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January 25, 2017

20 Iconic American Races That Aren’t Marathons

Legendary for their course, their history, or simply their name, these races should be on any runner’s bucket list


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Jackson Day Race
Where: New Orleans, Louisiana
When: January 8, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 750
Register: runnotc.org

Why Run It: Billed as the longest running race in the southeast, this 110-year-old event takes runners on a 5.6-mile jaunt through New Orleans, winding through Crescent City and finishing at historic Jackson Square in the French Quarter. In tribute to the route’s historic roots—it follows the same path that Pirate Jean Lafitte and his henchmen took to rescue Andrew Jackson before the Battle of New Orleans in 1815—reenactors dressed as soldiers from the1800s start the race each year. The postrace bash at Natchez Dock overlooks both the Mississippi River and the city, featuring unlimited draft beer plus unique local eats, like jambalaya, king cakes, and baked cheese curls.

Gasparilla Distance Classic
Where: Tampa, Florida
When: February 25-26, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 29,500
Register: tampabayrun.com

Why Run It: Pick your distance—15K, half, 8K or 5K—for this spirited non-profit series that benefits charitable youth organizations and running programs in the Tampa Bay area. The 5K—the most popular distance with more than 12,000 participants—is an out-and-back course along Bayshore Boulevard that borders the Tampa Bay and skirts alongside some of the neighborhood’s most beautiful homes. At the halfway turnaround point, runners are greeted by the Tampa Rough Riders, a crew of costumed cavalry men in a decked out train trolley who dole out beads and a limited supply of donuts. After pivoting, runners will receive another treat: a view of the downtown Tampa skyline that lasts all the way to the finish line.

NYC Half
Where: New York City
When: March 19, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 20,000
Register: nyrr.org

Why Run It: Led by a talent-packed roster of American and international elites (Stephen Sambu and Molly Huddle won the 2016 race), this televised event takes runners on a sightseeing tour of Manhattan hotspots, from the start in Central Park to the finish around Wall Street, with a stint through Times Square and along the Hudson River in between. Approximately 1,000 pint-sized athletes from schools across New York City partake in the festivities too, with the NYRR Times Square Youth Run, which is exactly as it sounds: a 1,500-meter sans-traffic jaunt through the Big Apple’s megawatt epicenter.

Cooper River Bridge Run
Where: Mount Pleasant, South Carolina
When: April 1, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 40,000
Register: bridgerun.com

Why Run It: This point-to-point 10K, which ranks as the third largest 10K in the country and celebrates its 40th year in 2017, takes runners from Mount Pleasant to downtown Charleston via the 2.5-mile-long Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, the longest cable-stay bridge in North America. Enjoy iconic views of the Charleston low country as more than 20 live bands pack the course, playing everything from jazz to funk to rock to rockabilly, and this year’s event will feature a prerace “Battle of the Bands” contest to determine the group that jams out at the peak of the bridge. Young runners can get in the fun too with the kids run and festival, held the day before at Hampton Park, the largest park in the Charleston peninsula.

Carlsbad 5000
Where: Carlsbad, California
When: April 1-2, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 8,000
Register: runrocknroll.com

Why Run It: Sixteen world records—the most for any road race on the planet—have been set on this multiple loop seaside course that, fittingly, bills itself as the “World’s Fastest 5K.” The route kicks off in Carlsbad Village and brings runners south along the Carlsbad State Beach before doubling back north for a second mini loop past Magee Park. A staggered age-based start system puts elite runners last, which allows the everyday athlete a chance to watch history happen while basking in the Pacific Ocean breeze and sipping suds at the finish line beer garden. World record breakers are honored with a new brew specially crafted and named for them.

Cherry Blossom 10 Mile Run
Where: Washington, D.C.
When: April 2, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 16,000
Register: cherryblossom.org

Why Run It: The most iconic part of this 10-miler around the National Mall and the Monument Core? “It’s a tie between the cherry blossoms themselves when they’re out and the major national monuments,” says race director Phil Stewart.

Runners start at 15th Street alongside the Washington Monument where they’ll see the Lincoln Memorial to their right and the Capitol dome on their left. Cherry blossom trees dot the course throughout but are at their highest concentration around mile five as runners pass the Jefferson Memorial and then loop around Hains Point underneath a canopy of color (the race is always held in early April to coincide with peak cherry blossom season but of course the blooms aren’t guaranteed ). An out-and-back course means that back-of-the-pack runners can observe the elites, who in the past have included Olympic medalists like Meb Keflezighi and Joan Benoit Samuelson.

Statesman Cap10K
Where: Austin, Texas
When: April 23, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 22,000
Register: cap10K.com

Why Run It: This looped 6.2-miler through downtown Austin is the largest 10K in Texas, and the seventh largest in the U.S., but race director Jeff Simecek likes to keep the vibe close to home. “As Austin grows and changes, I work hard to make sure we keep the local flavor a big part of the event,” he says.

Case-in-point: a costume contest with six different categories, including “Spirit of Texas,” “The Armadillo,” and “Super & Everyday Heroes,” as well as live, local music at more than seven spots along the course, which begins on Congress Avenue Bridge and finishes in Vic Mathias Shores, an urban park overlooking downtown Austin. The Finish Line Festival features more live tunes, local food trucks, a beer and Bloody Mary garden, a dronie station (selfies, but taken with a drone), a massage tent, and photo booths.

500 Festival Mini-Marathon
Where: Indianapolis, Indiana
When: May 6, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 34,000 (Mini-Marathon and 5K)
Register: indymini.com

Why Run It: More than 80 entertainment groups and spirit squads line the course of this fairly flat half marathon that ranks within the top 20 largest road races in the U.S. The route includes a full 2.5-mile lap around the Indianapolis Motor Speedway beginning right before mile six, where many runners follow the Indy 500 tradition of smooching the bricks at the speedway’s start and finish line.

Another highlight: “Victory Mile, ” the final leg of the race. It starts as runners cross the White River at mile 12 and begin to spot the telltale black-and-white checkered flags and hear the roar of the crowds. Festivities continue at the postrace party in Military Park, which is open to runners and spectators and includes live tunes, a live video feed of the race, and food from local restaurants.

Broad Street Run
Where: Philadelphia
When: May 7, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 37,500
Register: broadstreetrun.com

Why Run It: This fast, slightly downhill 10-mile point-to-point course charts through Philly’s varied neighborhoods via Broad Street, beginning in North Philly’s Logan neighborhood row homes, passing through Temple University's campus, and then Center City, City Hall, and the Avenue of the Arts. Runners will also breeze by sports stadiums for the Phillies, Eagles, Flyers, and the Sixers before finishing on the Marine Parade Grounds in the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where ships and cheering crowds await. Support is provided along the route as well in the form of music groups, high school bands, cheerleading squads, church choirs, and drill teams.

Bay to Breakers
Where: San Francisco, California
When: May 21, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 40,000
Register: baytobreakers.com

Why Run It: “Purely San Francisco.” That’s how Chris Holmes, the General Manager of Bay to Breakers, describes the vibe of this 105-year-old 12K race, which bills itself as one of the oldest consecutively run annual footraces in the world. The hilly course (beware of Hayes Street Hill, a 0.69-mile, 5.5-percent grade stretch beginning at mile two) weaves west through the city and passes through nine different neighborhoods to finish at the Great Highway along the Pacific Coast’s Ocean Beach.

Approximately 200,000 spectators cheer on the pack and take in the uber-creative, downright weird, and larger-than-life costumes that runners are known to wear. Highlights from the 2016 race include a two-person Golden Gate Bridge get-up, a gaggle of snow globes in which each person was enclosed in a plastic dome and surrounded by props tied to specific locations (like Las Vegas and Paris), and a runner dressed as a Golden State Warrior while carrying a 10-foot-tall basketball hoop on his shoulders the entire course.

Soldier Field 10 Mile
Where: Chicago
When: May 27, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 12,500
Register: soldierfield10.com

Why Run It: This Memorial Day weekend race kicks off in the shadows of Soldier Field’s famed colonnades before taking runners on a vehicle-free jaunt down Lake Shore Drive. The turnaround at mile five provides a sweeping view of the city’s skyline and pivots runners back towards Chicago’s Museum Campus for the 50-yard-line stadium finish, complete with uniformed members of the U.S. Armed Forces hanging medals around each participant’s neck. Postrace tailgating on the nearby Stadium Green features food, beer, two hours of live music, and clear views of Lake Michigan.

bolderBOULDER
Where: Boulder, Colorado
When: May 29, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 48,000
Register: bolderboulder.com

Why Run It: As the third largest road race in the U.S., everything about this event is big—from the lineup of 35-plus on-course entertainment groups to the roaring finish inside the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field in front of 70,000 spectators to the postrace Memorial Day tribute featuring an F-16 flyover and skydivers carrying flags for each branch of the military.

The course itself is a moderately hilly high-altitude journey starting alongside Boulder’s outdoor Twenty Ninth Street mall and weaving through tree-lined neighborhoods, where spectators are known for their enthusiastic (and often eccentric) cheering. Highlights include Elvis at mile two, belly dancers on Casey Hill at mile four and “Ms. Tutu,” a cheerleader who has been a mainstay alongside the course since 1979. Runners can enjoy even more fresh-air Boulder festivities at the annual Creek Festival, a three-day extravaganza of local food, drink, vendors, carnival rides, and live music hosted that weekend.

The 107th Dipsea Race
Where: Mill Valley, California
When: June 11, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 1,500
Register: dipsea.org

Why Run It: This treacherous 7.4-mile cross-country competition—the oldest trail race in America and the country’s second oldest footrace behind the Boston Marathon—follows the historic Dispea Trail over hills, dales, and three flights of steep stairs to eventually climb to a peak elevation of 1,360 feet—the equivalent of a 50-story building. Runners continue through Muir Woods, Mount Tamalpais State Park, and the Golden Gate National Recreation Area before finishing at Stinson Beach where they can dip their toes in the Pacific Ocean. A staggered start system that awards runners “head start” minutes based on age and gender makes the race anyone’s game.

Winners from the last three years include a 59-year-old retiree, 55-year-old former Olympian Diana Fitzpatrick, and a 72-year-old. Registration is capped at 1,500, and there’s always a waiting list, sometimes up to 600 applicants. The trick to snagging a bib?

“We encourage applicants to write 'sob stories’—personal reasons why they are inspired to compete in the Dipsea—when they apply,” says Dave Albee, communications director for the race.

Mount Marathon
Where: Seward, Alaska
When: July 4, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 900
Register: mmr.seward.com

Why Run It: This 102-year-old race—one of the oldest footraces in the U.S.—is an approximately three-mile climb and descent on Mount Marathon, complete with cliffs, scree fields, and waterfalls. Rookies beware: the steepness, measured from the base to the lip of the mountain just before the turnaround rock, averages 34 degrees, and runners are encouraged to wear gloves for the descent (described as more dangerous than the uphill), so that they can use their hands and feet to “crab walk” facing forward.

Because these conditions are not for the average 5Ker, first-timers must complete the entire course prior to race day. But the treacherous trail is countered by stunning scenery along the route and at the peak. Think: vibrant green and snow-capped mountains, glacial cirques, and sparkling blue waters in the Gulf of Alaska.

Peachtree Road Race
Where: Atlanta, Georgia
When: July 4, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 57,000
Register: atlantatrackclub.org/peachtree

Why Run It: Upwards of 150,000 spectators plus four radio broadcasts along the course rally runners as they wind their way through Buckhead into midtown Atlanta in this 48-year-old Independence Day race, the largest 10K in the world. A recurring cheerleader is Dean Sam Candler, who sprinkles runners with “holy water” outside the Cathedral of St. Philip around mile two. The support is especially needed about half a mile later as runners tackle Cardiac Hill, which rises more than 120 feet in approximately 0.75 miles.

While conquering Cardiac, participants are cheered by patients at the Shepherd Center, which specializes in spinal cord and brain injury rehabilitation. The race then wraps in Piedmont Park, Atlanta’s largest park and the site of the postrace party, where both finishers and spectators enjoy a DJ, awards show, and local food.

Bix 7
Where: Davenport, Iowa
When: July 29, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 15,000
Register: qctimes.com

Why Run It: This out-and-back race through downtown Davenport is rife with seriously steep hills. “It’s only seven miles long, but feels more like you’re doing a marathon,” says Ed Froehlich, race director for the past 38 years.

The challenge begins immediately with Brady Street Hill, the most severe and longest incline—a seven to nine percent grade for approximately a third of a mile—that’s stationed just after the starting line. Another doozy, McClellan Boulevard hill, arrives at the turnaround point. The event celebrates its 43rd year in 2017, and owes much of its success—and popularity with elites—to distance runner Bill Rodgers who joined the race in 1980 in lieu of the boycotted Moscow Olympics. Since then, the race regularly draws top talent from around the globe, including Joan Benoit Samuelson and Meb Keflezighi, who compete yearly alongside Rodgers.

Beach to Beacon
Where: Cape Elizabeth, Maine
When: August 5, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 6,600
Register: beach2beacon.org

Why Run It: This fast, point-to-point seaside 10K—founded by Joan Benoit Samuelson, winner of the first-ever women’s marathon in the 1984 Olympics—kicks off near Crescent Beach State Park in Cape Elizabeth. The winding route takes runners along tree-lined roads with panoramic Atlantic Ocean vistas. A fire truck aerial ladder arch displaying the American flag marks the midway point, and a hairpin turn around mile six leads runners up a steep path before wrapping around into a homestretch that includes views of Casco Bay and the Portland Head Light, the nation’s first commissioned lighthouse and also the most photographed lighthouse in America. Samuelson herself greets runners at the finish line and will be jumping in the field for this year’s race, the 20th running.

Falmouth Road Race
Where: Falmouth, Massachusetts
When: August 20, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 12,800
Register: falmouthroadrace.com

Why Run It: This 7-mile course is nearly completely seaside, beginning in Woods Hole with the first three miles on narrow, hilly, winding and tree-shaded roads. The most iconic part, according to the race’s general manager Jennifer Edwards, comes right after mile one when runners pass Nobska Light, a picturesque, historic lighthouse perched on the southwestern tip of Cape Cod and overlooking Martha's Vineyard and the Elizabeth Islands.

The final four miles open up on the flat right alongside Martha's Vineyard Sound, where a small steep hill indicates the final half-mile of the race. As runners crest the hill, they’ll see a giant American flag flying overhead, and they can see themselves cross the finish on the JumboTron. From there, the race is all downhill to the finish along Falmouth Heights Beach.

Manchester Road Race
Where: Manchester, Connecticut
When: November 23, 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 15,000
Register: manchesterroadrace.com

Why Run It: This 4.75-mile looped Thanksgiving Day race through Manchester's central streets will celebrate its 81st year in 2017, making it one of New England’s oldest road races. With that heritage comes hearty crowd support, as tens of thousands of cheering spectators line the route and live bands play every third of a mile.

There’s also a race within a race: Midway through miles one and two, runners tackle a one-mile climb up Highland Street. The first male and female to conquer the incline are dubbed “King and Queen of the Hill” and receive a $1,000 bonus. Another reason to run: the race raises approximately $100,000 each year for a number of charities, including a large donation to the Muscular Dystrophy Association.

Across the Bay 10K
Where: Annapolis, Maryland
When: TBD in November 2017
Approximate Number of Finishers: 25,000
Register: bridgerace.com

Why Run It: Nearly 4.5 miles of this 10K point-to-point course take place over water on the dual-span Chesapeake Bay Bridge, which reaches 186 feet at its tallest point. The race begins on the western shore of the bay with a steady (but not overly steep) climb for approximately 1.7 miles to the midpoint of the bridge, where runners will see 360-degree vistas of water dotted with sailboats and cargo ships. The course continues across the eastbound span of the bridge to finish near Terrapin Nature Park, a 276-acre expanse in Queen Anne’s County. Postrace festivities include food, an all-you-can-drink beer offering, and a free live concert for both runners and spectators.


Copyright 2017 Rodale Inc. All rights reserved. From http://www.runnersworld.com. By Jenny McCoy.
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