ATLANTA — It was a memorable race from the start as the 50th running of the AJC Peachtree Road Race took over part of metro Atlanta Thursday.
The beloved tradition began with the wheelchair division at 6:25 a.m, followed by waves of runners.
What happened from there was nothing less than historic. Four race division records were broken.
The race route started at Lenox Road in Buckhead, went along Peachtree Road and ended at 10th Street in Midtown at Piedmont Park.
Channel 2's Steve Gehlbach was on the ground as many runners crossed the finish line, tired and sweaty after finishing the 6.2-mile course.
Many runners return every year, but only a handful were part of the original race in 1970.
"I wish I had the grounds and the bands in the '70s," one runner told Gehlback. "I could have done better!"
Water was key for most of the runners on the hot and humid morning. Volunteers were there at the end to make sure everyone stayed hydrated.
"Lots of work, lots of water," one volunteer said, "3,500 volunteers and here to serve! We love it."
For many people, running the race was just about finishing and getting the coveted race T-shirt.
"There's nothing else like it. So many people out here. Energy's high. It's my birthday," one runner said. "Happy birthday America."
For serious runners, the race was a historic one, with winners in all four categories setting records.
Breaking record after record
Rhonex Kipruto, 19, of Kenya won the men's elite race with an unofficial record-breaking time of 27:01, the Atlanta Track Club said. Not only that, he ran the fastest time ever on American soil.
Brigid Kosgei, of Kenya, won the women's elite race just before 7:15 a.m., in a sprint to the finish in an unofficial time of 30:22, breaking that race record.
Daniel Romanchuk broke the men's wheelchair race course record with an unofficial time of 18:11, according to The Atlanta Track Club and Channel 2's Steve Gehlbach, who is at the finish line.
The women's wheelchair record was also broken Thursday. "Manuela Schar takes the win in 21:28 over Scaroni and McFadden to etch her name in Peachtree history," Atlanta Track Club tweeted.
There could be a very good reason why people were breaking records this year:
The race is offering the same prize purse for wheelchair racers who break a record as for runners. Any man or woman who tops the best times in their division will be awarded – on top of prize money – a $50,000 bonus in honor of the race’s 50th running.
For wheelchair athletes, the prize gives a rare opportunity for what may be the biggest single payday ever in a road race of any distance.
Channel 2's Darryn Moore was at the starting line for hours Thursday, where he saw the wheelchair participants warming up well before race time, and finally take off at exactly 6:25 a.m.
Just an hour prior, several of the race's estimated 3,500 volunteers were laying down the starting line tape as part of their last-minute preparations leading right up to the race.
Atlanta police said they wanted people to enjoy the race, but that, as usual, safety comes first.
Protecting more than 60,000 people was their top priority, they said. Officers in uniform and in plainclothes were along the entire route, as well as cameras.
"We don't want any drones flying over this event," Atlanta Police Capt. Rodney Woody said ahead of the event. "It's actually against the law to fly a drone over a crowd of people."
People were asked to not bring backpacks and bring plenty of water to drink. Gehlbach was at the finish line, where preparations were already underway as of 4 a.m. Medical stations, water and the always-coveted race T-shirt awaited participants at the end of the race in Piedmont Park.
There was special vintage signage along the way to celebrate the 50th running of the race.
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