road Race. For nearly 20 years he’s run five miles three mornings a week with the same two friends.

Jere’s daily runs are solo and vary in distance throughout his neighborhood, from one to three miles, and 6.2 miles once a week. He still preaches once a month at a retirement home, so he often rehearses his sermons in his head as he runs. He’s also an avid golfer and sometimes opts to play 18 holes in his mind.

He recently fell while on a long run and required five stitches in his hand.

“I know my age is a factor,” said Jere. “My family has a lot of nurses and they have me eating more protein and making sure I’m as prepared as I can be for the Peachtree.”

Jere Allen and proud family members after he ran the AJC Peachtree Road Race at age 80 in 2014.

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Along with Bill, whose full name is William Jere Allen Jr., Bill’s son Tripp (William Jere Allen III, 19) runs the AJC Peachtree Road Race. He began at age 10, the minimum age requirement, and continues each year. Following Jere’s lead is important to the Allen men.

“We do it to honor him,” said Bill. “He’s the guy who taught me everything I know, and I want to be like him. He’s an awesome dad and the most generous, kindest man. He’s my inspiration in all ways.”

Tripp feels the same, as is evident in a college essay he wrote in 2022. He described his first AJC Peachtree Road Race, his excitement at the start line, followed by a relentless downpour throughout the 6.2 miles. As he ran, miserable with the weather conditions, he looked next to him to find his grandfather, his hero, smiling at him.

“It doesn’t get better than this,” Jere said to his grandson, and the two crossed the finish line side by side.

Tripp wrote that he was unhappy with his race time in 2022. He walked a mile back on the course to join his family, who were still cheering on the sidelines, waiting for his grandfather’s wave of runners to go by. When Jere passed, however, Tripp didn’t think he looked well, so, despite his fatigue and frustration with his own finish time, he jumped onto the course and ran alongside his grandfather for the final stretch. When he told his grandfather his shoelaces were untied, Jere responded “I don’t care, I’m not stopping.”

“This reminded me of the determination he taught me,” wrote Tripp. “I now see the race as less about the time I run and instead the time I get to spend with him and my dad.”

Jere Allen (right) with his son Bill (center) and Jere's grandchildren -- (from left) Tripp, Sophie and Kate -- after the AJC Peachtree Road Race in 2021.
(Courtesy of Bill Allen)

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Since that race, it has become a tradition that a family member joins Jere for the final mile.

The three Allen men, along with Bill’s daughters, Jere’s sons-in-law and a cousin, run in various waves of the race, but they all know where to go when they finish.

The corner of Peachtree and 10th streets near Colony Square has always been their meeting spot. They gather for cheers, hugs and photos, then the entire crew heads to Bill’s house for a barbecue.

“Our big celebrations are always together — Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, and we always know we’ll be together in Atlanta on the Fourth of July,” said Faye, 87. “It’s just wonderful.”

Jere is often tired the day after the race and takes his time to recover, but he has no plans to slow down.

“It’s always been exciting, but, of course, now that he’s 90, it makes me a little nervous,” said Faye. “I wonder if he’ll ever be able to give it up. I’m afraid he won’t, but he’s something of a hero in our community.”

Jere humbly laughs at the use of “hero” to describe him.

“Or something of an idiot,” he quips. “It’s kind of stupid, but I’ll have to be pushed to quit. If I’m determined to do something, I’m going to do it. I’ll go as long as I can. It gets harder every year, it takes me a couple hours to finish now, and I know there will come a point when I have to say that’s it. I don’t look forward to it, but it’ll surely come.”

Jere is delighted by the way his family has latched on to the AJC Peachtree Road Race, grateful they want to continue his legacy.

“I never imagined the race would grow to be what it is for our family, with so many of them running,” said Jere. “And, boy, how special to see them rooting for me, joining me for that last mile to be sure I don’t fall. The older I get, the longer they have to wait, but they’re always there, watching out for me.”