July 4th tradition continues to inspire

Take an enthusiastic dose of red, white, and blue, then add a large heaping of heat and humidity, and you have a good representation of the 2016 edition of the Peachtree Road Race, the world’s largest 10K held every July 4th in Atlanta.

To folks who watch race coverage on TV or see the race pictured on the news, it appears a throng of sweaty runners are moving in mass, pacing themselves from point A, Lenox Square, to point B, Piedmont Park. Starting wave A begins at 7:30 a.m. and Y begins at 9:10. It takes that long to get 60,000 runners through the starting line and onto the course. It’s a logistical handful to get there and get into place, but it’s so much fun!

This Atlanta tradition started in 1970 with 150 runners. 110 finished. Tyrone’s Bill Thorne, age 86, is one of the few persons who has run every one. Running with his granddaughter, he did this year’s in 88 minutes.

Charles Fallis ran his first Peachtree in 1981 and has run every year except one. Fallis, age 90, ran with his pastor, Owen Skinner of Tucker First United Methodist Church.

Speaking to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter, Fallis said, “When you get as old as I am, you need a preacher handy.”

As best as I can tabulate, this preacher has run ten. My first two experiences involved accompanying my oldest daughter, Rebecca, to the race. We’d jump on MARTA, make it to the start, then I’d take MARTA again and find my way to the finish line, where somehow, miraculously, I’d connect with her as thousands of exhausted runners spilled into Piedmont Park.

I thought, “If I’m coming down here anyway, as tough as it is to find my way, I might as well run it.”

So the next year, as July 4 approached, a church member asked if I’d be interested in a number. One of her co-workers couldn’t run it and let me take his number. So my first race I ran as someone else whose name I can’t remember.

But I was hooked. You have to be there, either as a spectator or preferably as a runner, to appreciate the full effect. There is so much red, white and blue. An 1,800- square-foot American flag hangs over the starting line and a soloist belts out the national anthem. Runners stop their stretching and fidgeting and stand at attention with hand over heart. It’s a moving moment to see that many people honoring Old Glory.

This year, in perfect timing, a C-130 airplane from Dobbins Air Force Base flew over as we finished the anthem. Then all along the 6.2 miles, people are waving flags as they cheer on the runners.

The cheering means so much. Many spectators are looking for a specific runner. Children hold signs that read, “Go, Daddy! You Can Do It!” But others are there for the rest of us, calling out and inspiring us to keep on moving.

This year, Atlanta radio stations and television personalities were stationed at every mile marker to add festive music and give runners a timely lift.

If you’re not inspired already, we runners get a boost as we begin mile three and start climbing cardiac hill. Passing the Shepherd Center on the right, you see patients sitting in their wheelchairs lining the street and cheering on the runners. You give thanks for legs that work and the ability to run as you thank them for being out there.

Smiles, grunts, groans, exertion, and perseverance bring you finally to 10th Street and the left turn that leads to the finish line.

At the finish awaits plenty of water, Powerade, and the coveted Peachtree Road Race T-shirt. This year’s design by Cumming resident Shay Harbaugh was entitled “Heart and Soul.” It’s a beauty! And then you find the free fruit and refreshments, including fresh Georgia peaches.

I enjoy running the Peachtree and hope to continue each year. I want to be like Bill Thorne and Charles Fallis. My goal is to run it when I’m 90.