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Peachtree City 50K Will Be Missed

Date: 
12/27/2015 - 14:29

By Scott Ludwig

It started almost as a joke. ‘Paula’s Big Butt 50K’ we called it, the perfect way to celebrate the milestone birthday of Paula May, one of the original six members of the Darkside Running Club. It would also be the long overdue first ultramarathon -- informal as it was -- ever held in Peachtree City, Georgia, a running community interconnected by over 90 miles of runnable asphalt golf cart paths.

The year was 2002 and the race was held on the second Sunday in November, my way of honoring the former Vulcan Marathon (Birmingham, Alabama), a race I loved running and really hated to see go by the wayside. (While I’m on the subject: RIP Atlanta, Tybee Island and Macon Marathons.) Robert Youngren and Kelly Murzynsky were the men’s and women’s champions that inaugural year. It wasn’t long before the Peachtree City 50K became an established and legitimate addition to the ultramarathon calendar in the southeast.

One short year later (2003) the Peachtree City 50K hosted the USATF Georgia Ultra Marathon Championship, then transitioned to hosting the USATF National 50K Road Championship the following year. Mike Dudley won in 2004 and posted the fastest 50K time (3:05:34) of the year.

To celebrate our 10th anniversary, former Olympian Zola Budd Pieterse competed, setting a women’s course record in the accompanying 25K (a distance added to the event in 2007).

The Peachtree City 50K (and 25K) has always offered a great value for a modest price. A beautiful course, enthusiastic volunteers and a great group of runners has always been the norm. This, our 14th year was no exception. Sophomore Race Director Heather Shoemaker (she took over for me in 2014) put on a wonderful event despite the most inclement weather in the history of the race: Steady rain, 50-degree temperatures and gusting wind. Yet the runners and the volunteers turned out in force and made, as the saying goes, lemonade out of lemons.

That’s why it saddens me that this latest edition of the race will be its last. For reasons that have baffled me since the inception of the race, the Peachtree City 50K never established itself as a ‘force to be reckoned with’ on the ultramarathoning running calendar. I do know part of that can be attributed to newly established marathons (Columbus and Savannah) muscling in on the second weekend in November. One positive impact of these ‘infringing’ races has been our race has had its fair share of runners doing a ‘double’ in recent years, running a marathon on Saturday and our 50K on Sunday. However even in our most affluent years the total number of runners in both events rarely totaled much more than 100.

This year there were even less: Fifty-two official finishers; 30 in the 50K and 22 in the 25K. It never made sense to me why a runner would be willing to pay an entry fee upwards of three times as much to run elsewhere; certainly the amenities couldn’t be that much better than what we had to offer. And I sincerely doubt the personal attention the runners received from the volunteers at those aforementioned ‘big ticket’ races could match what our event had to offer. I guess it boiled down to deciding between a small, intimate race offering the best (friendship, camaraderie, encouragement) of what running has to offer or a much larger event that ‘all the cool kids are doing.’ To those who have opted for the latter these last dozen or so years I have this to say to you: I’m sorry, but you simply missed out. And now you’ll never know what you were missing.

I knew going into this year’s event that Heather did not want to continue being race director. She grew a bit discouraged at how few runners signed up despite her diligent efforts to promote the event through various forums and outlets and doing whatever she could to take it to the next level. I know exactly how she felt; in fact, it’s one of the main reasons I opted out of directing the race two years ago and was willing to let the race die a peaceful death. But as every runner knows, saying ‘never again’ usually means ‘give it time, because in all probability there will be a next year.’

But this year was different. I knew the exact moment when ‘never again’ was never more definitive. It was 6 a.m. race morning. It was pitch black, pouring rain and there was a damp coolness in the air that chilled me to the bone. I was dropping off the water coolers and tables for the mid-course aid station (affectionately known as ‘Ice Station Zebra’), standing in three inches of mud and using a handheld flashlight to see what I was doing. My work wasn’t finished after setting up the tables; I then had to stand up the porta potty someone had knocked over during the night. Meanwhile the rain continued to fall and the wind continued to blow (neither of which would stop nor even slow down during the course of the day). Throw in a bad case of the flu for good measure and you have a pretty good idea of how I was feeling. It was at that exact moment I knew there was no hope of me believing that next year would be the year that the Peachtree City 50K would become a force to be reckoned with.

But there is still this: The Darkside Running Club hosts several other events throughout the year offering the same intimacy, attention and fun as the Peachtree City 50K. However you’ll no longer have the opportunity to compete on (arguably) the most recognizable 5.18-mile loop in the country in a race that began 13 years ago, almost as a joke.

While I am saddened the race will not go on, I’m proud of the accomplishments and perseverance of the runners (many ran their first ultramarathon in Peachtree City), the contributions and dedication of the volunteers and the impact the race had on the running community in its brief stay…not to mention the credibility it brought to Peachtree City as a viable ultra running community.

For the many of you who played a part in the history of the Peachtree City 50K: Thank you.

Be sure to tell the others what they missed.

(Scott Ludwig is president and founder of Darkside Running Club (.com). He lives in the Atlanta area and is the author of eight books – six about running – and is working on others. His most recent book is Running Ultras to the Edge of Exhaustion. He can be reached at darksiderunning@comcast.net. He also has a blog at ScottLudwigRunsandWrites.blogspot.com where his books are available – or at any major online bookstore. This column appears in the January 2016 print edition of Running Journal. To subscribe to Running Journal, go to http://running.net/subscribe-1 )

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