Three Magic Moments from the 50th Annual Peachtree Road Race
I’ve considered Atlanta home for the last 18 years, and never once have I even watched the Peachtree Road Race. No matter how excited people were; no matter how much they talked about how it’s the biggest 10K run in the world; no matter how much fun they had tailgating it last year, I had no interest in being a sheep of that particular flock.
This year was no different. On July 3rd, the day before the race, I had no intention of running the next day. In fact, I was orchestrating a way to be out of town so that my usual midtown lifestyle wouldn’t be affected by the extra 100,000+ runners and watchers wandering around my neighborhood. Then, serendipity struck.
Mizuno sent me free running shoes to test out and review. They arrived July 3rd. Our largest sponsor supporting Brawl for a Cause, Anheuser-Busch had extra race numbers they offered for free and sent me one on… you guessed it, July 3rd. So, on the day before the dreaded 50th annual Peachtree Road Race, it seemed the stars were aligning for me to be running alongside 60,000 of my fellow Atlantans.
This happenstance led to one of my most powerful Atlanta experiences. Let me tell you why.
Within minutes of walking up, I saw two familiar faces from my Lululemon family. We walked up to the startling line together. Along the way, we snapped selfies in front of the building-sized American flag and sang 80s rock ballads as we got psyched up for the 6.2 sweaty miles ahead of us.
After we separated, I kept running and kept finding more and more people I recognized. I high-fived a Westminster teacher on the sidewalk. I jumped through a fire hose’s spray with a friend from college. I ran a mile alongside a former Brawler. I guzzled water with a fellow fitness instructor. The run-ins while running were plentiful and beautiful. I felt a strong sense of community in my hometown that I don’t think I could have felt in any other race on the planet.
About 3/4ths of the way through the race, my legs were burning. Somewhere near the High Museum while climbing a big hill on Peachtree Road, I saw something in the distance. Covering the sidewalk like a big shaggy carpet was an electric orange stain. Above it stood a woman with a massive tub of cheese puffs dancing and tossing ball after ball at passing runners.
I quickly assumed that this orange dusting was hundreds of failed attempts to catch one of these puffs in mouth, in stride. As I approached this cheesy graveyard, I knew my destiny. I locked eyes with the dancing pitcher. She smiled and nodded. It was on.
She lobbed a cheese puff high, and I quickened my pace to get under it. As I leapt into the air and opened my jaw wide, I didn’t know whether my lunge would be successful. Then, cheese ignited my taste buds and a chorus of hoots and claps accompanied my delicious victory.
Despite my urge to stop and celebrate, I kept running with fist pumps and orange teeth. Moments like this abounded on the race route. Impromptu dance parties, shotgunning beer, bubble baths and super soakers all made their appearances. So, that was it. Pre-race me was wrong. The Peachtree Road Race was officially fun.
After the race, I saw so many proud smiles in their 50th anniversary PRR t-shirts. Old women, scrawny little boys, paraplegics, and Kenyan record breakers all wandered around Piedmont Park lamenting the community and fun experienced. I wandered with them until it was time to get off my feet and rehydrate (beer is mostly water after all, right?).
On my walk home, I came across a teenager in his race t-shirt. He had pulled an abandoned mattress into the street and stood poised to do something stupid on it. His friends gathered around with iPhones and smirks in tow. This teenager squatted down like he was about to jump, then rose and arched his black like he was going to flip, but no power was behind his jump. He simply jumped back a foot or two and slouched his shoulders. I sensed fear, and his friends did too.
The future parent in me wanted to tell him to move along after putting the mattress back where he found it, but that’s not what I did. I walked directly in front of him. I looked him dead in the eye. I told him, “You got this. Stop thinking. Do it now.” I’m not sure why I did this. It felt right. They boy's friends went silent. His face turned stoney.
He squatted down again, this time a bit deeper. He leapt into the air, not backwards like last time, but up. He tucked his knees and rotated, like he had done it hundreds of times already. Then, he stuck his landing.
He jumped into the air higher than when he flipped and shouted triumphantly. He high-fived me. As I walked with him, he verbally tried to work out what had happened. He wondered why he was able to do it after being frozen by fear before. He said he thinks he just needed someone to get him out of his head and into the present.
Sometimes, we all need that. Sometimes, we all need to feel a part of something bigger than ourselves - a community or a cause. Sometimes, we all need to get out of our comfort zone and regular routine to take action and have some fun. Sometimes, we all need someone to inspire us, or to inspire another by lending a hand or some encouragement.
I’m grateful for the 50th Peachtree Road Race, and I hope it’s not my last time experiencing the community, fun and inspiration that Atlanta has to offer.