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The Presence of Peachtree

July 4th is a significant day for the United States of America. It’s our birthday, a moment to watch in wonder as Old Glory waves in the breeze and fireworks ignite dark skies with glorious light and thunderous sound. In the words of playwright George Bernard Shaw, “Liberty is the breath of life to nations.” Speaking of breath, runners who rise very early on July 4th will need their every breath to complete all 6.2 miles of the 48th AJC Peachtree Road Race. Cardiac Hill is waiting.

Hydration For The AJC Peachtree Road Race

Who’s rising on July 4th to run Peachtree? Roughly 60,000 people, according to the Atlanta Track Club – which makes this 10K the largest in the world (the number two race for 2016 is the New York City Marathon). Why the high number though? Who’s going to set an alarm for 5 a.m. on a federal holiday, for a chance to recoup some sleep and lounge in the cool sheets? Who’s going to drive to Atlanta for heat, hills, and humidity? Every man and woman who is motivated enough to brave the elements, cross the finish line, and receive their tee shirt. That’s who.

The Peachtree tee shirt. An iconic keepsake for sure. In 2016, someone traveled from New South Wales, Australia, for a tee shirt. Runners from 48 states (minus North Dakota and Wyoming) visited Georgia for the tee shirt. Bill Thorn understands this. Now in his eighties, Bill has run every Peachtree since 1970. “I’m just thankful that I am able to live this long and still be able to complete this race. I used to be able to fluff it off as no problem. But it is tough, and if I didn’t do what I did every day [working out and coaching], I couldn’t do it.” I would surmise that Bill Thorn has every Peachtree tee shirt from every year he finished the race.

Aside from a unique finisher shirt, what else drives runners to drive to Atlanta on July 4th? In 2013, the Atlanta Track Club launched the Triple Peach Race Series, which is comprised of the AJC Peachtree Road Race, the PNC Atlanta 10 Miler (October 22nd), and the Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon (November 23rd). Unsurprisingly, runners who complete all three races will receive a distinct Triple Peach medal – and – wait for it – a shirt. Medals and fabric equal motivation.

Finally, runners rise on July 4th to be part of history. To celebrate freedom. To run free. A noted author, physician, and runner, the late George Sheehan captures the spirit of running well. “Out on the roads, there is fitness and self-discovery and the persons we were destined to be.” With 47 years in the books, the Peachtree Road Race isn’t the oldest 10K in the United States, but the history is robust and far-reaching.

In 1996, the year that Atlanta hosted the Olympics, Joseph Kimani of Kenya set a course record with a finish time of 27:04. Kimani won again a year later. Lornah Kiplagat, also of Kenya, holds the women’s course record (30:32 in 2002). Shalane Flanagan, who hasn’t raced since the 2016 Olympics in Rio, will participate at the 2017 Peachtree. As she puts it, “There is no better way to celebrate the Fourth of July than with the best distance runners in the country at the world’s largest 10K.” How will Flanagan perform this year? Maybe history will be made once again.

Shirts, a series, and sacrosanct. Three appropriate descriptors of the AJC Peachtree Road Race on July 4th, a famous 10K replete with good stories told from thousands upon thousands of runners since 1970. Is this your first year, fifth, or tenth? Or is it closer to thirty like the legend Bill Thorn? Thorn, who will presumably be lining up once again this year, finished the 2016 race in 88 minutes and change. “That’s not too good,” as Bill puts it. “But it’s a man this old. I’m just trying to get to the end.”

Aren’t we all, Bill? Aren’t we all?

Why do we rise like a streaking firework shot out of a tube?

We want another Peachtree shirt.

Austin Bonds is a Guest Advocate at the Big Peach Suwanee location.