The Peachtree Road Race is held on the morning of July 4th every year in Atlanta, Georgia. It’s not only the world’s largest 10K, at 55,000 runners it is one of the largest footraces of any kind in the world.
For 39 years, the only way to gain entry was to fill out an application, printed every year in the Atlanta Sunday paper (the AJC) in March, and mail it in with a check for the entry fee. Slots were given on a first come, first serve basis. If your letter was one of the first 55,000 to arrive, you were in.
This year, for the 40th anniversary, things are different. For the first time ever, the race is conducting an online application process. They have finally embraced the 21st century. But honestly, I was skeptical of whether this would be a good thing.
I grew up in Atlanta, but ironically, I never ran the race while I lived there. I didn’t become a runner until after I moved to Chicago. But I’ve flown home every July 4th since 2004 to run the Peachtree. It’s a fun race to be a part of and a good excuse to visit Mom and Dad for a couple of days.
As archaic as the mail-in application might seem, I never had any trouble getting a slot. I would e-mail the needed documents to my parents in Atlanta, who would pick up a copy of the AJC when the early Sunday version came out on Saturday. Then they would drive up to the city, to the one Post Office in Atlanta that is open on Sunday, and put my application in the mail for me. (I could have done all that from Chicago, but I would have had to wait for the Atlanta Track Club (ATC) to send me the application in the mail and then send it back to them from Illinois, and I thought the extra time involved would put my entry at a disadvantage.)
The new online registration process opened this morning at 6 a.m. CST. I got up at 5:50 and fired up the computer. It was still a few minutes before 6 when I got to the AJC website, but the page told me that registration had already begun. I clicked “Register Now” and it linked me to the ATC site where I had to click a “Register Now” button yet again. Then I got the message:
"Thank you for your interest in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race 2009. We are currently experiencing higher than normal registration volume. Registration spots are still available. Please check back at [our website] soon."
Well, duh! Of COURSE there was higher than usual volume. Every runner and their brother in the city of Atlanta and beyond was trying to get into the world’s largest road race! Of course I was getting the web equivalent of a busy signal. The link sent me back to the AJC website where I had to go through that all over again.
I'd worried about this. The mail-in system was antiquated, maybe, but it was also more genteel. How long would I have to sit at the computer, cycling through the websites before I broke through and got to the actual application page?
As it turned out, 9 minutes. It took me a couple of minutes to fill out the form, then I clicked “submit”… and promptly received and error message. I forgot to click on “Yes” or “No” to the question of whether or not I wanted to willingly receive spam-mail about the race. I corrected my form and hit “submit” again… and this time I got a big fat error message – several, in fact, at the top of the page – not from my computer, but from the registration website. My application did not go through. There was a link to click to try it again… which sent me back to the “Register Now” page on the AJC website. NOT good. I had to start all over from scratch. It took me 10 more minutes of cycling through the “busy” signal to reach the application page again.
The second time went more smoothly and I was rewarded with one of the nice things about the new online system: instant confirmation that my entry had been accepted and I was in the race. Under the old system, the only notification of acceptance you got was the cancelled check from your entry fee some weeks after the process was over.
So that was it. A little bumpy. Slightly annoying to hit the “refresh” over and over again. But I didn’t have to enlist my parents and we didn’t have to wait weeks to discover it all worked out.
A quick check of the registration page at 7 a.m. CST, showed that entry slots were still available, and no more “Busy” signal from the website. There was a direct connection to the application. At a little before 8 a.m., It said that slots were still open, but the "busy" message was back.
The ATC promised that only the first 45,000 entrants would be accepted online. They will still take the final 10,000 by mail only, starting next week. It’ll be interesting to find out later how long it took for the 45,000 slots to fill. If it winds up taking a few hours to fill, then maybe next year I can risk sleeping in a little longer.
A Little Follow Up:
The AJC reported that all 45,000 slots were filled online by 1 p.m. CST. It took 7 hours for registration to close. They also reported that there were a number of problems similar to mine in the first 2 hours, which slowed things down. So the field might have filled even faster were it not for that. Anyone who didn't get in today still has a chance next week with the 10,000 mail-in slots.