Photo: Steve Thrasher
On July 4, almost 60,000 runners will line up for the 2017 AJC Peachtree Road Race 10K in Atlanta. In its 48th year, Peachtree is the world’s largest 10K and the biggest race of any distance in the United States. Among all of those participants, 86-year-old Bill Thorn will be the only person on the starting line who has run the race every single year.
Thorn moved to the Atlanta area in the 1950’s, shortly after he married his wife of 63 years. He guesses he started running around 1967. He still coaches high school track and cross country at the Christian school he helped to establish south of Atlanta in 1989.
Thorn recalls that the first Peachtree 10K in 1970 was nothing like today’s current race. According to the Atlanta Track Club website, only around 150 people gathered at the corner of Peachtree and Roswell Road. Thorn brought his two sons, then age 10 and 6, who ran the entire race with him. He believes his son is the youngest person to ever compete in the race.
“It was basically started as kind of a family type situation because just about everyone knew each other that ran that first year,” says Thorn. “So you just showed up and started having fellowship at the end of it.”
Even though the first year was small, Peachtree quickly grew in popularity. By 1978, there were 6,500 finishers. In 1980, only ten years after the inaugural event, the race was capped at 25,000 participants.
One of Thorn’s most memorable Peachtree experiences happened during those early years, when the event was quickly gaining popularity. His goal was to break 40 minutes in the 10K after years of finishing just over that mark. However his mission was almost thwarted by the crowds.
“That year more people showed up than they had anticipated,” Thorn recalls. “You could kind of sense it as you went on.”
Thorn estimates that he got held up almost two blocks from the end of the race. The one finishing chute organizers had set up was not large enough to handle the swelling crowds. He finally determined that he barely run under 40, but was shocked to see how much his local race had grown.
“The whole entire ordeal was never planned in any way,” says Thorn of the Peachtree’s growth. “It just started off when they attempted to see if Atlanta would let them run it.”
Photo: Bill Thrasher
The key to Thorn’s longevity in running is his workout routine. He spends about an hour and thirty minutes each day performing a combination of strength and cardio exercises. His cardio includes running, walking, stationery bike, or running on a mini trampoline. He says the most important aspect though is consistency.
“I don’t just workout just like one day,” says Thorn. “I work out 365 days a year.”
For this year’s race, Thorn teamed up with Mizuno for their #whyIPeachtree campaign. The brand is highlighting the compelling stories of local runners and sharing them on social media, hoping to inspire thousands of race participants. Thorn admits he has not seen it (he is not on social media) but loves speaking about why Peachtree means so much to him. He is excited about this year’s race but has a bigger plan in mind.
“My goal is to reach 50. When I say my goal, I’ll be 87 in September, so you know I’m closing out so to speak,” Thorn says with a laugh. “Really in order to run 50 of them, I have to do them one at a time. I got to take care of business with this one first and then we’ll go to the next.”