Initiated by the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce in 2010 as a way to boost area tourism, the Bluegrass was the first half marathon conducted in Northeast Tennessee and has since become well known to runners from across the United States for the bluegrass, old time and country music performers from East Tennessee State University who provide live entertainment as the runners make their way along the road course through the city.
This year, organization of the half marathon and all the post- and pre-race activities that surround it has been handed off to the Mountain States Foundation, which has expanded the festivities and designated all the proceeds for equipment, services and other support for the Children’s Hospital and its young patients.
Last year the event attracted more than 700 runners, including participants in a Kids Run and a family relay staged exclusively to benefit the children’s hospital. This year runners from as far away as California have already signed up and the foundation hopes to draw up to 1,000 participants.
“The Bluegrass Half Marathon was already a great event with a great course, and now it’s become a benefit for Niswonger Children’s Hospital so we’ve added this great cause,” Cookie McKinney, manager of children’s initiatives for the foundation, said.
New additions to this year’s event include a race day 5K Walk and a pre-race pasta dinner at the Millennium Center with Olympic runner Julie Culley.
“This is not your typical pasta dinner,” Race Coordinator Sarah Poret said. “We’ll have salad, drinks, dinner and dessert, prepared by Millennium Centre Master Chef Jean-Claude Seruga, with different sauces and toppings and even gluten-free pasta.”
Culley, who was the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials 5,000-meter champion and the 2011 U.S. 5K Road Race champion, will offer the dinner guests running tips and answer their questions.
The dinner will be held from 5-7 p.m. Sept. 21 and is open to the public as well as runners. Admission is $25.
The half marathon will begin at 7:30 a.m. on Sept. 22 and will follow a 13.1-mile course through the campuses of ETSU and the neighboring Veterans Affairs Medical Center Hospital, the nearby “Tree Streets” neighborhood and historic downtown district and Pine Oaks Golf Course on University Parkway.
Students from ETSU’s Bluegrass, Old Time and Country Music Department will be performing at viewing points along the road course and at a post-race celebration to be held at the Millennium Centre.
The 5K Walk is also set for Sept. 22 and will offer community members two ways to participate, individually or as members of family, corporate or open relay teams. Teams of up to four people, including at least one female, are also invited to take part in the half marathon with team members passing a relay baton at the road course’s 3.5-, 6.5- and 9.5-mile marks.
Entry fees for those who register by Sept. 15 are $25 for the 5K Walk, $50 for the Half Marathon and $30 each for relay team members. After Sept. 15, the entry fees will increase to $30 for the 5K walk, $60 for the half marathon and $35 for relay team members.
Registration forms and more information can be found www.BluegrassHalfMarathon.com. Registration must be completed by Sept. 19 and those who register by Sept. 7 will be guaranteed an event T-shirt in their size. Half marathon race packets will be available for pickup during a vendor expo to be held The Millennium Centre from 1-6 p.m. Sept. 21 and packets will not be available for pick up on the day of the race.
The 1.1-mile Niswonger Children’s Hospital Kids’ Run for children ages 5-12 will be held Sept. 21 beginning at 9:30 a.m. The run will complete a 13.1-mile half marathon distance that children and their family members may walk or run in the weeks leading up to the race.
For younger children and their families, the event will also include a Walk ’n’ Roll to be held at University School, located on the ETSU campus adjacent to the Millennium Centre. The Kids’ Run entry fee is $5 and includes a runner’s bib, a T-shirt and a participation medal. Registration forms and more information about the run are available at www.msha.com/kidsrun.
Event sponsors so far include CrestPoint Health, Holston Distributing, Earth Fare, Foot Rx, The Millennium Centre and WCYB. Others interested in adding their sponsorship may contact the foundation office at 952-3110 for information.
Vendors who wish to join in the expo may contact Gretchen Tongco at 943-5017 or email@example.com.