It was the beginning of March and Spring was in the air, or maybe it was just thousands of particles of pollen. The middle of March is special for runners in Atlanta, for those who are Atlanta Track Club members it’s the time where you get to register for the Peachtree Road Race on the 4th of July, and everyone else who isn’t a member can enter the lottery during the last two weeks of March.
All kinds of athletic events had been cancelled throughout spring and into the middle of summer. I for one don’t know when my triathlon season would officially begin. Even the Tokyo Olympics had been postponed until 2021, but as of today, the Peachtree Road Race was still on. I was still getting emails from the Atlanta Track Club about it every day, but not a word of cancellation or postponement.
I decided I’d contact media relations at the Atlanta Track Club so I could gather more information about what their plans were for the Peachtree Road Race in the midst of this coronavirus pandemic. Jay Holder, Atlanta Track Club’s Director of Marketing and Communications, was able to reach out to me on April 1 and he filled me in on a few more details.
When I asked Jay “In spite of all these major athletic events being canceled the Peachtree Road Race is still on, and the Atlanta Track Club just held its lottery, why haven’t you cancelled as well?” Holder said, “We’re taking it day by day. We had to move forward like the race was being held on July 4, 2020, because if it is held on July 4, we need to have everything in place to do so.”
It’s tough to imagine the Peachtree Road Race being held on any day other than July 4. “We are also looking at a number of contingency plans to hold the race at a later date or a different way that we’re used to,” said Holder. There are over 60,000 runners participating and in excess of 150,000 spectators in attendance lining the streets. The 4th of July has the natural advantage of shutting down the city for the day. Could any other day even be used to host this event?
If Peachtree were to postpone and reschedule I could only see one date that would work: Labor Day. That particular holiday tends to grant the same type of conditions as the 4th of July. The majority of people have the day off for the holiday, which makes it easier to shut down part of town and control traffic without angering thousands of drivers. The weather would still be nice, as a matter of fact it’d be even cooler. There’s a problem though, the Big Peach Sizzler 5k/10k is hosted that day and also happens to be on Peachtree Road (just further up).
If the country is able to flatten the curve by July 4th, would it still be wise to hold this event? Everyone is encouraged to ride MARTA that day because many roads close. I’ve done this race a few times, I know how packed those trains get before and after the race. Every one of the start waves is a huddled mass of runners. Spectators stand shoulder to shoulder up to five deep along the streets. Would hosting this be asking for Atlanta to turn into a hotspot for a potential second wave?
The Peachtree Road Race also happens to have one of the largest race expos, which is held over two days at the Georgia World Congress Center. I asked Jay, “What do you think about mailing everyone their bib numbers as a precaution?” He said, “Nothing’s off the table at this point. We work every day with the CDC and local doctors and follow their health recommendations. We’re going to do whatever keeps people safest and makes people feel the most comfortable.”
This isn’t an event that is exclusive to Atlantans, people come from all over to run the World’s Largest 10k. Those people hop back on a plane within the next day or two before showing any symptoms and just like that, we’ve started this raging pandemic all over again.
With Brian Kemp as governor, are we adequately prepared for Atlanta to become a hotspot? On April 1 Kemp admitted he didn’t know people could spread the coronavirus while they were asymptomatic. That fact had been put out weeks earlier in mid-February by virologist Dr. Robert Redfield of the Centers of Disease Control, which also happens to be in Atlanta.
The CDC was asked for comment about whether or not this event should be held and their media relations said, “This question is best directed to the state health department and the state and local government offices.” The CDC did provide me with a link for their guidelines for “mass gatherings or large community events” to which they adamantly request the public adhere. From this information one could infer that it may be in the public’s best interest to not hold the race on July 4, 2020.
I asked Jay “Do you plan on having additional medical staff on hand this year?” “It depends on when the race is held,” said Holder, “The resources need to be first and foremost devoted to this public health crisis going on, and we can’t have the medical that’s needed to attend to a 60,000 person race without it being a diversion from a bigger crisis.”
If the Peachtree Road Race were to cancel it wouldn’t be the end of the world. “It would be disappointing if it was canceled,” said Tricia Beaty, General Manager of Big Peach Running Co. in Midtown. “I think everyone would understand. If it were to be rescheduled it would be a great way of bringing the running community together and it would be a celebration to be able to run together again in a safe environment.”
It may be a long standing Atlanta tradition, but with as many people that come together on that day we may be better off if the Peachtree Road Race went on hiatus for 2020. Everyone knows not holding the event has a huge financial fallout, and that can be said about any race, which is why it crushes organizers to give refunds. For $35 plus my money for the track club I’d rather eat the costs so ATC survives to host more events.
[I do not own the rights to the cover photo, credit goes to AJC]