Peachtree Road Race Celebrates 50 Years in Buckhead

It has been half a century since the Peachtree Road Race kicked off the annual 10K run that has become one of Buckhead’s – and Atlanta’s – most prized traditions. Each year on the fourth of July 60,000 racers line up outside of Lenox Square Mall and run all the way to Piedmont Park. In order to make the cut, over 70,000 amateur and professional runners must participate in qualifying races leading up to the big event.

Sponsored by the Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Peachtree Road Race is the world’s largest 10K and it has held that title for more than 4 decades. In the time since the very first race, in which 110 runners participated, the event has evolved and changed.

Commemorative tees on display
Shoes worn by Ted Sammons at the 1970 Carling Peachtree Road Race
Bibs from past races
“I plan to do it until they run me off. Or haul me off. One or the other.”

The commemorative Peachtree t-shirts were first handed out in 1971, The Shepherd Center’s Wheelchair Division was added in 1982, the first AJC Peachtree Junior was held in 1987, overseas races began in Baghdad starting in 2004, and the First Kilometer Kids Charity Case was held in 2014. Every year more and more racers clamor to participate, resulting in an ever-increasing race cap that is today limited to 60,000.

Bill Thorn and Rich Kenah discuss workout routines (Photos by Isadora Pennington)

In collaboration with PNC Bank, the Atlanta Track Club commemorated the 50th anniversary with a traveling exhibition that is currently on display at Lenox Square Mall. To kick off the exhibit Bill Thorn, one of the 110 original runners who has participated every year since, was brought in to symbolically break through the finish line. “It’s an emotional thing that you’re dealing with because you know you’re getting older,” explained Thorn to Rich Kenah, Executive Director of the Atlanta Track Club.  

Running in the 10K is an annual tradition and point of pride for Bill and his family, who often run with him for the event. His wife Patty, two sons Terry and Bill, and daughters Cheryl and Lynn have grown up participating and now their children as well. Also a member of the 110 original runners is Terry who was 6 at the time and won a trophy for being the youngest runner in the race. Today children must be at least 10 years old to run.

L-R, Terry, Bill, Cheryl, Patty, and Lynn were on hand during the ceremony
Terry shows a news clipping from his award-winning inaugural run in 1969
Julia Emmons and Bill Thorn are all smiles in front of the anniversary display at Lenox Mall

The exhibit displays a timeline of momentous events throughout the years as well as features on noteworthy runners like Bill Thorn and Julia Emmons, former Executive Director of the Atlanta Track Club for 22 years who was on hand to assist in the ribbon cutting of the event. Emmons was inducted into the Atlanta Sports Hall of Fame in 2017 for her work with the Track Club, USA Track and Field, and her role as the only woman to direct an Olympic marathon which she did for both men and women in the 1996 Olympics.

The traveling exhibit will be on display on the second level of Lenox above the main entrance until March 12 when it will be moved to Atlantic Station and reassembled prior to the Publix Atlanta Marathon. Those interested in participating in the race can register between March 15 and 31 see a list of qualifying races on the Atlanta Track Club website.