Though the Buckhead-based nonprofit runs the world’s largest 10-kilometer run, the Peachtree Road Race, it organizes dozens of other competitions.
“We are more than just the AJC Peachtree Road Race. We put on roughly 30 events each year, including the Atlanta Half Marathon each Thanksgiving,” Rich Kenah, the club’s executive director, said during the Buckhead Business Association’s weekly breakfast meeting Thursday at City Club of Buckhead.
But with the Peachtree set for July 4, lately Kenah has been focused on preparing for the event, which has about 60,000 participants expending a total of 36 million calories, about 200,000 spectators and 3,400 volunteers.
He said the biggest challenge of organizing the race is “realizing and understanding there are 60,000 runners and every one of them is running for a different reason, and making sure you give them a good experience for as many of the 60,000 as you can.”
Kenah, a native of Montclair, N.J., was hired by the club in February to replace interim leader Sue Payne, who filled in after Tracey Russell left Atlanta in July to become CEO of the Asics L.A. Marathon. He had worked as vice president of events and marketing at Global Athletics and Marketing Inc., a Boston-based company managing Olympic athletes and televised running events.
The Brookhaven resident also had a long running career highlighted by making the U.S. Olympic team in 2000 in the 800-meter run, where he was eliminated in the quarterfinal heat. Three years earlier he won two bronze medals in that event at four IAAF World Indoor and Outdoor Championships. At the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia, Kenah’s mother reminded him of his desire to become an Olympian at an early age.
“She pulled out a tattered folder and in it was a piece of construction paper. … It was from a project I had done in the first grade of my favorite things,” Kenah said. “It was a cutout of a golden retriever, a cutout of a box of Oreo cookies and this photo of Bruce Jenner that said I wanted to be an Olympian when I grow up. At the age of 6 I saw the Olympics in 1976 and wanted to be an Olympian. It took me until the age of 30 and it was a long, hard-fought journey.”
In 1996 he just missed qualifying for the Atlanta Olympics, finishing fourth in the 800 at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Only the top three advance.
Kenah talked about Meb Keflezighi, who in April became the first American to win the Boston Marathon in 30 years.
“I have been to countless sporting events, mainly running events, and to have tens of thousands of people on Boylston Street chanting ‘USA, USA’ was the best moment in sports I have experienced,” he said.
Keflezighi is competing in the Peachtree but starting last, with the goal of passing at least 22,500 runners to raise $75,000 for Kilometer Kids, a division of the club inspiring children to become healthy through a fun and supportive running program designed to help them make smart lifestyle choices.
During a question-and-answer session, Kenah said advantages of club membership include automatic entry into the Peachtree and training programs for all of its races.
Association member Karen Losin asked, “I’m a walker and it’s a little intimidating because the runners [in races] will plow you over. Do you do walking events? Will you do something to encourage walkers to get out there?”
Said Kenah, “In the past we have done only running events. … In recent years when we added the wave system to the Peachtree, it was designed to make it better for people who walk. If you want to walk in an event, you can compete in the last wave, where the walkers are.”