Update July 4, 2012: Without even knowing who with GSU ties was running, we looked for obvious results. Should you want to be included, simply e-mail CTaylor@gsu.edu with your name and finish.

GSU again had a Top 100 finisher among the 60,000 entrants in the world's largest 10k race. Zaven O'Bryant made it a third straight year as a Top 100 with his 34:20 time, good for 27th in his 26-30 age group and 86th overall. Tyler Tomy was only a minute behind with his 35:42 clocking to finish 32nd in his 16-20 age group and 139th overall.

Former coach Lauren Blankenship cruised down Peachtree in 38:15 to claim the 295th best time. That made her 38th fastest among all the female entrants.

Congrats to veteran Chuck Speight who covered his 10k in 50:21 to finish 7th in his age group. His 37th finish of a Peachtree (since his first in 1973) placed the 66-year old youngster in 3,773rd among the 60,000. His bride, Ann, zipped down to Piedmont Park for her 35th Peachtree t-shirt earned.

Spry Bill Bracken continues blazing down the main street at age 64, burning up the course in 44:22 to stand 1,227th in time.

Even the extremely casual runners from the Sports Communications Office took part. Mike Holmes can wear his t-shirt after surviving in 1:08.52 to earn the 24,161st fastest time among the 60,000, which puts him in the top half. Former Graduate Assistant Russell Dorn takes another Peachtree t-shirt back to Notre Dame after a 1:12.47 and 28,651st finish.

Georgia State University, basically the founding force behind the Peachtree Road Race, has a long and storied history with the world famous event that has been run every July 4 since 1970 in Atlanta.

"The Peachtree's Papa" was Georgia State cross country coach and school Dean of Men Tim Singleton. Before the Atlanta Track Club took over the event in 1976, the first six races were founded by Singleton and supporters, some among the then-small Track Club, and had massive support from Georgia State personnel, including staff and students.

Georgia State runners have also distinguished themselves early (from Wayne Roach who won the 1974 race in a then course-record time over 765 runners and Gillian Valk who won the female race in 1972) to previous years when former Georgia State runners (Andrew Letherby and Mike Fitzgerald) finished in the Top 10 overall and in the master's division, respectively.

Last year in 2011, alum Zaven O'Bryant finished 83rd overall and 75th among all the male runners. Current runner Katharine Showalter zipped down Peachtree as the 30th fastest female with an overall finish of No. 289. Current men's runner Austin Boetje was 129th overall, 17th in his age group, while current women's runner Jennifer Rubel claimed 90th among all the female runners.

The spirit of GSU and the Peachtree history was again shown by Chuck Speight and his wife Ann, who began running in the fourth race in 1973. For Chuck, this will be his 37th event, while Ann will be logging her 35th run down Atlanta's most famous street. Both are former Georgia State students and graduates. Chuck has already celebrated his 65th birthday and is still, obviously, an avid runner.

Two years ago in 2010, former Panther Zaven O’Bryant was the 74th fastest male runner and 86th overall finisher in the 55,000-runner field with his 35:11 time. Former female runners Jenn Feenstra and Janel Blancett were the 27th and 31st fastest females, finishing 170th and 203rd in the overall field.

Here is a story of Georgia State's involvement in founding the biggest, best and most famous 10k race in America.


Before the Beginning

Georgia State's Singleton, an avid runner himself, used the summer time to find races to keep his team in shape for the fall racing season. On July 4 of 1968 and 1969, Coach Singleton took some of his Georgia State runners to a race at Fort Benning in Columbus, Ga.  Georgia State runner Bruce LaBudde, who would eventually follow Singleton as coach at Georgia State, won that Columbus race in 1969 and received one of the just three trophies. The trophy was so big Coach Singleton had to put the back seat down in his Ford Falcon station wagon to get the trophy back to Atlanta.

Because so many of the runners at that Fort Benning race were from Atlanta and because they only gave prizes to the top three finishers, Singleton began thinking why not run somewhere in Atlanta on July 4, 1970? 

In the early winter of 1970, Coach Singleton decided a distance race would be run in Atlanta on July 4 and placed it on the Atlanta Track Club's list of races for the year to help draw runners.

Singleton also served as Chairman of the Road Race Committee for the Track Club and had started the Atlanta Marathon as well. Longtime Track Club executive director Julia Emmons said of Singleton: "Tim has this amazing entrepreneurial vision, on much the same quality as Billy Payne (organizer of the committee to land the 1996 Olympic Games)."


Working Out Details For the First Race
 

Singleton organized one 10-mile race in the North Georgia Mountains (from Lake Winfield Scott to Vogel State Park) that included climbs of upwards to 900 feet. So, when he first thought of the race in Atlanta, Singleton thought of a run up Stone Mountain Park. But, the thought of dehydrated and disoriented racers roaming the top of the mountain didn't seem like such a great idea after all.

Eventually, Singleton settled on a course that would start in Buckhead at the Sears store at the intersection of Peachtree, West Paces Ferry and Roswell Road and end up in downtown Atlanta on Peachtree Street by the Equitable Building near the Georgia State campus and his office.

One important task was to get a "Parade Permit" to run the race ($25). Singleton decided to start the race at 9:30 a.m. to then finish downtown where the noon July 4 parade would take place. He used four motorcycle policemen also assigned to the parade to help as escorts for the runners since the streets would not be closed off.

Was heat a factor? No, according to Singleton. "Because these were runners who were racers," Singleton said. "We would run six or eight-mile races every Saturday in August at 5 p.m. in the heat and humidity." Thus, there were no water stands or hoses along the way of this first Peachtree Road race.

Driving his personal family station wagon, Singleton marked out a course that left the Sears Parking Lot on Peachtree Road and headed toward downtown. At Pershing Point, he directed the runners down West Peachtree Street (not the current Peachtree Street now). From West Peachtree downtown, the course then turned uphill on Baker Street (past where the Inforum now is) and then right on Peachtree Street and down the final four or five blocks to the Equitable Building at the corner of the Georgia State campus and close to Singleton’s office where there was a fountain and plenty of shade trees then.

Singleton had prepared a pre-race Information Sheet to distribute to runners to "promote the race" but it wasn't really a registration form and most of the runners just showed up and paid the $2 entrance fee on race day.

One other entrepreneurial advantage was lining up a sponsor (Carling Beer) to help buy trophies for the top 20-25 runners and provide free beer at the end of the race.

 

Race Number One: July 4, 1970

Singleton and his family arrived early with a support staff that could probably have been counted on fingers.

He parked his Volkswagen microbus in the Sears Lot and put a cigar box atop to stuff the dollar bills into (entry fee was $2) as racers showed up to get a number to run. These were mostly "race runners" and not recreational joggers. The final count for that first run was 110 runners.

Those runners included four or five Georgia State cross country members, other college runners in the area wanting to stay in shape, some Chattanooga Track Club members and several local Atlanta Track Club members.

LaBudde, a 1968 Olympic Trials invitee and top 12 Boston Marathon finisher, remembers putting up poster boards taped to telephone poles to mark the miles. About 10 minutes before the race was to start, they put athletic white tape across Peachtree Street to mark the start.

Since the roads weren't closed, the runners stayed along the curb lane and ran pretty much alone and unnoticed by the general public. Hence, Singleton remembers his words to the competitors being "Y'all be careful and watch out for traffic."

The finish line downtown was equally unimpressive. A rope was tied to a folding picnic-type chair (with Singleton's 7-year old son sitting on it to keep it in place). As runners came inside the rope, Singleton's 9-year old son handed out place number cards to the runners. Singleton's wife and his Georgia State secretary helped record the finishers as Singleton and LaBudde kept things organized and “official.”

A future 1972 10k Olympian, 25-year old Jeff Galloway, won that first Peachtree race among the 107 men. Gayle Barron was first among just three female runners who entered the first event. Barron, a 22-year old former cheerleader, went on to win five more Peachtree Road Races and the 1978 Boston Marathon. Bill Thorn, then a coach at Headland High School in south Atlanta, ran that first one and is now the lone runner to have run every Peachtree.

When the race was over, Singleton had one volunteer with a sock full of nickels and another with a sock full of dimes to provide bus fare back to the Sears parking lot for those who needed to get back to their cars.

 

The next Five Races (1971-1975)

Singleton remained the Peachtree Race Director for the next five races and got more and more involvement from the Georgia State community and more from the Atlanta Track Club, a then small organization.

"When one of my secretaries was leaving, she told her replacement that the most important thing she would be working on while at Georgia State was the Peachtree Road Race," Singleton remembers. 

Bruce LaBudde worked at Georgia State with Singleton and then eventually replaced him as cross country coach in 1973 and stayed for 19 more seasons.

Billy Brackin was a Panther cross country runner and worked in Singleton's office for five years. McRae Williams was a student assistant for three years for Singleton as well. Tommy Raynor was another Panther runner who helped with the race preparations.

Tommy Barber, a Georgia State baseball player and president of Tau Kappa Epsilon, helped organize about 80 Georgia State students to help with the races. "Dean Singleton came to us and asked us to help with the little details and we were thrilled to because he was such a good leader," Barber recalls.

"We'd wear our frat jerseys and help anyway we could, stopping traffic, putting down and picking up cones, helping at the start or finish, just whatever we could to assist him."

Diane Goodman, who was the TKE "sweetheart," helped serve as a trophy presenter. Goodman later was on the TV show Hee-Haw for seven or eight years, had some minor parts in Burt Reynolds movies and even dated Elvis Presley.

The second race almost doubled from the first 110 runners to 198 in 1971.

By year three in 1972, the field was growing to 330. In 1974, the race had really become popular with 765 finishers and then it topped the 1,000-mark in 1975.  That was when the Atlanta Track Club took over as Dean Singleton earned his Ph. D. and moved to Houston to teach.

The finish became so crowded by the Equitable Building that they moved it on down the street to Woodruff Park (then Central City Park).  In 1978, the race was moved to start at Lenox and finish at Piedmont Park as it does now.

 

What About the Tee Shirt?

The first race did not have a tee shirt that is now one of the most prized possessions of the race.

When Singleton was running the Boston Marathon, he realized he needed a post race tee shirt and the 1971 race had about 125-150 shirts. So, not everyone who finished received one. And it was a simple white tee shirt featuring mainly the Carling logo and no date of the race.

In 1972, Singleton ordered 250 shirts, but when the 330 showed up, many left disappointed again. And the second shirt was identical in design to the first shirt. Remember there was no real advance registration, so no one knew how many might show up. The third shirt was identical to the first two with no date to signify the difference of the years and a continuing problem of not enough for all that finished.

Later in 1974, a Tuborg beer logo replaced the Carling, but it was still the same shirt with no date. Even in 1976 when the Journal-Constitution became sponsor, the logo changed. But there was not a date.

 

Georgia State's Peachtree runners

Singleton, a devout runner who ran more than 70 marathons and founded probably 15 road races, ran his own Peachtree Road Race 27 of the first 29 years. He did not run in the first one in 1970 or in the 1976 race.

LaBudde, invited to the Olympic Trials for the marathon in 1968, has run all but five of the Peachtree Road Races with a best finish of 14th. LaBudde, a runner at North Springs High School, participated in the first-ever Atlanta Marathon in 1963 and won that event three times later (1964, 1966 and 1967). That event was run on the Westminster School "double loop" up Nancy Creek Road to the crest of Mt. Paran. Tim Singleton became race director for the Atlanta Marathon in 1966 prior to the Peachtree Road Race.

Barber has run in 25 of the Peachtree's since his days of helping with the TKE's.

Brackin, another of the originals, has been a top 20 finisher.

Raynor, now owner of Fleet Feet, was one of the original runners and a top finisher in the early years.

Roach won the 1974 Peachtree with a then course record time of 30:47 on the multiple-hill course.

Valk, who won that 1972 female race, is still a member of the faculty (mathematics) here at Georgia State in 2004.

Letherby, a Georgia State runner from 1994-97, came back in 2006 as a 30-year old and finished eighth overall as the first American with a time of 28:57. He also finished 8th in this spring's Boston Marathon in 2:19.31.

Fitzgerald, a Georgia State All-Conference runner in 1986-87, was the top Georgian finisher in the Master's with his eighth place finish in 2006 at 33:59 at age 42.

Lisa Lorraine, a former Lady Panther runner, has been near the top of the Peachtree and third in a Boston Marathon.  Lorraine also had the distinction of running a race with the men's cross country team at Georgia State in a match vs. South Alabama in which the Panthers defeated the Jaguars.

Previous Georgia State coaches were active in the Peachtree, too. John Rowland has served as a race escort for the top female finishers multiple times. Jessica Graham has finished in the top 100 and has served as a TV and radio announcer for a couple of the Peachtree Races. Former coach Lauren Blankenship has been a high finisher through her years of racing.

Obviously, there have been hundreds and hundreds of others of Georgia State runners, but these are some of the ones who have distinguished themselves.

As Tommy Barber summed things up: "I think that had it not been for the groundwork of Georgia State, there wouldn't be a famous Peachtree Road Race."