Sports Columns

July 7, 2013

Doug Hawley: Security concerns not slowing down runners

Nothing short of a hurricane could keep the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta from taking place every July 4.

That’s a certainty when you have runners from all 50 states — plus some from other countries — making their reservations for the world’s largest 10-kilometer (6.2-mile) road race. The journey from Buckhead to Piedmont Park attracts some 60,000 participants, a number equivalent to a standing-room only crowd for a Georgia Tech home football game.

A touch of bad weather might cancel other Independence Day events like fireworks shows, but in general those festivities don’t attract as many people from such diverse places.

Heavy rains were forecast for Thursday’s 44th annual Peachtree Road Race, but most dedicated runners take pride in not having sense enough to get out of the rain, and that includes some from the Dalton area.

Eton’s Terry Strawser, 60, is a longtime runner who leads the points race midway through the Carpet Capital Running Club’s 12-race Runner of the Year series. He took part in his 25th Peachtree Road Race, where there was rain for the first time since 1994.

“We got a break in the rain,” Strawser said. “It really turned out to be just a light rain. I think that the weather people totally missed it. There was just enough rain to cool off things.”

The patriotic Strawser dressed in his usual stars-and-stripes attire from cap to shoes. Since his debut, he has missed only two Peachtree Road Races — one of which was because he was serving with the National Guard during the Gulf War.

In the wake of this year’s Boston Marathon bombing, there were some differences at Peachtree.

“You could see a lot more security than in the past. You could see it at the start, through each mile and at the finish,” said Strawser, who generally finishes 10Ks in the 47-minute range but took more time than usual to enjoy the journey this year, finishing in 51.

My first Peachtree was in 1974, when the winner was Atlanta’s Wayne Roach, who won the first Dalton-area road race the same year — the Carpet City 4.2-miler at Lakeshore Park. I missed this year’s race, only the second time since debuting 39 years ago I’ve done so.

Ethiopia’s Mosinet Geremew won Thursday’s race in 28 minutes and 4 seconds, an average of 4:31 per mile. Kenya’s Joseph Kimani set the all-time record of 27:04 in 1996, pacing a particularly fast field weeks before the Olympics came to Atlanta.

This year’s first female across the finish line was another Kenyan, Lineth Chepkurui. Also the 2009 and 2010 champion, she averaged 5:10 per mile on her way to a total time of 32:07. Kenya’s Lorah Kiplagat of Kenya established the all-time female mark at 30:32 in 2012.

By the time the last of 27 time groups started this year’s race at 9:05 a.m., the overall winners — elite women began at 7:17 a.m.; elite men at 7:30 a.m. — long had crossed the finish line. Wheelchair participants started even earlier, preceding all of the runners.

But even late starters had their goals to reach on this festive day, and all finishers were winners.

For an event such as Peachtree to work so consistently, it requires dedicated volunteers — 3,400 of them on this occasion.

Many of those volunteers came from the Atlanta Track Club, which has the country’s second-largest such organization at 19,000, trailing only the New York Track Club.

Some area participants who competed at Peachtree will face another 10K next Sunday morning.

However, it will come at the conclusion of the Waterfront Triathlon in downtown Chattanooga. A 1-mile swim and 31-mile bike ride will precede the running portion.

Doug Hawley has been a competitive distance runner for more than 50 years. You can write to him at dhawley@optilink.us.

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