Charlotte's got a lot of good annual races. It's even got a few great ones. But you'd be hard-pressed to find a local running event with a more memorable setting than the Runway 5K Run held at Charlotte Douglas International Airport.
We recently talked to airport operations manager Herbert Judon about the course, the logistics, and how close participants will get to real-live jumbo jets during this unique race, which is scheduled for 8 a.m. Saturday.
Q. This race is only in its third year, but it's become one of the most talked-about annual running events. Surprised?
Nope. Most courses run through neighborhoods, city centers, business parks, etc. However, the Runway 5K Run provides a rare venue -- an airport -- that cannot be replicated. For competitive runners, the course provides a fast, flat surface, which is conducive for PRs. There is also a walk event. Most of the course provides extraordinary views of parked, landing, departing, and taxing aircraft in close proximity of the runners. ... Very few people have the opportunity to view the airport from this vantage point. ... As you are running to the east, the view of the Charlotte skyline is spectacular. The event also provides some of the best grand prizes in the region -- airline gift cards.
Q. These aren't in-service runways, are they?
Yes, they are actually active runways. We coordinate a brief, temporary closure of one of our runways while participants are running/walking and reopen it as soon as the last participants are off. Other portions of the race take place on taxiways and airport service roads. These taxiways and service roads are still in very close proximity of taxiing and parked aircraft. We coordinate the best time to have the least service interruption. Therefore, primary air operations continue -- no problems. ... The Runway 5K Run will start and finish on the US Airways Maintenance Hangar Ramp, located at 5020 Hangar Road.
Q. How close in feet, yards, whatever, are there actually planes taking off, taxiing, and landing?
Very close but safe!! It’s not uncommon for airline passengers to exchange waves with bypassing runners and walkers.
Q. What percent of the course is on the runways, and how much is on airport service roads?
Approximately 80 to 85 percent of the course is contained within the airport’s perimeter. There is a small portion of the course which takes place on one of the roads outside of the airport perimeter fence.
Q. By the way: How the heck did you guys originally get permission to do this?
The idea was presented to the airport's aviation director Jerry Orr. Once granted, it was a matter of developing security and operation plans with the appropriate agencies. The event also requires detailed coordination with the airlines, specifically US Airways. We use their maintenance hangar ramp space for the start/finish point and to stage event amenities.
Q. How many participants are you guys expecting?
Our goal this year is 1,000.
Q. There's a little bit of a debate about whether you guys or the Greek Fest have the flattest 5K in Charlotte. Are there any notable elevation changes out on that course at all?
Our course is almost completely flat! There are no significant elevation changes. Runways are designed with a very minimal slope to allow for water drainage.
Q. Before I forget: Tell me about the race's charitable beneficiary.
Proceeds from the Runway 5K Run support LifeSpan’s Community Activity and Employment Transition Program – a nonprofit organization. LifeSpan assists children and adults with developmental disabilities by providing education, employment and enrichment opportunities that promote inclusion, choice, family supports and other best practices.
Q. What's new for/different about the Runway 5K in 2009?
Last year, former Carolina Panther Mike Rucker presented the awards. This year, our featured awards presenter will be Julie Tesh, Miss North Carolina. In addition to the overall winners receiving airline gift certificates, we have added airline gift certificates for winners in the overall male and female baby stroller categories. We will also have a drawing for several other gifts, which will take place after the awards ceremony. This year, we will also be using the Chronotrack timing devices for the competitive runners.
Q. Whatcha got for the kids?
Several nostalgic airplanes from the Carolinas Historic Aviation Commission (CHAC) will be on site. The CHAC is especially focused on educating children about aviation history and they typically have giveaways for the children. There will also be a children’s bounce house and Sir Purr will be there. In addition, the North Carolina Air National Guard will have their miniature C-130 aircraft there. Children can ride in the miniature C-130 and the Air Guard will have staff to supervise and answer questions. There will also be a fire truck provided by the Charlotte Fire Department.
Q. Who's providing the post-race food and drink?
The food and drinks have been donated by HMS HOST, the airport’s concessionaire. Additional race sponsors are also chipping in.
Q. Oh, one more thing: Since race day is on Halloween ... is there a costume contest planned?
The event is held on the last Saturday of October each year and this year the last Saturday coincidentally fell on Halloween. No, a costume contest is not planned. However, we will have professional photographers on hand to capture any ghoulish images that may appear.
Registration for the Runway 5K Run is $25. To register, or to view footage of previous events, click here. Questions? E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 704-359-RWAY.