32.6 Miles Of Awesome.

I know I brag about our running community here ENDLESSLY. But MAN…if this weekend wasn’t the PERFECT example of how amazing it is to be a cyclist or a runner in this town, I don’t know what is.

I knew this year that I’d be doing the Heel & Crank Duathlon again. I wanted to redeem myself from last year. I knew when it was – I penciled it on on my “upcoming races” bullet journal page as soon as the date was announced. However, due to our race budget, I was just waiting for an ideal time to register. And then, several months ago, it was announced that Fleet Feet would put on a BRAND NEW half marathon! It would be centered around our research park and our fancy outdoor shopping center. Sounded great! But then it only took about 5 seconds for a lot of us to realize Oh, man. That’s the day AFTER Heel & Crank. I remember even seeing a similar sentiment from the H&C race director. Excitement over the new half marathon (Our other one is in the Fall) but disappointment that it was the day after his race. I joined a few voices that day saying to him, “Eh. I’ll probably do both.”

And I was serious. I like to support good races in my community. I knew it was still technically in my season, before I passed off the racing baton to Donnie. I knew I’d be helping with the 13.1 training program so I’d need to help with the new half marathon, but I wanted to do the duathlon so…I’d just do both. No big deal. It might be kinda fun in a crazy kind of way.

Well, the race directors joked about it that day – making it some sort of bonus challenge to do both. And then…what do you know…a month or so later they announced the plan. The 32.6 challenge! Do the Heel & Crank on Saturday (3 mile run, 13.5 mile ride, 3 mile run) and then the Bridge Street Half Marathon on Sunday (13.1 mile run) and you’d get a mug with BOTH race logos on it. FOR FREE.

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It turned out to be a good experiment in how little it takes to motivate people in our community to do something really insane. Because I think – all told – there were over 100 people who signed up for the 32.6 challenge. Guys? There were only 400 in the Heel & Crank! And I know a BUNCH of those people aren’t normally cyclists, but signed up for the challenge because…well…everyone else is doing it! And we get a mug!

A duathlon is a hard race to put on. You have transition areas and chip timing. You have bike courses you have to clean and running courses you have to stock with aid. And this duathlon Saturday? Did SO MUCH MORE. They had pancakes for breakfast. They had live music. The volunteers all had bright yellow shirts that said “VOLUNTEER” on them. They had people helping in transition and people announcing names across the finish line. Tons of things that aren’t necessary but make an event like that VERY first-timer friendly. This year the race director even tossed the USAT certification so he could allow recumbent bikes. He also put in a fat-tire category to encourage regular cyclists who don’t have road bikes to sign up. He did EVERYTHING in his power to make it as welcoming to newbies, but as challenging to competitors, as possible. And there were volunteers out the wazoo. And…AND…he raised money for a local charity supporting ALS! Great day. Great race. In one hundred MILLION different ways. (Here is my race report.)

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And then! The Bridge Street half was an inaugural event with 1500 participants. That’s HUGE for a first time race in a city this size. And there were TONS of bells and whistles. There were free green cups with the race logo at the Coke Table after the race. The medals were gorgeous the volunteers got great sweatshirts. There were balloon arches and GU given out on the race course. There were official race pacers (I filled in at the last minute for an injured friend) and cheer squads on the course. I’m not a professional racer by any means, but for an inaugural race? I was BEYOND impressed.

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So…basically we had two big races for a community our size requiring HUGE support teams back-to-back this weekend. Both races went above and beyond what you have to do to make it a good race. They made them excellent races. And then – at their own cost – they made extra prizes for people who did both to try to prevent people having to choose one over the other. If you wanted to do both? You had an excuse…FREE AWESOME MUG!

I’m just blown away. This weekend was just the perfect example of the awesomeness that is this athletic community. These race directors and their teams of volunteers are masters at making races beginner-friendly, but also challenging enough to draw the competitors in the city. They do more than what they have to do, no one has to make pancakes for their participants. No one has to provide live music as entertainment. No one has to give out free plastic cups with the race logo on them. No one has to give their volunteers special shirts. But they do ALL of that because the extras are what make people come back to races. Either as volunteers or as participants. The extras are what get participants encouraging their friends and family to sign up the next year.

AND THEN! After both of the races our We Run Huntsville Facebook page was just SWARMED with participants talking about how awesome the races were and how well they were run and how great the volunteers were…it’s just amazing. There were even volunteers posting about how much fun it was to help with the races! Basically it was one SUPER GIANT LOVE FEST all thanks to two wonderful races.

I know I was running in a group of at least 5 people yesterday who were all discussing how excited we were to get our 32.6 mug after the race. Several did their first bike race on Saturday in that duathlon JUST for the mug. And we all agreed we’d do it again next year.

To me? That’s the most telling part. When your racers and your volunteers BOTH say they’ll be back. And when some from both races hope they do the 32.6 challenge again next year so that NEXT YEAR, they can join the crazies. That says a lot right there.

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Well done, Huntsville…Well done.

2 thoughts on “32.6 Miles Of Awesome.”

  1. Well said, Kim! This past weekend was one of the best I’ve ever had in terms of fun, food, friends, running, cycling and race swag! I don’t know when I’ve had so much fun or smiled so much at the memories of it. I’m ready for next year already…do we really have to wait 362 days until we can do it again?????

  2. I remember seeing you at the Bridge Street Event. Congrats to both of you. I hope to run a half marathon in 18-24 months. I’m working on completing my first 5K in May.

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