How to get into a Better Start Wave for the Peachtree Road Race
It's hot, humid, and way too crowded with 59,999 fellow participants. But the AJC Peachtree Road Race is the can't miss running event of the year. This is the biggest 10K race in the world, and an Atlanta tradition.
I have run the Peachtree Road Race (aka Peachtree) for 4 years in a row, and I love it. It's a well organized, fun race, and presents a serendipitous opportunity to get on TV! It's turned into a tradition for me to see my friends at Peachtree each year.
Before I ran Peachtree, everyone (I mean everyone) provided their unsolicited opinion to me about the race. Mostly horror stories. I heard stories about how slow it was because people would walk the race and the fast runners would have to run around the slow walkers. I heard stories about large masses of people "cheating" entering the race course just before the finish line, just to get their t-shirt, and without having completed the course. Nightmare story after nightmare story about Peachtree.
Now that I've run Peachtree 4 times, I can say, I've never had any of those experiences. I've run in wave D for 3 years and most recently, I ran in wave C. The wave C and D runners are fast. I've NEVER had to dodge any walkers on the course. Thank you Atlanta Track Club, PRR volunteers, medical and safety enforcement staff, and everyone associated with the race for putting so much effort in making this the best 10K in the world.
How the start corrals and waves work at the Peachtree Road Race
There are 60,000 people registered for the PRR every year. There are 24 different start times (approximately 5 minutes apart) ranging from 7:30 to 9:10 am. There are approximately 2,500 people per start wave.
Registering for Peachtree is different from most races
March 1-14, Atlanta Track Club members have open registration. March 15-22, anyone can enter a lottery for a paid entry into the PRR. Only those who are randomly selected are charged the race entry fee of about $40.
When you register for Peachtree, you are asked to name a race and the amount of time it took you to complete the race. There is a list of preferred races in a drop down box, but there is also a free form text field for you to type in the race name. You can submit your time from any USATF certified race. If you don't submit a race and a time, you are randomly assigned into one of the last 5 waves. Atlanta Track Club will verify that you have submitted the correct time, so please don't submit an incorrect time.
A USATF Certified Race means that the race organizers took the extra step to follow a process to 'certify' with the official governing body that their race is the correct distance.
Why You DON'T want to qualify for a better start wave
If you're planning on walking the entire Peachtree Road Race, and many people do, you can stop reading now. There's absolutely no shame in walking or walking more than 50% of the Peachtree Road Race. 6.2 miles is 6.2 miles regardless if you ran fast, ran slowly, walk-run combo, or just walked the whole thing. Generally speaking, Waves A - G are running waves, then there are run-walkers H-O, and then there are walkers P - Y. There's no wave Z.
Why you want to qualify for a better start wave
People at your Pace
I started this article referencing the nightmares of Peachtree, running around slower people. At my last run group outing, 1st time Peachtree runner, let's call her Tessa, had this exact complaint. I asked her what time she submitted, and to my surprise, she registered for Peachtree without submitting a time. She was randomly assigned Wave P. Tessa thought that there would be specific lanes for runners, or at least all of the walkers would be courteous enough to walk on one side of the street so that she could run. Tessa is a fairly fast runner in our run group, so I was surprised that she didn't go for her best start wave when she registered. Tessa was surprised that most everyone in Wave P walked the entire course. Tessa spent her Peachtree run bobbing and weaving through the course. The idea of the start Waves is to put people who run or walk at similar paces together and reduce the bobbing and weaving.
Slightly Lower Temperatures = Better Running Conditions
July 4th is typically a hot day in Atlanta. The earlier you start, the lower the temperature, and the better chances of more ideal weather conditions for your run. For example, this year (2017), the temperature at the start line at 7:30 am (start time for Wave A) was 73 degrees. By the time the last wave started at 9:10 am, the temperature was 80 degrees.
If you started at 7:50 (73 degrees) and finished in an hour (8:50 am , 77 degrees), your average running temperature would have been 75 degrees. If you start at 9:10 and finish at 10:10, your average temperature would have been 82 degrees. That's a 7 degrees higher!
Earlier Start Times = More Free Stuff at the End
This reason only appeals to folks who enjoy picking up freebies along the course and at the finish line. Along the course, organizations, businesses, and other random people will offer you free beer, pizza, reusable bags, water, other beverages. The first year I ran Peachtree (2014), I bypassed free beer, pizza, bags along the course, and at the finish line, I was offered (official Dasani / Powerade truck) a can of Coca-Cola, a pair of flip flops from PNC Bank, not to mention peaches, and the official Peachtree Road Race t-shirt. I had a grand time. Later that day, I saw a bunch of complaints on social media from folks who didn't receive their official finisher's t-shirt. It turns out that there were not enough shirts ordered, and all of the runners in the last few waves did not receive the "prized" Peachtree t-shirt. Atlanta Track Club made things right by mailing shirts to everyone who didn't get one.
In 2015, a huge rain storm washed through Atlanta during the Peachtree Road Race, and for the safety of the participants, the race was stopped for over an hour. The race organizers delayed Start Waves M and later for over an hour. Those participants were told to seek cover (mostly in parking garages) during the delay. Keep in mind, this is a rain or shine event! The delay was for lightning that was spotted in the area. It was still raining when the race restarted and participants had to watch updates on social media to find out when their new wave start time. Imagine standing around in a parking deck for over an hour and then having to run 6.2 mile in the pouring rain. This happened to a friend of mine (in one of the last waves) who walked the Peachtree Road Race in the rain. The good news was that he received his coveted t-shirt as the rain stopped.
Option to run in a later Wave with friends
Probably one of the most Frequently Asked Questions of the entire Peachtree Road Race, "My friends are all in Wave G, and I'm in wave Y, can I just move up to G?" Official answer is NO. Everyone tries to move into an earlier start wave to run with friends, but there are "bouncers" aka volunteers that verify each person is in their correct starting wave. Chances are that you have a few friends also running Peachtree. You want to run together. You can move to a later start wave, but you can't move to an earlier start wave, even if you're friends.
Personally, I like to get to the start line early, enjoy the live signing of the national anthem, watch the flyover, and then start running. I'd rather not wait around for a later start time, only to run in hotter weather.
How to qualify for a better start wave
At minimum, you need to submit your finish time of a USATF certified race. All Atlanta Track Club races are USATF certified. If you are an Atlanta Track Club member (and a lot of people become members just to run Peachtree), there are 5 specified races per year at no additional cost. If you're not an Atlanta Track Club member, you can still run these specific races for $10 each. Most races cost $25 or more, so $10 is the best deal around. Here is a list of Atlanta Track Club $10 races (free for members).
Another easy route is to submit your time from last year's Peachtree when registering. It's better than not submitting a time at all, but if you put a little more effort , you can probably get into a better start wave.
But what about people who don't live in Atlanta?
A lot of people travel to Atlanta for the July 4th holiday and run Peachtree. As I mentioned earlier, you can submit times from any USATF certified race. USATF is an abbreviation for USA Track & Field, the official governing body of the United States. You can see which races in your area are certified by looking them up in the USATF website.
Planning, Research, Preparation, and Execution
Hard Route - Best Start Wave
Step 1: Start by reviewing the previous year's start wave standards. The chart is always for the previous year, but generally speaking, the times on the chart don't change very much from year to year.
Step 2: Compile a list of your races within the past year and times. Athlinks is a searchable database of races and times by person. Search for yourself on Athlinks. Narrow down your list of races that are certified. Here's a list of USATF certified courses in Georgia.
Step 3: Compare your race results with the previous year's wave standards. Atlanta Track Club will caveat that they change the wave standards from year to year depending on the applicants and keeping the corrals to 2,500 participants each. The truth is that the wave standards don't change very much from year to year.
- You might find that your Half marathon time is only good enough for a Wave M, but your 5K time qualifies for wave L.
- What most people find is that they've missed qualifying for an earlier wave by less than 30 seconds. If only…
- When I did this exercise last year, I either had to improve my 5K time by 1 minute, or my 10K time by 2 minutes. I decided it was more realistic for me to improve my 5K time. I also consulted my running coach, Tina Klein.
Research races that have a net downhill, are held in cooler months, and are certified by the USATF. Certified means that they are actually the distance that they say that they are. ATC will not accept results from a race that is not certified. Register for races where your finish time is calculated on "net" instead of "gun." Net time means that your finish time is calculated from when you cross the start line to when you cross the finish line. Gun time is calculated from when the first person crosses the start line to when you cross the finish line. Depending on the size of the race, it might take you an extra 30 seconds to a minute to start the race behind a large crowd, and gun time will add that time to your finish time.
Register for more than one race. Don't have all of your eggs in one basket. You need to increase your odds by signing up for more than one qualifying race. Things can go wrong on race day, weather, over sleeping, getting sick, life! You need to have at least 1 or 2 backup races if you don't meet your time goal on the first try. Also consider registering for a tune-up race so you know how races go and feel the intensity. I'm a "night person," so was really surprised how my body reacted when I had to get up at 5 AM for a race.
Here are my picks for races in the Atlanta area that meet my criteria as Ideal Peachtree Qualifying Races
- Chattahoochee Road Race - This is my personal best race for a 5K. They offer both the 5K and 10K distances. They even advertise on their website that this is a great race to get into the best start wave for Peachtree since it is held in early March and a net downhill race.
- Charles Harris 10K - This is a great race held in cold weather and a net-downhill.
- Run the River - This is a very flat course in April, and they have had historically ideal weather conditions. They offer both the 5K and 10K distances, although most run the 10K.
- Big Peach Sizzler 10K - This is my personal best race for a 10K. It is a net downhill, certified race, but being held in early September (Labor day), it is hot! Thus it is called a sizzler!
- Vinings Downhill 5K - This is a net downhill race that markets itself as a great Peachtree qualifier. The one downside is that it is hot since it is held in August.
A friend from run club, let's call her Daisy, traveled to Albany to run a downhill race that was USATF certified just to get into a better start wave.
When I set my sights on getting into a better start wave for Peachtree, I registered for Wiphan Warthog Waddle 5K as a 'tune-up race' and Chattahoochee Road Race 5K as my goal race. The races were about 3 weeks apart. I ran Wipan Warthog Waddle 5K in 26:58 and three weeks later, I ran the Chattahoochee Road Race 5K in 25:53. I achieved a 1 minute improvement in the 5 K distance (3.1 miles) from more training and an easier course. This 1 minute was the difference to move up one start wave and start Peachtree 5 minutes earlier this year.
Training, dedication, perseverance, and more training. Check out my post on what it took for me to finish a full marathon. If you need more specifics, hire a running coach, not a personal trainer. World Ranked and All-American track athlete, Tina Klein, coached me to a 25:53 - 5K and Start Wave C. Follow your training program to a tee. Don't skip workouts and think you will achieve the same results.
Don't oversleep! Arrive early and warm up before the race.
Make sure you have your bib or timing chip attached correctly to yourself for accurate results.
Check the official results from the race organizers. This is your official time.
Enter your best time when you register for Peachtree Road Race. You cannot change it later!
What to do if you did all of the work to qualify for a better start wave, but you are assigned a later start wave than you expected?
When your bib and start wave is assigned, Atlanta Track Club (ATC) will also publish a new chart of start wave times. Check the time you submitted against the new chart. Double check that your race is USATF certified. Double check that the race director correctly reported your time. ATC reserves the right to verify that the time you submitted is accurate. If all of this still qualifies you for a better start wave, then you can "challenge." If you are picking up your bib at the expo, there is a "challenge" table at the expo and you can get your bib upgraded on the spot. If you selected the "receive bib by mail"option, you will have to email ATC with a screenshot of your race time, wait for a response with instructions on how to mail your bib back to ATC.
What if I ran a race after I submitted my time for Peachtree?
Great! You can use that time for next year's Peachtree. Make sure you submit your best time (according to the start wave chart) when you register for Peachtree.