Did you know that Georgia State University and its athletic department played a primary role in founding the Peachtree Road Race? It’s true. Together, they have 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" and founder was Georgia State cross country coach and Dean of Men Tim Singleton. Before the Atlanta Track Club took over the event in 1976, the first six races were organized by Singleton and supporters, with massive support from Georgia State personnel, including full-time GSU staff and students. The race was registered and listed with the Atlanta Track Club and some of the runners who were members participated in the race while a small group helped with the details of the event.
The 44th running in 2013 now includes a purse of $139,500 to the top finishers and the official results can qualify them for the 2013 USA Men’s and Women’s 10k Championships. About 60,000 runners will begin the 6.2-mile trek from Lenox Square to Piedmont Park, but that was not the original course. In the beginning, it was laid out with the start in lower Buckhead before it split onto West Peachtree, came up Baker Street and finished in what is now Woodruff Park at the GSU campus. That old finish area was just used this summer in the filming of Anchorman 2, The Legend Continues.
Here is the story of Georgia State's involvement in founding the biggest, best and arguably the most famous 10k race in the United States.
Before the Beginning
Georgia State's cross country coach Tim Singleton, an avid runner himself, used summertime races to keep his team in shape for the fall 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 the 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 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 indeed be run in Atlanta on July 4. He started telling friends and then 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 Atlanta Track Club. He had previously started the Atlanta Marathon as well, so he had the experience and knowledge needed to get this race off the ground. Longtime ATC 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 upward of 900 feet. When he first thought of the race in Atlanta, Singleton thought of racing to the top of 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.
|What About the T-shirt?|
|The first race did not have a T-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 T-shirt and he had about 150 shirts made for the 1971 race. So, not everyone who finished received one. And it was a simple white T-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. Remember there was no real advance registration, so no one knew how many runners might show up. The third T-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 who finished.
Later in 1974, a Tuborg beer logo replaced the Carling mark, but it was still the same shirt with no date. In 1976 when the Atlanta Journal-Constitution became sponsor, the logo changed, but there was still not a date included.
Eventually, Singleton settled on a course that started in Buckhead at the Sears store at the intersection of Peachtree, West Paces Ferry and Roswell roads. It ended in downtown Atlanta on Peachtree Street by the Equitable Building near the Georgia State campus and nearby to his office.
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 (which is not the current Peachtree Street). From West Peachtree downtown, the course then turned uphill on Baker Street and then right on Peachtree Street and down the final few 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.
One important task was to get a parade permit to run the race – at a cost of $25. Singleton decided to start the race at 9:30 a.m. to then finish downtown where the July 4 parade would take place at noon. He worked with four motorcycle policemen, also assigned to the noon parade, to help as escorts for the runners since the streets would not be closed off to traffic.
Was heat a factor to the runners? Not according to Singleton. "Because these were runners who were racers and accustomed to it," 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. But, heat was a factor as the 97-degree temperature on July 3, 1970, was the hottest day that year. On July 4, the temperatures rose to 93 degrees.
Singleton had prepared a pre-race information sheet to distribute to runners to promote the race. It wasn't really a registration form, and most of the runners just showed up and paid a $2 entrance fee.
One other entrepreneurial advantage thought of by Singleton was lining up a sponsor – Carling Beer – to help buy trophies for the top 20 to 25 runners, and provide free beer at the end of the race. That company’s complex on I-75 across from the airport was a well-known spot at the time.
Race No. 1: July 4, 1970
Singleton and his family arrived early with a support staff that could probably have been counted on his fingers.
He parked his family Volkswagen microbus in the Sears Lot and put a cigar box atop to hold the dollar bills from the $2 entry fee 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 race was 110 runners, of which three were women. The runners included a few 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 white athletic tape across Peachtree Street to mark the starting line.
Since the roads weren't closed, the runners stayed along the curb lane and ran pretty much alone and unnoticed by the general public. Traffic was stopped long enough to get the runners started. Then everyone jostled along the curb to run. 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 the 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 race and is now the lone runner to have run every Peachtree race. Then a 9-year-old, Brian Gamel, who now lives in Johns Creek, was one of the finishers in that inaugural race.
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 in Buckhead.
The Next Five Races (1971-1975)
Singleton remained the Peachtree Road Race Director for the next five races. As it continued to grow, he received more involvement from the Georgia State community and 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.
It was a labor of love for everyone involved. 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 several years, and had some minor parts in Burt Reynolds’ movies and even dated Elvis Presley.
Together, they helped the race grow. The second event almost doubled from the first 110 runners to 198 in 1971. By year three in 1972, the field was up to 330 entrants. In 1974, the race had really become popular with 765 finishers and then it topped the 1,000-runner 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 its current start at Lenox and finish at Piedmont Park.
Georgia State's Peachtree runners
Georgia State runners distinguished themselves throughout the years. From Wayne Roach, who won the 1974 race in a then course-record time ahead of 765 other runners and Gillian Valk, a professor who won the female race in 1972, to more recent runners like former Georgia State Panthers Andrew Letherby (7th in 2005 and 10th in 2006, and Mike Fitzgerald), GSU finishers have found success by ending in the top 10 overall and in the master's division, respectively.
Other Georgia State coaches stayed active in the Peachtree, too. John Rowland served as a race escort for the top female finishers multiple times. Jessica Graham has finished in the top 100 and served as a TV and radio announcer for Peachtree Races.
Singleton, a devout runner who ran more than 70 marathons and founded about 15 road races, ran his own Peachtree Road Race in 27 of the first 29 years. He did not run in the first one in 1970 or in the 1976 race. He now lives in Dahlonega, Ga.
LaBudde, who was 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 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 Mount 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 races since his days of helping with the TKEs.
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, was a member of the mathematics faculty for decades at Georgia State.
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 the 2005 Boston Marathon in 2:16.38.
Fitzgerald, an all-conference runner for Georgia State in 1986-87, was the top Georgian finisher in the Master's group with an eighth-place overall finish in 2006 at 33:59 at age 42.
Lisa Lorraine, a former Lady Panther runner, has been near the top of the Peachtree standings 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 matchup vs. South Alabama in which the Panthers defeated the Jaguars.
Dr. Charles Fallis, retired College of Education professor and department chair was the fastest in the "Over 85 Age Group" in the 2012 Peachtree. Charlie defeated a trio of younger 85-year olds and an 87-year old runner to win that age group.Through the years, there have been hundreds and hundreds of other runners affiliated with Georgia State. As former GSU baseball player Tommy Barber summed up: "I think that had it not been for the groundwork of Georgia State, there wouldn't be a famous Peachtree Road Race."