Uptown Charlotte becomes a sea on pink on Saturday morning, when the 13th annual Komen Charlotte Race for the Cure sends thousands of runners and walkers down Tryon Street in the name of the cause.
I caught up with race chair Dena Deiger today to get info about the new event site and course, their plans for dealing with possible record crowds, and the special survivor-related happenings on tap.
Q. What's the record number of participants for the Charlotte event, and what are you guys looking at numbers-wise for Saturday?
Dena Deiger: We had 14,200 there last year, which was our record. We hope to have 15,000 this year – we need all the help we can to get to reach that number. ... There will be 800-plus survivors (running or walking).
Q. Tell me about the new course -- which starts and finishes in the heart of uptown -- compared with the old one, which started in Gateway Village. Why the change?
Dena: We have changed the course due to the communities’ support of this great cause. We had to move the expo and ceremony because we were outgrowing the Gateway Village area. In the offseason, we met with members of the city to determine where we could move the race and “grow into an area.” We chose this area because eventually the one parking lot will be a great park (Romare Bearden, in Third Ward) that will accommodate events like ours. In addition, we wanted to get a start line that was wider than two lanes. Although I don’t run often, I have done my best to educate myself on what makes a good 5K. One of those items is having a wide start line, along with not making too much of the course an out-and-back route, to help “thin” the crowd. I haven’t run it – nor do I think your fans would like to see that sight right now. I can tell you it has some points of interest along the way – the new museum and theater at the Duke campus on Tryon Street and the Panthers Stadium, to name a few.
Q. I haven't run it either, but we can see from the map that the start and finish set up several blocks apart. This just easier logistically because of the size of the crowds?
That is correct. We tried to flow out one side of the expo/stage and funnel back in the other. In addition, we are trying to get all participants across the start line as quickly as possible and not overlap the course in too many areas.
Q. Speaking of the crowds ... do you ever get complaints about congestion in the races? Last year, I heard from people who'd hoped to run the non-competitive event but were disappointed because the sheer volume of walkers made it a frustrating stop-and-go affair. As for the competitive 5K, I felt like runners did not line up as smartly as they do at other races (i.e. faster to the front, slower to the back).
We tried to alleviate the congestion with a three-lane start this year and the fourth lane open next year when the Duke building is done. We also hope that there will be enough room on the course (wider until Third/Fourth Street) that people will be able to get through the crowd. We do tell people that walkers should stay toward the back … we will make sure to make that announcement again.
Q. And because of the sheer size of the race ... in your opinion, should runners view this as a great cause and a shared experience first, and a race second?
Yes, especially because we hope to continue to grow this race over the years to fund finding a cure, it would be hard to say this is a race first … unless you consider this a race against time to find a cure. As you will see this year, we have taken into account competitive runner feedback to create a better experience for them.
Q. Also, considering the number of participants, how early should runners plan to arrive in order to have plenty of time to park, get their packets and/or chips, etc.?
The competitive runners go off at 7:25. If you are a competitive runner, you should have received your ChampionChip and your bib. Therefore, you will not have to pick it up. I would park outside the areas of the race or take the LYNX this year. I would suggest the runners get there 30 minutes early to find their way around.
Q. In what ways will runners be able to show their support for survivors in their lives, or honor loved ones who've lives were taken by the disease?
Many have formed teams and will be wearing their own personal team T-shirts. There will also be pink back signs ("In Memory of" and "In Celebration of") ... anyone can write their loved one's name on it, and safety-pin it to their shirt.
Q. What types of special ceremonies or activities are planned for survivors and/or others affected by breast cancer?
To start off the morning, there is a survivor village area where breakfast is available, and there will be a group survivor photo at 7:20 in survivor village. New this year, each survivor will get a ChampionChip to wear, and as they cross the finish line, their name will be recognized as a survivor. There will be a survivor recognition ceremony around 9 a.m., following the awards portion of our ceremony. All the survivors come up based on their number of years of survivorship, we will read a poem, have a moment of silence, and then let them release their balloons. The number of balloons each survivor is holding is based on the number of years they have been a survivor. This year, we made the switch to environmentally-friendly balloons and string!
Q. How much money does the Charlotte affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure hope to award this year, and how will the funds be used?
The Charlotte affiliate hopes to award $1 million in local grants. The grants cover education, screening, diagnostic treatment for women and men in our nine county service areas. In addition, 25 percent of the gross annual income of our affiliate funds research on a national level.
Q. Anything else you want to add?
I just want to thank all those that are participating and volunteering this year to make it a great experience for all. Hundreds of people volunteer their time to make this a successful race. As you all know, money is a lot tighter for people these days, but we must remember that breast cancer doesn’t care about that. It is more important now to raise funds to educate and fund mammograms and care for people that have to choose between buying food for their children, or visiting a doctor because they feel a lump.
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Register for the Race for the Cure through Friday at the Komen Charlotte Web site. Through Friday, it's $30 for the noncompetitive run/walk and $35 for the timed/competitive 5K. There is no race-day registration available for the competitive 5K. All the details about the race and related events are here.