Over the weekend I spent Halloween morning participating in the 2015 Pink Pumpkin Run in Guntersville, AL, where Jennifer and I both ran our 1st 10K race. I was so impressed with the whole event that I wanted to write a review of my experience and encourage others in Northern Alabama to support and participate in the Pink Pumpkin Run in future years.
GIANT CROWD FOR A SMALL TOWN RACE
It felt like the entire community was involved in the Pink Pumpkin Run. For a town of 8,000 to have 1,300+ combined registrants for the 10K, 5K and Fun Run is nothing short of amazing! Add to that number all the other people who came out to watch or volunteer, and there must have easily been over 1,500 people involved in the Pink Pumpkin festivities. We went to the Guntersville HS vs Albertville HS football game (huge rivalry) the night before, and it was basically as if everyone from Guntersville’s home side of the stands came out to the Pink Pumpkin Run the next morning.
A WORTHY CAUSE
A major reason for the heavy community involvement goes back to the fact that nearly everyone’s family is affected by cancer in some way. All you have to do is watch a NFL football game in October to see that the “Go Pink” campaign has struck a cord with people all across the nation. Breast Cancer Awareness Month is hugely popular thanks to masterful marketing over the years and because everyone has a soft spot for cancer victims and survivors. Here in Guntersville everyone has rallied around the local hospital and the work being done to prevent and treat cancer. That is what this whole event was really about. It was more than just a race. It was a rally cry from the community over a very worthwhile cause for all who live here.
Here is the description from pinkpumpkinrun.com about why the Marshall Medical Center hosts this event each year:
The proceeds from the Pink Pumpkin events will be donated to cancer care service programs at Marshall Medical Centers. The main beneficiary of the Pink Pumpkin proceeds will be the Mammography Assistance Program (MAP) at Marshall Medical Centers North and South. Through the funds provided from MAP, women who cannot afford a yearly mammogram are offered assistance. Often the concern over the loss of income because of the time away from work or the lack of transportation or gas money prevent women from having this potentially life-saving test performed on an annual basis. Through MAP we have the ability to overcome these obstacles for many women. We also run in honor and memory of loved ones who have fought the battle with cancer.
MARATHON QUALITY EVENT PLANNING
Creativity goes a long way, and while the Pink Pumpkin Run is put together for a worthy cause, another reason it is so successful here is because of the creativity and organizational skills of the event leadership. I have planned, organized and led many VBS programs, church camps, mission trips, fundraisers and countless other church events for children, youth, families and more during my time working in youth and children’s ministries. I know firsthand the difficulty of putting together a strong team of paid staff-workers and volunteers that can carry out the vision of the particular trip or event. The vision of the Pink Pumpkin Run is clear, and race director Andrea Oliver has clearly put together a strong team that pays attention to details, thinks outside of the box and has ambitions to for this to be more than just a small-town running event. They have established this as a quality event which can compete with the feel and professionalism of a big-city marathon event.
WHAT MAKES IT STAND OUT?
Chip timing; instant results displayed on a TV for times and places; race results quickly posted online; hundreds of free race photos (including finish line photos of basically every runner in both the 5K and 10K) posted online very quickly; swag bags with some extra goodies; tiered levels of corporate sponsorship; door prizes; free pancakes; loads of professionally printed signs, table cloths, etc.; fundraising contests; costume contests; bounce houses; teams of runners all wearing matching shirts; alternate events before, during and after the running events; plenty of water stations and snacks; full-road closures throughout the course; heavy involvement from local police; public transportation from the parking area to the 10K starting line; a 10-K course that very intentionally takes runners not only along beautiful Lake Guntersville, but also through Guntersville’s southern downtown area and past several key community buildings… These are things that you typically see at a quality marathon event, often organized by a professional race management company, but rarely see at a typical 5K road race.
FUN FOR THE WHOLE FAMILY
Making the Pink Pumpkin Run an event for all ages is also key to its success. Making a running event interesting to non-runners is not easy, and at most races I have run over the last year, I left the family at home because there was really nothing going on for my young kids. Now many races these days do have a 1-mile “Fun Run,” but it usually only involves the kids of some of the adult runners. The Pink Pumpkin’s Fun Run is like nothing I have ever seen, as basically everyone who ran in the 5K and 10K races, along with a few hundred more people, participated in the “Fun Run,” which was mostly a fun walk. My family of 5 did the fun run with Jennifer’s mom, brothers, sister-in-law, step-grandmother and 87-year-old grandmother. Afterward my kids had fun in the bounce houses while they waited for me to get my age-group award. My oldest son Will saw most of the kids there from his 1st grade class. Everyone had a great time, and Will has been going on about how he wants to be the youngest person to run the whole 10K next year. The way the Pink Pumpkin Run draws whole families from babies to the elderly assures that it will remain a regular event on our calendar every year.
THINGS THAT COULD USE A LITTLE WORK
I do not want these complaints to take away from all the positives of the Pink Pumpkin Run, but since this is a race review, it is worth noting a couple things that might need some attention next year.
IS THE 10K COURSE TOO LONG?
There were only a couple issues I had with this race. Both my Nike+ Running and Runkeeper GPS apps measured this course slightly over 6.3 miles, whereas an official 10K distance should be 6.2 miles. Much of the race course had entire roads blocked off, so there could be some difference in your distance based on which side of the road you ran and if you made wide turns. There could also be a bit added to my total distance by weaving in and out of people some throughout the race. Also I thought maybe it was just my iPhone’s GPS measurements, so I checked out several other local runners on Runkeeper. They all had around 6.3 miles or longer for their measurements as well, so I definitely feel like the course is a bit long. The Pink Pumpkin website claims that both the 5K & 10K courses are USATF Certified, so perhaps the distance discrepancy is related to the possible reasons I just listed. The only thing this really affects is my overall pace and time, but it does not affect the competition of the race since everyone runs the same course.
I SPENT THE LAST MILE OF THE 10K PLAYING CHICKEN WITH 5K RUNNERS
My other complaint has to do with the overlap of the 10K runners returning toward the finish line and the 5K runners heading out on their course simultaneously. There were 138 finishers in the 10K race, but there was a massive crowd of 854 finishers in the 5K race. The 5K runners overtook the road we were sharing when I was running the last mile of my 10K. I was going into my all-out final kick (and trying to catch another runner, who I finally did just before the finishing chute), but I was constantly having to dodge kids and play chicken with 5K runners in Halloween costumes because they were not staying to their side of the road and giving us the proper space we needed to run without obstacles. This was slightly dangerous for me trying to run full speed and for any kid who I could have run over on this stretch.
This problem could be resolved 1 of 3 ways:
- Put up cones or dividers on this road to keep people on their right sides so they do not obstruct other runners going the opposite direction. Due to the size of the 5K crowd, I understand why this may not be completely feasible, as they really do need most of the road to fit that many runners going out at once. That is why I would recommend option 2.
- Slightly alter the return route of the 10K course. The last 1.25 miles of both races are run on the road right next to the paved walking/running trail, which is mostly separated from the road by railing, with openings at key spots. The race could be setup so that the returning 10K runners use the paved trail instead of the road for much of this final section, and then the crowds would be separated from each other. While the paved walking/running trail is obviously much smaller than the road, it would work fine for the returning 10K runners because this crowd is not overwhelming in size and because all the runners are spread out pretty far by this point anyway. Altering the 10K course slightly would also give them an opportunity to address the course length and make sure it is an official 6.2 miles.
- The 3rd option would be to change the start time of 1 of these races by either 15 or 30 minutes. The 5K race started 30 minutes after the 10K race, and I finished in 45:02. I was 6th place overall, and the top 20 runners all finished under 50:00. The top 66 runners in the 10K finished under 1 hour. I would say most of these runners were affected by the outgoing 5K runners, but the top 20 finishers in the 10K were probably hit the hardest by overcrowding down the stretch. This whole event seems to be growing larger every year, so this is a legitimate issue that should be addressed both for safety and competitive reasons. Changing a race time would make it easier for the most competitive runners in the 10K race, but it would actually push the overcrowding burden more strongly onto the 10K runners who finish around 55-70 minutes. Also, I know that the Pink Pumpkin organizers have a long list of events to plan, and the times are restricted by things like park permits, use of local police and limited time frames for road closures. Changing a race time (and therefore expanding the time needed for the whole series of events) would really complicate all of this, so that is why I still recommend option 2 to fix this issue in future years.