Odd Places for Races

Runners are invited to NFL stadiums and an airport runway

September 3, 2013

In July, Chargers fans took to the field at Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego for a 5K and fun run in the NFL Run Series.

A first-time 5K typically attracts a modest crowd, says Potomac River Running’s Terri Marlin. But when she heard about a particular debut, slated for Sept. 14, she knew this race was going to take off immediately.

There won’t be muddy obstacles, colored powder, glow sticks or any other gimmick that’s sweeping the race calendar this year. Instead, the Dulles Day 5K (committeefordulles.org/5K.html) is offering participants something they can’t possibly experience at another race around here: the chance to sprint down the runway of a major international airport.

“It’s completely flat, which is appealing to people who run a lot,” Marlin says. “In this area, you always have a hill somewhere.” The sweet prize for the top male and female finishers — two round-trip tickets anywhere in the continental U.S. from United Airlines — probably also inspired people to sign up.

But the most important factor in attracting runners, Marlin says, is the unique location, location, location. By last week, all of the race’s 2,000 spots were gone.

Folks looking for other unusual courses to conquer are in luck: To celebrate the start of football season, the NFL Run Series is bringing 5Ks to both M&T Bank Stadium and FedEx Field this week.

The idea is to get sports fans up out of their seats and dashing toward the 50-yard line together, says Dan Cruz of Competitor Group, which launched the series last year with four races. This year, there are a dozen, including the new Baltimore and D.C. events, which are both expected to have more than 1,000 participants.

Everyone wants to see their faces flash on the Jumbotron, get pepped up by cheerleaders and head into a place that’s usually off-limits, says Cruz, who predicts that eventually all 32 NFL teams will field a 5K.

Hosting runs at sites normally reserved for another activity poses certain challenges, however. Cruz notes that the Redskins 5K is one of two NFL Run events that won’t allow fans on the field. (The Ravens 5K will.) In accordance with NFL rules, participants aren’t allowed to bring bags into the stadium, and there won’t be a bag check, either.

And, of course, holding a race at Dulles while planes are coming in and out of the airport requires dealing with all sorts of logistical issues, says Marlin, who’s only handling the timing.

Airport manager Chris Browne had to figure out everything else, including parking, scheduling and security. Because runners will just see lots of planes, not actually touch any of them, the search won’t be exactly like what travelers go through before boarding — so runners can carry liquids. But the plan calls for no bag check, no spectators lined up along the course and no wiggle room with the time limit.

After an hour, even slowpokes need to clear the runway. “We do anticipate that aircraft arriving will need to use it,” says Browne, who also has to sweep up cones and water cups before any planes can land.

The hassles are worth it, Browne says, because the event is raising money for Special Olympics Virginia — which always helps its athletes experience unexpected places.

Details: The NFL Run Series (nflrunseries.com) debuts its Baltimore 5K on Wednesday night ($55 for 7 p.m. 5K, $25 for the NFL PLAY 60 Fun Run for kids). The event at FedEx Field is 7:30 a.m. Saturday ($45 through Wed., then $55), followed at 9 a.m. by the fun run ($20 through Wed., then $25). The Dulles 5K is sold out, but folks can still come to the plane pull (planepull.com) on Sept. 14.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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