Henrico County VA

10k fun begins

At 40,000 participants and still growing, it's no wonder that the homegrown Ukrop's' Monument Avenue 10k has moved into the national spotlight – even earning a USA Today ranking among the top 10 races in the country.

But as several of the event's biggest fans emphasized at a Jan. 4 kick-off celebration, the 10k is much more than just a race – or even just a single event.

When you consider all the preparations that go into the weeks leading up to the March 31 race – the training team workouts, registration rallies, fundraising promotions, costume-designing and party-stop planning – it's clear that the 10k is months in the making, with aspects of party, charitable benefit, self-improvement regimen and music festival combining to provide an ongoing celebration.

It's also clear that having fun reins supreme.

Among the 10k fans at the kick-off event at Maggiano's, for instance, were Becca Hankins and her group of uninhibited friends, who have participated in the Richmond Times-Dispatch Dress Up & Run Contest for the past three years. Their costume entries have included stints as the Pac Man Group, the RVA Curling team, and most recently, as a team of paddlers wearing cardboard kayaks and pretending to stroke their way down the course.

Among other fans were four staff members from lululemon Athletica, the Short Pump Town Center athletic wear retailer and yoga boutique.

At last year's 10k, the women drew smiles from spectators and runners alike with their entry in the Spirit Contest, which challenges groups of spectators to cheer on participants in the most energetic, enthusiastic and entertaining way possible.

As former Washington, D.C., attorney Carolyn Manning said at the Maggiano's event, dressing in tacky costumes and waving silly signs [see photo above] came naturally to members of the lululemon staff, who see their store as more of a resource center than a retail outlet. Offering regular free yoga classes and a running club, the store has legions of loyal fans – one of whom called recently on an business trip to Richmond.

Jordan Marotta, a former college field hockey coach, quoted the caller as saying, "I'm in town for a conference. Where can I do yoga?"

The fact that the woman called her local lululemon store instead of consulting her hotel concierge, said Marotta, speaks volumes about the following that lululemon has achieved – offbeat name and all.

"We're like the e. e. cummings of athletic wear," said Manning of the uncapitalized lululemon name, which originated in part from an Asian tradition that the letter L brings good luck.

Talking trash
For Holman Middle School teacher Justin Brittle, the 10k provides an opportunity to have some fun interaction with his students in ways that can't be accomplished in the math classroom.

"I teach because I enjoy kids," says Brittle, who led Holman to a second place finish in the middle school category of the 10k Healthy School Challenge. "I'm not teaching because I'm a mathematician."

From 2008 to 2010, Brittle coordinated the Healthy School Challenge (in which schools compete based on the percentage of total enrollment that participates in the 10k) at Short Pump Middle School. Under Brittle, SPMS consistently finished near the top of the middle school division; but after Brittle moved to Holman, his new school edged out his former school for second place in the very first year it was open.

The competition between schools, however, is not nearly as important to Brittle as seeing the students challenge themselves personally.

"Some of them start off [saying], "I can't run six miles,'" he says. "It's a good distance, because it's somewhat challenging, but doable. And they can be proud of themselves for doing it."

What's more, says Brittle, the 10k challenge is a good community builder within the school; he enjoys drumming up interest in registering and seeing the students' reactions to his announcements and email updates.

"I almost harass a lot of people," he said with a laugh, noting that about 20 teachers run in the race in addition to students. "I'll say, '[We have] 30 signed, [we have] 50 signed up. The kids start talking about it. As soon as they're registered, they can't wait to tell me."

Some students, he added with a smile, enjoy challenging him in return.

"They say they're going to beat me [in the race]," said Brittle. "They talk a little bit of trash."

Sights and sounds
Once a school reaches 50 registrants, racers are eligible for customized t-shirts that bear the school name – a step up from the generic 10k t-shirt. Brittle also sends a paper running shoe to every student who registers, which can be decorated as the child wishes and added to a banner at the school. He makes sure to slip a few educational tidbits into his email updates as well, from nutrition tips in the early weeks to 10k etiquette lessons as the race approaches.

"I remind them," he said of the students, "that they're representing our school."

One of his favorite things about coordinating the 10k, Brittle pointed out, is that he gets to meet other members of his students' families. "I might not have taught their brother or sister, or they weren't in my class, but they come to the 10k."

Another bonus is the prize money garnered by both Short Pump and Holman for placing near the top in the Healthy School Challenge competition. One year at Short Pump M.S., Brittle was able to use the $400 to buy a disc golf set for the physical education department.

But the real prize money goes to the Massey Cancer Center, which has reaped thousands from the 10k's Massey Challenge over the years. Kaity Kasper, whose Hodgkin's disease has been in remission for nine years now, was among the Massey representatives to tell her story at the preview event at Maggiano's. After years of treatment at Massey Cancer Center, she now serves on the board and runs the 10k, and at press time had already raised $1,280 toward this year's Challenge goal of $500,000.

So on March 31, as runners and walkers make their way down Monument Avenue amid historic statues, towering old trees, and classic Southern homes, some spectators will surely come for the festive atmosphere. Some will come to cheer on their favorite Holman student or teacher or yellow-shirted Massey runner. Some will come to see if this year's amusing signs from the lululemon Spirit Group will top last year's, or if Becca Hankins' Dress Up and Run group can
top last year's clever kayaks.

But whether spectators come to play cheerleader or simply to enjoy the live bands and party stops, one thing is for certain: there will be no shortage of sights, of inspiration, or of entertainment at Richmond's biggest block party.

Registration forms for the 10k and the Virginia 529 Kids Run are available at http://www.sportsbackers.org Entr.y forms are also available at all Martin's locations and YMCA branches.
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