July 28, 2010
Five 5K Runs, With Cookies, TooBy ISAAC ARNSDORF
The five-kilometer race is becoming the marathon for the rest of us.
Equal to a distance of 3.1 miles, the 5K, as it's commonly known, is the country's most popular running race. Last year, 5K races drew nearly four million participants, up from 710,000 two decades ago, and representing more than a third of all U.S. race participants, according to the nonprofit Running USA.
It's a race easy enough for beginners—families often participate together—but not so short that accomplished runners scoff. Five-kilometer runs have long been a featured event in the Olympic Games.
"Anyone can do it," says Ryan Lamppa, spokesman for Running USA.
Often the race is only part of the appeal. The Santa Barbara Chardonnay 10-Miler & 5K offers a wine tasting after each event. The ocean-side Carlsbad 5000 in California has seen eight U.S. and 16 world records broken. As for the world record for the largest gathering of Santa Clauses, a 5K in Las Vegas is gunning for that, too.
Karen Gonzalez has been a runner for 32 years. The 50-year-old executive assistant from Newport News, Va., says she attends a 5K event about five times a year to help keep motivated and fit. "It's a nice, short distance I can knock out in half an hour or so and then go right on with my day," she says.
Listings of hundreds of 5Ks are available on websites such as CoolRunning.com and RunningintheUSA.com. Here are highlights of 5Ks recommended by running experts for their size, scenery, freebies and fun factor.
Bisbee 1000 Great Stair Climb, Bisbee, Ariz.
Ten miles from the Mexican border in the Mule Mountains, Bisbee was once a bustling mining town. Today, only about 6,000 people live there—along with more than 30,000 steps built into the hillsides to facilitate getting around the town and improved by a federal works project in the 1930s.
A thousand of those steep, concrete steps are the key feature and account for the name of the Bisbee 1000. Musicians—the style varies at each of the nine sets of steps on the course—serenade the racers. There's also a mimosa stand along the route. The course, which also follows along Bisbee's streets, passes by the historic St. Elmo's Bar (established 1902), where runners who aren't concerned about their race times might stop for refreshment.
The Bisbee 1000 was started 20 years ago as a neighborhood event by Cynthia Conroy, 63, a retired probation officer who moved to Bisbee from California. Now, the race attracts nearly 2,000 participants and is sponsored by a nonprofit Ms. Conroy set up, Save Our Stairs Inc. Proceeds cover the race's operating costs and help support local health and wellness programs, she says.
The race has long styled itself "the 5K that feels like a 10K," although technically it's not a 5K at all. The course was never officially measured, and electronic tracking suggests it's actually longer than four miles. To which Ms. Conroy says: "So what."
Month: October. Registration fee: $40 to $75. Scenery: Historic houses and monuments, cacti, mountains, desert. Number of participants last time: 1,750.
Girl Scouts New Day 5K, San Diego
For runners with a sweet tooth, this waterfront run in San Diego has free Girl Scout cookies for all.
Among the more than 1,000 people who turned out for the race last fall was Nina Hanon, a member of Troop 8432 who will soon turn 12. She says she had fun racing. "You feel the wind in your face, and people are there cheering you on." But Nina says that when it was time to collect her cookies, she was hoping for Tagalongs or Samoas, but had to settle for Thin Mints.
The race's top three finishers in each age group win a tower of Girl Scout cookie boxes, held together with ribbon. The race is sponsored by the San Diego branch of the Girl Scouts, which said the $20,000 raised last year benefited healthy living and service programs for local troops.
Month: September. Registration fee: up to $30. Scenery: Waterfront park. Number of participants last time: 1,000.
The Great Santa Run, a 5K race in Las Vegas, hopes to break the record for the world's largest gathering of Santa Clauses.
Hollis Fast 5K, Hollis, N.H.
A bucolic New England hamlet of cornfields and horse pastures, Hollis has long had a crowded running scene, so the Hollis Brookline Rotary Club was looking for a way to make its race stand out. Six years ago, the club settled on a solution: Make it all downhill.
Although the pitch is gentle, it's still too steep by the standards of USA Track & Field, running's governing body, so records on the Hollis course don't count officially, says George LeCours, the event's director.
The winner gets a trophy—a hand-carved wooden sculpture of an oversize apple. Between registration fees and sponsorships, the race typically raises $19,000 for such projects as student scholarships and a score board for a community athletic field.
Month: June. Registration fee: $25 to $30. Scenery: Forests, fields, farms. Number of participants last time: 785.
Applefest Run to the Edge Scenic 5K, La Crescent, Minn.
Rich soil, mineral-laden water, cool nights and hilly terrain help make La Crescent the "apple capital of Minnesota." Those hills also make the annual Applefest Run to the Edge a challenging 5K.
The reward? Every finisher—there were 500 last year—receives a three-pound bag of apples from Fruit Acres, a 100-year-old orchard run by local farmer Ralph Yates. Depending on when the race falls in the season, the apples may be McIntoshes or of Minnesota's own Wealthy variety, Mr. Yates says.
Cheryl Franta, a local mother of four, and her husband, Peter, a physician, are both runners and serve as organizers of the Applefest Run. The race's proceeds, totaling about $5,000, sponsor two $750 college scholarships for local high school students, as well as athletics boosters and other local charities, they say.
Month: September. Registration fee: $15. Scenery: Trees and orchards. Number of participants last time: 500.
Great Santa Run, Las Vegas
At some 5Ks, speed isn't the only record that matters.
Last Christmas, the fifth annual Las Vegas Great Santa Run drew 8,868 crimson-clad, bearded, jolly runners. That's still short of the Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of Santa Clauses, set on Sept. 9, 2007 by 12,965 St. Nicks in Derry City, Northern Ireland.
Organizers of the Las Vegas race hope one day to break that record.
"We wanted something that would put Las Vegas on the map, even though it already is," says Stephen Miller, special events manager for Opportunity Village, a nonprofit that organizes the race in addition to providing job training and social services to people with intellectual disabilities. The organization raised almost $350,000 from last year's race.
For the $35 registration fee, each participant gets a five-piece Santa suit (hat, beard, jacket, pants and belt), which Opportunity Village buys in bulk for about $4 apiece. Everyone must wear the whole ensemble in order to qualify for the official record. Fortunately, Las Vegas' average high temperature on Dec. 25 is a mild 57 degrees, according to the National Weather Service,
Month: December. Registration fee: $35. Scenery: Urban, desert. Number of participants last time: 8,868.
Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure, St. Louis
The St. Louis Race for the Cure is not only the biggest of the breast-cancer-research group's fundraising series; it's the world's biggest 5K, period. Held every June, the race has grown steadily since it started in 1999 with 10,257 participants, raising $309,000. Last month, the race drew a record 71,802 participants and raised $3.4 million.
The race, which floods the streets of downtown St. Louis with a crowd of iconic pink shirts (free with every registration), has become a big event for the entire city, says Erica Stelling, the marketing director for the St. Louis Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Many of the participants join one of the 1,090 teams formed by companies or other organizations.
Month: June. Registration fee: $25, $30 for competitive runners. Scenery: Urban, pink. Number of participants last time: 71,802.
Santa Barbara Chardonnay 10-Miler & 5K, Santa Barbara, Calif.
In its 20-year history, this storied race has changed hands several times, for a while even shedding its namesake sponsor and signature post-race wine tasting. Since the current organizer, Jose Gonzalez, revived the tradition, the race's participation numbers have been crawling back. From a peak of 1,800 runners, participation had fallen to as low as 500 and is now back up to 900 as of last spring.
The course hugs the coast along Leadbetter Beach, rolling over a few hills. Besides free wine, Mr. Gonzalez raffles off door prizes such as gift certificates for massages and restaurants. The winners receive a free pair of running shoes. Each year, Mr. Gonzalez donates some of the proceeds to charity. Last year's beneficiary was Solutions for People Inc., a local volunteer organization that mentors at-risk youth.
Month: April. Registration fee: $25 to $30. Scenery: Sand, sea, palm trees. Number of participants last time: 900.
Carlsbad 5000, Carlsbad, Calif.
Dubbed "the world's fastest 5K," the race, which tracks the Pacific Ocean along historic U.S. Highway 101, is best known for its elite invitation-only heat.
In 25 years, the Carlsbad 5000 has seen eight U.S. and 16 world records, including the current men's and women's 5K world records (13 minutes flat by Sammy Kipketer of Kenya in 2000 and 2001, and 14:46 by Meseret Defar of Ethiopia in 2006).
About 12,000 people participate in a series of public races throughout the day. The first 250 receive a medal, which entitles the wearer to "real bragging rights" throughout Carlsbad, says Dan Cruz, spokesman for Competitor Group Inc., the event's organizer.
Most of the participants stick around after they run, packing the streets three people deep to watch the headliners race—and also for their two free brews in the waterfront beer garden. Besides speed, the Carlsbad 5000 is famous for being "the party by the sea," Mr. Cruz says. Participants also receive a noncotton "tech" T-shirt (the kind most runners prefer) and bagels and bananas at the finish line.
Month: April. Registration fee: up to $50. Scenery: Historic oceanfront highway. Number of participants last time: 12,000.
Many 5Ks are certified by USA Track & Field, which means running times can count for records. For some people, 5Ks are "a gateway to competitive running. For others, it just feels great," says Josh Clark, 39, a software developer who created Couch to 5K, an online training program aimed at building up racing stamina in a few weeks.
Nationwide, 5Ks are often popular fundraisers. The first Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure was held in Dallas in 1983. Since then the five-kilometer fundraising races have grown to 140 events world-wide and have raised $1.2 billion for breast cancer research and treatment.