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6/29/2023 by Jay Holder

Fast Food's Fastest Exec

Dan Cathy has some suggestions on what you should order from Chick-fil-A when you walk in after finishing the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race.

"An original Chick-fil-A sandwich with extra pickles," he said. "You know that Hershey's chocolate milkshake would be delicious. The Oreo cookies and cream milkshake," he added, reeling off items from the menu as if he's memorized it. And he has. Cathy is Chairman of the Board at Chick-fil-A, the former CEO, the son of the chain's founder - and a dedicated runner.

Cathy, 70, doesn't know exactly how many Peachtrees he's run, but he estimates it as somewhere between 30 and 35. He'll run this year for the first time since 2019. To prepare, he's running 10-15 miles a week.

Cathy with Bill Thorn, the Ironman of Peachtree

A standout wrestler in high school and at Furman University, Cathy said he was no distance runner when a fellow Chick-fil-A employee approached him about running his first Peachtree. Since then, he's run half marathons and five full marathons, including the 100th running of the Boston Marathon in 1996.

"Running was the catalyst of me thinking about every area of my life in terms of fitness, in terms of my weight, my nutrition, sleep, mental well-being, you know, all part of this pivotal ecosystem, our body that God designed for us," he said. "It all started right there with the Peachtree Road Race," he said.

Health, fitness and wellness is now a key part of Cathy's leadership style and personal mission. "It leads to mental stability. It leads to relational stability and we're able to have a much more even temperament [in] how we deal with crises and challenges in our lives," he said. "It's also a huge benefit from a leadership standpoint. That gives you the self-confidence to be strong in your plans, your will, your aspirations, to continue to be ambitious."

For Cathy, the Peachtree is a rare chance to be alone. He heads to MARTA, rides alone to the start line with nothing but his shorts, shoes and bib and runs the race solo. He runs better that way, he said, not having to worry about keeping up with someone or, more likely, someone having to keep up with him. He completed his last Peachtree in 49:25, a 7:57 pace that placed him seventh out of more than 1,300 men in his age group.

With his love for the Peachtree comes his appreciation for Peachtree tradition, and that includes the iconic Peachtree finisher's shirt. In 2002, Cathy was burned while clearing brush at his home, and had to be airlifted to Grady Memorial Hospital with second-degree burns to his face, hands and chest. Paramedics were forced to cut off his shirt.

"Even though I had morphine, it was still painful to see them cutting my Peachtree Road Race T-shirt off," said Cathy.

Word got back to Atlanta Track Club, and Cathy was sent a replacement for his burned and tattered treasure. It sits stacked with his collection, "the last things I'll ever give to Goodwill," he said.

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