Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Becoming a Raleigh Staple
Published:RALEIGH--At the starting line of the Rock ‘n' Roll Marathon, Alden Gibbs and Keenon James kept moving, trying to stay warm as they waited for their start.
James, 35, an N.C. Central University graduate, said this is his third Rock ‘n' Roll event of the year. The half-marathoner participates so often, because the events are a meeting place for his group Black Men Run, which encourages African-American men to get out and be active.
Roads from Fayetteville Street to N.C. State University's Centennial Campus were shut down Sunday, snarling downtown traffic starting at 6 a.m. as full- and half-marathoners attacked the course.
The for-profit event, now in its third year in Raleigh, has evolved into a weekend event, with a 5K on Saturday at the Dorothea Dix campus, concerts on Friday and Sunday and a Health and Fitness Expo.
Both Gibbs, 51, and James, are part of Black Men Run's District of Columbia chapter and mostly communicate through Facebook, unless they gather for a big event.
"You get to see a lot of your friends from across the country," James said.
As soon as the last runner left the starting line, two city street sweepers and an army of employees and volunteers cleared coats, blankets and even trash bags worn by runners trying to keep warm in the 34-degree weather. Damien Graham, communications director for the City of Raleigh, said no major incidents occurred during the race.
About 6,200 runners signed up for the 13.1-mile half-marathon, and 1,500 signed up for the full marathon, according to race organizers. The total of 7,700 runners was fewer than last year, when 8,300 people registered.
Raleigh's inaugural Rock ‘n' Roll race in 2014 drew 12,500 registrants.
This year's event attracted participants from all 50 states and eight countries and has become a signature event on Raleigh's annual sports calendar, said Scott Dupree, executive director of the Greater Raleigh Sports Alliance.
Dupree cited a San Diego State University study that said in the first two years of Rock ‘n' Roll, Raleigh saw an estimated $8.5 million in direct visitor spending and rented out more than 11,000 hotel room nights.
Getting ready for road races has also become a social event, said Brent Francese, 34, co-owner of Runologie with his business partner David Meeker. The store has been open in the 400 block of Hillsborough Street for about 15 months.
"You've gone from just some small local track clubs to a fairly engaged, broad community," Francese said.
An avid runner since his early teens, Francese lost his architecture job during the recession and started working at local running shops. He has watched the running community continue to expand and become more diverse.
Getting active, even if you're not an athlete, is a positive social experience, said Jamie Valvano, 43, the daughter of former N.C. State basketball coach Jim Valvano, who died of cancer in 1993.
To celebrate her 10-year anniversary of being breast cancer-free, Valvano alternated between walking and running the half-marathon with her V Foundation teammates.
"I want people to know you don't have to be an athlete to participate in these races," Valvano said. "It's a great thing to do with your family."
In the first two years of Rock ‘n' Roll, the V Foundation raised $600,000 for cancer research. This year's fundraising numbers were not yet available.
About 100 runners raised a minimum of $750 to be on "Team V" for the race, she said.
"It truly is a team, it's not just in name only," Valvano said. "We really have gotten to know each other through the months."
By 11 a.m. on Sunday, temperatures had risen into the mid-50s. Downtown echoed with cheers from the finish line on Fayetteville Street and a concert from musician St. Lucia at the Red Hat Amphitheater stage.
Joshua Strasburg, 34, stood in the sun at Red Hat and said he found the race atmosphere uplifting.
Along the route, bands, people cheering from their porches and fellow runners kept Strasburg energized as he finished the 26.2 miles in about 4 hours, he said.
"A lot of the miles were a lot easier, because I had a lot of good conversations with folks on the run."