In its third year, the Bluegrass Half Marathon has hit the right notes with local runners.
More than 500 individuals and 45 relay teams are registered to participate in Sunday’s 13.1-mile run through the streets of Johnson City.
“With the relay teams, we have a good mixture of families and corporate teams,” said Karen Hubbs, director of sports development for the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce. “When we had this idea, there wasn’t a half-marathon around here. There are actually three half-marathons in the Tri-Cities area. So, it’s definitely been a trend with half marathons, triathlons and cycling events. It seems like in the sports world, there’s a huge kick towards health and wellness.”
Overall, it is a two-day event which includes a race expo at the Mini-Dome today from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. and a 1.1-mile children’s run sponsored by the Niswonger Children’s Hospital. There is a Sunday morning devotional scheduled for 7 a.m. with the Bluegrass race to start at 7:30 a.m.
The event presents an opportunity for the Johnson City Chamber of Commerce to work with East Tennessee State University through its bluegrass program.
The ETSU bluegrass program is providing all the music in the three stages of the race as well as the post-race party at the Millenium Centre.
“It has been awesome working with Daniel Boner, Roberta Herrin and all their students,” Hubbs said. “Along the course, we have a flatbed truck so it has that bluegrass feel to it. We have three exchange areas and each of those stages are at the exchange areas.”
The runners have told Hubbs and other organizers the hardest part of the race comes in the 8-10 mile range. There is a lot of work which comes into planning the race, including working with the city traffic department and emergency medical services to keep the participants safe.
Those on the planning committee have gone to several races in larger cities and have tried to bring elements of those races to the Bluegrass Half Marathon.
“We really try to step up our game and focus on our customers, who are the runners,” Hubbs said. “We want to make sure it’s a great experience for them and they come back next year. We do the post-party and we want it to be a festival environment with all the vendors and music there.”
The runners like the terrain which Johnson City offers, although the hills can be challenging at times. Hubbs encouraged the fans to come out and lend their support to the participants. She remembered fondly how the first year of the race, there was a great turnout of fans despite a pouring rain.
Spectator-friendly locations include the corner of Legion Street and State of Franklin, various sites along University Parkway and the corner going into the Veterans Administration grounds.
“There are several key locations perfect for spectators,” Hubbs said. “One is at the corner of State of Franklin and University Parkway. We have one of our exchange areas there next to McDonald’s. From all four corners, you can stand and watch and cheer people on because they pass that corner twice.”