48th AJC Peachtree Road Race: Inspiring, whimsical, humid, safe

The weather report, from participants at Tuesday’s The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race:

Krystal Knight: “Extremely hot.”

Lisa Morgan: “Miserable.”

Trey Welsh: “It was not as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

Officially, the temperature as the 60,000 finishers of the world’s largest 10K reached the finish line was in the 80s, with high humidity. The race, conducted under a red-flag warning (“potentially dangerous conditions”), escaped the gravest of consequences.

“I haven’t done a deep dive yet, but I believe that we had significantly less (medical) transports this year than we did last year and less people in our medical tents,” Atlanta Track Club executive director Rich Kenah said. “And I’d like to believe that it has something to do with the fact that we cautioned everybody with the red flag and said, ‘Hey, let’s be really careful.’”

Several participants were treated for dehydration and exhaustion. One runner suffered cardiac arrest at the finish line and was given CPR there before he was taken to Atlanta Medical Center. He is expected to be OK, Atlanta fire spokesman Cortez Stafford said. Kenah, overseeing his fourth Peachtree, confirmed after the race that there were no fatalities.

Increased security protected runners, walkers and the event’s 3,500 volunteers. City of Atlanta garbage trucks were parked at multiple intersections to ward off the threat of a vehicular terrorist attack of the sort that caused deaths recently in London and Stockholm.

“I think that that is sort of moving into that list of best practices, maybe not even just for a road race, but for large gatherings of people,” Kenah said.

The security and medical attention enabled participants from 47 states and 21 countries to train their attention on the sweaty journey from Lenox Square to Piedmont Park and the prizes of a baby-blue finisher’s shirt.

The winners: Leonard Korir (Colorado Springs, Colo.) in the elite men’s race, American Aliphine Tuliamuk (Santa Fe, N.M.) in the elite women’s race, Daniel Romanchuk (Urbana, Ill.) in the men’s wheelchair race and Tatyana McFadden (Clarksville, Md.) in the women’s wheelchair race. Korir traveled at about 13 mph for nearly 30 minutes, winning by less than half a step, before collapsing just past the finish line.

“I would say this is the toughest race in my life,” Korir said.

As ever, the event mixed poignancy, whimsy and challenges of different shapes. Between the first and second mile, Kevin Jacob, Zach Brewster and friends offered liquid refreshment in the form of slugs of Miller Lite and Bud Light. Jacob, wearing a Captain America T-shirt and storing his beers in a holster belt, reported that their hydration station was stocked with 860 cans.

Less than a mile down the road, the Very Rev. Sam Candler of the Cathedral of St. Philip offered refreshment of a different sort, sprinkling runners and walkers with holy water. Candler, who has been a Peachtree fixture since 1999, also offered blessings from the Jewish and Muslim faiths, tossing out water from a silver bowl.

“To me, this represents the diversity of Atlanta, and we’re here to bless the diversity of Atlanta,” he said.

Billy Hargrove, a 91-year-old Milledgeville resident, completed his first Peachtree in the company of his son, Marlin Hargrove, and family friend Matthew Broyles. He said he put the event on his bucket list a few years ago.

“At 91, you’d better get to work on your bucket list,” said Hargrove, who completed the course in just under two hours.

Seventy years his younger, Katie Van Laeke of Peachtree Corners celebrated her 21st birthday with eight-ounce beers at the first through fifth mile markers and a special cocktail at Mile 6, followed by another beer in a sponsor tent.

“I’m feeling it a little bit,” said Van Laeke, a rising senior at the University of Georgia, “but I’m fully functional.”

Harry Strack, 74, from Stone Mountain, knocked down his 39th consecutive Peachtree. With a bad back and knee, he needed a cane and had to stop a few times before reaching Piedmont Park in about three hours. His motivation?

“So I didn’t break my streak,” he said. “And probably stupidity, stubbornness.”

Cooling off in a tent in the park, Atlantan Lisa Morgan celebrated a personal-best time. The 58-year-old sang the praises of her personal trainer, Denise Bradford, for helping her gain strength and weather a divorce.

“I love that girl,” Morgan said. “She really did save my life.”

Mary Turner, from Kennesaw, finished 25 days before she is due with her third child. Turner wore a red tank top bearing the message “Bump’s First Peachtree.”

“I can still work out, and I’m a police officer, so I’m, like, I’ve got to do it,” she said before the race began.

In withering heat and humidity, she had a lot of company.

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