In 1978, Wayne Clark ran the 10-kilometer Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta. He wanted to see how many he could do in a row, so he ran it the next year, and the year after that. After about 10 years, running the race had become less of a challenge and more of an obligation.
In 2017, the Cumming resident will compete in the race, the largest 10-K run in the world, for the 40th straight year.
“I’ve been blessed,” Clark said. “What are the odds of, 40 years in a row, being healthy enough to run? I will say (that) I’ve worked at it. I don’t know whether it’s being healthy from running or I run because I’m healthy. Both, I guess.”
Clark, who was born in Atlanta and grew up in Winder, ran track in high school but stopped in college and the years following. When he started back up in the late 1970s, he was looking for races to run and noticed the Peachtree Road Race’s popularity.
At that point, the race had already outgrown its finishing point of Woodruff Park and moved to Piedmont Park, and it still drew less than half of the 60,000 spots that are currently allotted.
Other than the growth in participation and minor changes to the course layout – like finishing at the Atlanta Civic Center instead of Piedmont Park, which the 72-year-old Clark looked back on in disgust – he can’t recall a ton of changes.
“Heart Break Hill’s still there,” Clark said, referring to the approximately 3/4-mile incline that runs alongside Piedmont Hospital.
Clark, who has lived in Cumming for 12 years and retired two years ago, has worked multiple jobs during his streak, in Roswell, Canton and Gainesville. He hasn’t had the time to train for something like a marathon, he said, but he’s a member of the Atlanta Track Club and has competed in many other races for that organization and others.
But every Fourth of July, he’s been ready to head down to Atlanta for a relatively easy 10 kilometers. Clark would put in times around 42 minutes at his peak, but he never ran the race as fast as he could, mainly because of the crowds.
He couldn’t think of any secrets to his consistency, apart from the obvious factors like eating well, regularly exercising and not smoking.
"When you have that commitment, it kind of flows through in other areas, also," said Dian Stevenson, Clark’s significant other.
Clark used to be able to take long breaks from training and still be ready to run in July, but as he’s gotten older, he’s had less leeway to do that. He has no plans to stop running the race, though, and Clark hopes to make it to 50 straight years.
It won’t be a competitive affair: He’s made a routine of running down the left side of the road giving high-fives to any willing spectator.
“My face is more tired from grinning than my legs are from running,” Clark said.