Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So you want to run the 2011 Peachtree Road Race

Atlanta's 10K Peachtree Road Race has grown so wildly popular that for the 42nd annual running on 4 July 2011, the ceiling on the number of entries has been raised from 55,000 to 60,000. The Atlanta Track Club expects even more applications than that, so a lottery system has been put into place to determine who the lucky 60,000 runners will be. On race day the system of wave starts first used at the 2010 Peachtree will again be in place, hopefully making the event an athletic contest rather than a mob shuffling from Buckhead to Piedmont Park.

I ran the Peachtree in the 1970s, but what runner in the south didn't? The race seemed too big to me in 1977, when over 5,000 ran. I was back in 1981, competing with some 25,000 Peachtree runners. That really seemed too big, and I haven't been back since. The race has only grown since then, and the Atlanta Track Club has tried to cope with the numbers with innovations like chip timing and wave starts. Still, it's an ambitious goal to first shoehorn 60,000 souls into Buckhead, and then squeeze the same 60,000 into Piedmont Park. College football game, for instance, handle that many people all the time, but only in venues especially constructed to handle such a crowd. Just one of the Atlanta Track Club's logistical nightmares is having enough portable toilets for 60,000 bladders at both the start and the finish of the race.

The first logistical nightmare, though, is processing entry applications. In 2010, online registration for the Peachtree opened at 1:00pm on Sunday, March 21. After four-and-a-half hours of delays, server crashes, and general frustration, 45,000 entries had been snatched up, and registration closed, with the remaining 10,000 entries earmarked for folks who submitted a paper application. Thus, the lottery. Atlanta Track Club will take registrations for ten days, from March 15 to March 24. There is no advantage in hovering over your computer, waiting for March 15, because it doesn't matter when you register during that ten-day period. All applications taken during the ten-day registration period go into the lottery.

There are ways around the lottery, of course. Three come to mind:
  1. World class runners are going to be invited to run anyway.
  2. If you lose out in the lottery two years in a row then you'll be guaranteed an entry the third year.
  3. Atlanta Track Club members are guaranteed entry into the Peachtree.
If you want to take advantage of that last one, become a member by February 28 and submit your entry application by March 14. Atlanta Track Club membership costs $35 per year.

Assuming that you get into the Peachtree you will be placed in one of ten starting waves based on your time from a Peachtree qualifier. According to the Atlanta Track Club, "a Peachtree qualifier is any race... run on a USATF certified course." Although there are more than a few such races in the Tallahassee area, you'll have to have run your Peachtree qualifier by the time you submit your entry application--i.e., before March 24. This limits your opportunities. Here a few possible Peachtree qualifiers:
  • February 6--Tallahassee Marathon (USATF #FL10098EBM)
  • February 6--Tallahassee Half-Marathon (USATF #FL09001EBM)
  • February 12--Run For The Cookies 5K (USATF #FL08011EBM)
  • March 5--Thomasville Road Baptist Church 5K (USATF #FL09036EBM)
  • March 12--Shamrock Scurry 5K (USATF #FL10021EBM)
Note that running a Peachtree qualifier doesn't help your chances of getting into the Peachtree. It just gets you assigned to a starting wave. You don't even actually need to run a Peachtree qualifier. The Atlanta Track Club will be happy to put you in the last wave with the walkers, the journalists, and the guys running in gorilla suits.

If all this seems complicated, uncertain, and more than a little bit of trouble, then maybe you'd be happier running a smaller race. Closer to home and at a cooler time of the year also might be more attractive. Peachtree has the numbers, but your mama would never want you to be fooled by the numbers. Your mama would say, "If 60,000 people jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?" But as long as you do want to run Peachtree, you should be able to navigate the entry process. After all, 60,000 other runners are going to manage it; why wouldn't you be able to?



  1. Love this, Herb! I think I'm able to read on the "artifact" that you won the 16-17 age group? I can't imagine a race with 60,000 people...boggles the mind.

    Thanks for taking the time to write this - it is spectacularly entertaining!


  2. Thanks, Judy! On the plate, right after the age group it says "2nd." Just another of the many big races that I lost in the past 40 years.