Tuesday, July 08, 2014


At 10:45 Friday morning the Peachtree Road Race ran out of T-shirts to give the last few hundred finishers. Local news stations led the story by interviewing irate participants. Only after sufficiently stirring the pot was the poor race director allowed to respond: all those finishing after 10:45 am would be contacted by the track club. Shirts would be mailed to them. Those wronged had to only respond to be made whole. Still, this wasn’t good enough for some. Sounds like for them “coveted” is an accurate adjective of the shirt.  

Remember, all RUNNERS received shirts. It was only the last few walkers, who finished 3 hours and 15 minutes after the race started, who came up empty. Do they really have the right to be mad? Sure, they paid their money – to enter a road race! Some called for the head of the new race director. “This never happened when a woman ran the race!” was the quote. Wrong. It happened several times under Julia Emmons’ watch as well.

People pay big bucks for the T-shirt. The exorbitant $38.00 entry fee. The $12.00 mailing fee. The logistics of actually traveling to Lenox Square and returning home from Piedmont Park can be costly, and a nightmare. Many check into hotels to be close. All for a T-shirt? Many only wear it to the fireworks show, or for a group picture of Peachtree finishers. You can’t even see the shirts of the people in the back row. Why is this such a big deal?

Those saying the shirt should be handed out beforehand show their ignorance of the race’s history. For many years only those who finished the Peachtree in less than 55 minutes garnered the prize. This made the Peachtree Road Race T-shirt one of the most coveted articles of clothing on the planet. As the race grew the rule was changed to those finishing 55 minutes after the last runner started the race. When I mentioned this on Friday, AJC readers didn’t know what I was talking about. Eventually the rule was dropped. Now each runner is timed by computer chip. This year less than 15% of all participants finished the race under 55 minutes. What if 50,000 hadn’t gotten shirts?

Back in the day it was the Peachtree Road Race EXPERIENCE that was the attraction. The race was for runners. Casual runners were able to run the same race as world class and Olympic athletes. As the race grew and the number of walkers increased, the race became harder to run. Instead of a 50 minute average time, now it takes half the participants an extra 25 minutes to finish. The experience isn’t the same. Instead a runner must dodge walkers for six miles.

The Race isn’t saying why they ran out of T-shirts. Nor should it have to. Friday morning the reason wasn’t known. Perhaps the sponsors should be boycotted: the AJC, Publix, Reebok, 11Alive. Since the Peachtree relies on hundreds of volunteers (many in it just for the volunteer T-shirt), any number of things could have gone wrong. Should the volunteers be fired? Then there couldn’t be a race.

The Peachtree is obviously too big. It is amazing that an event of this magnitude comes off with so few glitches: quickly moving 60,000 people six miles down the road on foot and wheelchair, timing them all. That there have been so few deaths is miraculous. And a few dozen walkers are mad because they didn’t get a T-shirt. Think of the uproar if they cut the entrants in half, raised the price, and made people qualify. Then let cars back on the road two hours after the race start. That would lower race times and get people in shape. But I digress. We’re talking about a T-shirt here.  

A likely cause: the runners themselves. Many register for one size, sell their number, and the actual participant takes another size – completely thwarting the planning of the track club. Then certain sizes run out. That’s what happened in the past.

Only 57,171 participants officially finished the race. If 60,000 T-shirts were ordered, what happened? Again: the runners themselves. Many don’t want to deal with the hassle of starting the race in the proper group. Instead they sneak into an earlier group or hop into the race further up the course, ala Rosie Ruiz. When this happens the cheater doesn’t show up as an official finisher. Almost three thousand people might have done this. All these people clog the streets and further slow down those actually running.

Like so many more important bad things that happen “in this world we live in” -  perhaps the people should look in the mirror. Perhaps we should put the RACE back into the Peachtree Road Race.

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