Q&A: Rich Kenah celebrates 50 years of Atlanta Track Club

Get to know the organization’s new executive director, a former Olympian

Photograph by Kelly Kline

Last winter former Olympian Rich Kenah, forty-three, moved here from the Jersey Shore to head up the Atlanta Track Club, which celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year. With more than 19,000 members, the ATC is the second-largest track club in the country, and its signature event, the July 4 AJC Peachtree Road Race, is the largest 10K in the world. The highlights of Kenah’s own running career were taking bronze in the 800 at the indoor and outdoor world championships in 1997 and representing the U.S. in Sydney in 2000. After retiring from the sport, Kenah has spent the last ten years managing Olympic athletes and staging televised track and field events. We talked about his move to the ATL:

How did Atlanta lure you away from your home state? I’ve spent twenty years focused on the Olympic-level athlete, but I was finding it more and more fulfilling to interact with the everyday runner. The mission of the Atlanta Track Club is to create a healthy and active Atlanta through running and walking.

Will you be making any big changes? No, but we want to be sure we’re serving the entire life cycle of the runner. For example, I ran my first race with my cousin at age six. I got so far behind that my dad had to hop in a police car to find me. Then I ran age-group, high school, and college track. I was a professional runner for ten years. Now I’m just an everyday runner [who runs six-minute miles].

How do you plan to get non-runners involved? You won’t find the Atlanta Track Club doing anything gimmicky, but we might come up with ways to add personality to our events. For example, in New Jersey, we invented a race called the Belmar Chase, where community leaders, mayors, and elected officials from across the state raced against Olympic athletes. We gave the officials a head start. The winners got huge prizes for their recreation departments.

Did you get Chris Christie to participate? No, we did not. He had a little bit going on.

What’s surprised you most about the Atlanta Track Club? The loyalty and intensity of our volunteer base. We have volunteers who’ve been volunteering literally for decades. To be honest with you, I still can’t figure out how we’ve managed it.

How is the club going to celebrate its anniversary? At the AJC Peachtree Road Race, we’re hosting the USA 10K championships, so we’ll have the top American athletes, both men and women, competing for the title of U.S. champion. This year, we’ve more than doubled our U.S. prize purse to $100,000. So the race winners will be Americans. We’ve never been able to celebrate the American championships like we will this year. It seems appropriate on Independence Day.

Will you be doing anything to commemorate the club’s history? We’re bringing back fifty or sixty of the original 110, the people who ran the first Peachtree Road Race. Where do you like to run here? I often run the mile from my office to Piedmont Park and back. The return makes you grateful the race doesn’t go backward from the finish line. [The incline] makes Cardiac Hill look easy.

Have you ever run the Peachtree? No. But my wife ran it as an elite athlete in 1996.

But you’ve competed here before?
The 1996 Olympic trials were in Atlanta. The stadium had just been finished, which was pretty exciting for a young American athlete. I was not favored, but by the semifinals I’d positioned myself to be a credible contender. With one lap to go in the 800, I was in second place and charging at first. By the last fifteen or twenty meters, I fell into fourth and missed the team by roughly one-tenth of a second.

I had every intention of moving on. But I was walking downtown near the Hyatt and ran into Craig Masback, a retired miler who was working for NBC Sports. He encouraged me not to move away from the sport. He said that no matter what I went on to do with the rest of my life, in relative terms, I’d never be as good at that as I was at running. So after my little pity party, I stayed. Ironically, to qualify for the world indoor championships in 1997, I had to compete in the U.S. indoor championships at the Georgia Dome. Talk about full circle—Atlanta has been the intersection of many running decisions in my life.

Guys style  Neon is the new navy. In yet another eighties throwback, running shoes are getting brighter­—causing the New York Times to ponder if they’ll become the acid wash jeans of tomorrow. Come to think of it, distressed denim is back too.