Sports Backers Celebrate 25 Years of Fantastic Fitness Moments

Look wherever you go in Richmond. You’ll see runners. Cyclists. Kayaks on the roofs of cars. This is an outdoors kinda town. Check that, an outdoors fitness kinda town.

The biggest fitness events – the ones that shut down streets to allow thousands to get active together – are organized by the Sports Backers. Over the past 25 years, they’ve made exercise into social events. They have created athletic events that our whole region can enjoy.

Sports Backers 25th Anniversary Party at Tredegar, Friday, Oct. 21, 2016

Sports Backers 25th Anniversary Party at Tredegar on Oct. 21

“We have made Richmond more fun, more energetic, more vital and certainly a more active community,” said Jon Lugbill, the executive director for Sports Backers, as he addressed the crowd at the 25th anniversary party Friday night. “Richmond isn’t like it was 25 years ago, and we’ve played a role in making Richmond one of the most vibrant, athletic, active communities in the country.”

Over the past quarter century, their mission has been “to produce and support nationally recognized quality sporting events and programs that motivate locals and visitors alike to be more active.”

Moonlight Ride

Anthem Moonlight Ride

By now, probably everyone in Richmond (or at least several people they know) has participated in a Sports Backers event. We’re talking about some of the largest fitness events in our region, like the Anthem Richmond Marathon, Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10k, Dominion Riverrock, Anthem Moonlight Ride, CarMax Tacky Light Run and many more. There have been 781,023 total participants in Sports Backers-organized events since 1998 – not counting 2016’s races.  That figure began with a meager 3,330 participants in 1998 to 74,049 in 2015. That is a lot of active people.

The Sports Backers provided a snapshot of their growth and evolution since their founding:

But the Sports Backers didn’t stop with just creating fun ways to exercise in a crowd. In a recent post to the Sports Backers blog, their “mission has expanded from generating sports tourism in the region to increasing the physical activity of residents from all corners of our community. As we’ve developed and grown, equitable access to fitness opportunities has moved to the core of our mission.”

Sports Backers Kids Run

Kids Run

Lugbill said that Sports Backers has continued to increase and improve their work in the community, partnering with more than 330 organizations, schools and community groups around the Richmond region.

“When the founders first started the Sports Backers, they asked 110 people to put up $500 each to be founding members. And right from the get-go, they knew that this wasn’t going to just be us doing work ourselves, but it was going to how we partnered with other organizations to have a much larger impact.”

Their youth fitness programs were first launched in 2005, beginning with “Fit for Life,” now called Kids Run RVA. Offering fall and spring programs, the “Kids Challenge” program gets an estimated 50,000 kids active. Kids Run RVA features run clubs in 60 different area schools, 39 of them being Title I schools.

The year 2012 brought another two huge leaps forward for Sports Backers. It created Bike Walk RVA to advocate for comfortable and connected places to bike and walk for people of all ages and abilities throughout the region. Among their many accomplishments, their Bike Academies have empowered hundreds of Richmonders to advocate for better bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.

Sports Backers also created Active RVA to help make active living a regional priority. These programs aren’t event driven, but instead help educate and enable Richmonders to advocate for better fitness options for themselves by working to “remove barriers to physical activity and healthy living for every member of our community,” according to their blog.

Filthy 5k Mud Run at Dominion Riverrock Friday, May 15, 2015.

Filthy 5k Mud Run at Dominion Riverrock Friday, May 15, 2015.

I have participated in a few extremely enjoyable events, but my main experience with Sports Backers has been as a reporter and a photographer. I’ve covered plenty of Sports Backers events and I’ve enjoyed them all because most  everyone involved is trying to have fun. From freezing cold rain during the first Tacky Light Run and soaking downpours and blazing heat during Richmond Marathons (and people running a 5K before intentionally crawling through mud at the Filthy 5k Mud Run) – participants, volunteers, and organizers have their focus on enjoying themselves no matter what. For most, they’ve dedicated too much time to train for the event to not make the best of it.

Don’t get me wrong, the weather was great for most of those events, but the ones with the worst conditions tend to leave a greater impression. There are great life lessons to be learned. Seeing participants work so hard to persevere, watching friends and fellow competitors encouraging each other to endure – those moments are the most inspiring and the main reasons why it has always been a pleasure to cover Sports Backers events.

I’ve also volunteered with the Sports Backers on a handful of their events and have gotten my own thrills from the opportunity to be an ambassador for Richmond. Smiles everywhere. Happy people. Especially for their signature events like the Richmond Marathon and the Monument Avenue 10k, many of the participants are from out of town and volunteers are positioned to help build a great first impression for our region’s hospitality. And there is always so much gratitude from the participants – very rewarding for volunteers.

It has been a great first 25 years, let’s all help Sports Backers keep the Richmond region moving forward!

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SwimRVA Launches 1st ‘Swim-Run-Va’ Event

Well, let’s be honest: The time is long past to begin training for this, but should you be in the James River Park System tomorrow (possibly taking part in Blue Sky Fund’s Hike for Kids) keep your eyes open for this cool event.


An “Otillo”-style event in Europe.

Sponsored by Swim RVA, the first annual Swim-Run–VA event takes place tomorrow down the fall line of the James River in downtown Richmond. Swim–Run–VA is the first “Otillo Style” swimrun event to come to Virginia and just the second in the United States.

Swimrun is a fast-growing endurance sport between two predefined points along a set course of cross country runs and open water swims without stopping in between. SwimRun races are team events with 2 athletes per team. Teams can be either all male, all female or gender mixed.

Athletes on the same team have to be within 10 meters of each other at all times. Racers can use any gear they deem necessary but must start and finish the race with all gear with which they started.

The spirit of SwimRun is based on teamwork, motivation, fun and passion. The sport was conceived in 2006 when ÖTILLÖ (meaning “Island to Island”) was held for the first time in Sweden. The concept of SwimRun was a challenge between a group of friends to race across the Stockholm archipelago, running over the islands and swimming between them. The race concept has grown all over Europe and the original is now the ÖTILLÖ Swimrun World Championship.

ÖTILLÖ as an organization celebrates its 11th year anniversary this year. The race will start at 3Sports in the River Road Shopping center near the Huguenot Bridge. Racers will enter their first swim on the south side of the bridge at Huguenot Flatwater Park. The race will continue to Chapel Island where the racers will exit their final swim of the day and race to the finish near Tredegar American Civil War Center.

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Entries Dwindling for ‘Trails and Ales’ Races/Beer Fest

tallboyIf you’re thinking about taking part in Trails and Ales, the Sports Backers’ trail run/brew fest on September 24th, now’s a good time to make it official. They just opened up the third block of 250 entry spots. In this block, it’s $40 for the 5K and $50 for the 8-miler. Entry fee gets you a chip-timed race, a stainless steel finishers cup and one free beer ticket for the party after the races. There’s only one block left after this one fills (the first block sold out in 11 hours), and if you wait until then you have to pay an extra $5.

Click here to learn more.

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Va. Capital Trail: ‘It’s a Place to Exhale’

I spent a good part of yesterday morning on an old school bus, chugging down Route 5 next to the brand spanking new Virginia Capital Trail. I was part of a media contingent brought together by Beth Weisbrod, head of the Virginia Capital Trail Foundation, to see the finished product and ask questions of those along the way who have a vested interest in its success.

We started at Great Shiplock Park in Richmond, stopped at Rocketts Landing, then went out to Ronnie’s Barbecue in Varina and on to Henrico County’s new trailhead just past I-295 at Four Mile Creek Park. Weisbrod and VCTF board chair Charlie Donato led the way, giving us the history of the trail and telling us about the series of parties that will take place this coming Saturday up and down the trail’s length to commemorate its completion. We met Rocketts residents who are already seeing the quality of life benefits and a Stone Brewing spokesperson who told us how excited Stone is to have the trail so close to its East Coast operations. We met Ronnie and Darrell Logan, of Ronnie’s BBQ, who have seen an uptick in traffic since moving to their location right on the trail in Varina in May (“It’s a place to exhale,” said Ronnie). And we met Henrico Co. officials who spoke about the linkages the trail provides between communities and the future plans they have for the path.

It’s was an interesting morning, but what I really wanted was to get on the trail with my own two wheels. So later yesterday afternoon, despite the impending rain, I hopped on the mountain bike with a friend, Dave Salley, and we pointed our wheels in the direction of the trail. It started raining around Brown’s Island and by the time we reached the trail’s beginning at the Floodwall across from Bottom’s Up Pizza, we were soaked.

But it was also nice. We had this gorgeous ribbon of freshly paved asphalt all to ourselves. We rode to Ronnie’s before turning around, a round trip of about 12 miles. (Then we rode up Libby Hill, 23rd St. and Governor’s St. because…you know.) There’s just something about looking down a path like that and thinking, “If I felt like it, I could ride all the way to Jamestown.”

After 10 years and $74 million, the Virginia Capital Trail is finally here, Richmond, and let me say, it is awesome. I know the weather looks horrendous, but there’s an official ribbon cutting at Great Shiplock Park on Friday (the governor will keynote) and a big old party the following day. Click here for those details. If riding in the rain isn’t your thing, I get it. But whenever this rain breaks, get out there and check out the trail. Like those bike races that just left town, it’ll make you excited to see what we can accomplish when we really want to.

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XTERRA triathlons, trail races return to RVA for the 17th year

It’s XTERRA weekend in Richmond, and that means off-road triathletes from all over the world have descended on RVA to test their mettle on the James River (1K swim) and it’s surrounding trails (20K mountain bike, 10K run). To quote Trey Garman, XTERRA VP in charge of media relations, “XTERRA has been racing in Richmond since 1999, and the city has firmly established itself as the sports’ finest urban adventure with a hip city culture that compliments ripping trails and the unpredictable James River.”

Here’s some more from Garman on what to expect at the XTERRA East Championship on Sunday:

Josiah Middaugh on Buttermilk Trail. Credit: Jesse Peters

Josiah Middaugh on Buttermilk Trail. Credit: Jesse Peters

The course itself annually attracts professional and amateur racers from across the country and around the world to discover the epic trails in the James River Park System – where they are greeted by a raucous bunch of bike and trail fanatics who annually throw a trail party at the trickiest section in Buttermilk Heights known as “Rock Face.” They blast music, BBQ, dress in costumes, scream, shout encouragement, and blast on vuvuzela’s to the delight of riders all day long. 

As for the run, it has been best described as the “Fugitive 10K” because of its similarity to some of the chase scenes in the movie The Fugitive including river crossings, rock jumpings, the “Mayan Ruins” stair climb, and train track crossings.  There is simply no XTERRA course in the world like the one in Richmond. 

A solid pro field is in RVA to take on the challenge highlighted by Josiah Middaugh, who won the 20-24 age group race back in 2002 before turning pro, won it all in ’08, and has finished in the top 3 here five times.  Middaugh is fresh off his eighth straight GoPro Games Ultimate Mountain Challenge title in his hometown of Vail, Colorado last weekend (as is women’s XTERRA star Emma Garrard).

Middaugh will be up against Kiwi great Braden Currie, who’s been perfect so far this season.  Middaugh and Currie had an epic race at the Southeast Championship last month, going neck-and-neck from the bike all the way through the run and into the finish line.  Currie, who took the tape in Alabama, says he expects another close one on Sunday here in Richmond.

“The swim is a bit shorter so Josiah will be out of the water not too far behind, and the ride is so technical that there is only so much time you’re going to make on that ride and not a huge amount of long climbs that Josiah sinks his teeth into and really likes so that’ll play a little bit in my favor, so then it’ll come down to the run.  We’ll see, should be a lot of fun,” said Currie.

The party scene on the bike route makes Richmond unique. Credit: Jesse Peters

The party scene on the bike route makes Richmond unique. Credit: Jesse Peters

After Josiah and Braden there are a lot of guys to mention, like Craig Evans who has been in the top 5 here five times and will be competing for the last time as a full-fledged pro.

“I’ve been close a few times here,” said Evans.  “I’m excited to race, and I came to fight this weekend.”

Chris Ganter has been hot this year, finishing third at the first two regionals, the tall Canadian Karsten Madsen was riding great in Alabama last month before a crash and a trio of flats took him out of contention, Kiwi Olly Shaw has had some time to comfortable here in the U.S. and the new look courses, Branden Rakita – the consummate professional has lots of experience here, regulars Ryan Ignatz, Brad Zoller, and Alex Modestou are in the mix, plus Ian King in his first pro race and road tri star Ben Collins making his debut in the U.S. Pro Series.

The women’s race will see a new champion emerge as none of the past XTERRA East winners are here.  There’s no Flora Duffy (last year’s champ), no Lesley Paterson (2013 Champ), no Melanie McQuaid or Jamie Whitmore (both four-time winners), no Shonny Vanlandingham (2011), no Renata Bucher (2010), nor Jody Mielke, Anke Erlank, or Kerstin Weule.

There is, however, Emma Garrard and Suzie Snyder, both eager to take home their first XTERRA U.S. Pro Series win. A couple of fast Canadians – Christine Jeffrey and Brittany Webster – are sure to put them to the test.  Five other women in the top 10 of the Series standings will start with Kara LaPoint (4th), Maia Ignatz (6th), Sara McLarty (7th), Debby Sullivan (8th), and Catherine Sterling.  For local knowledge look no further than hometown favorite Emily Bashton, who’s been racing in Richmond since 2000, and Rebecca Blatt who got her doctorate in medicine at the University of Virginia.

It’s supposed to be a scorcher on Sunday, with temps in the 90’s and the humidity to go with it, so just to finish will be an accomplishment for all involved.  Add in the unpredictable James River, the crazy fan-base in the forest, the one-of-a-kind obstacles and a host of finely-tuned XTERRA elites and you’ve got all the right ingredients for another amazing edition of XTERRA in Richmond.  We’ll document the elite race on twitter @xterraoffroad #xterraRVA starting Sunday at 7:40am EST.

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Two spring running races offer interesting twists

You’re going to run where?

Two new half marathons in central Virginia this spring feature some unique places to run through: a NASCAR race track and a cemetery.

Race 13.1 Richmond

RIR is set to trade race cars for runners on May 9. Credit: Wikipedia

RIR is set to trade race cars for runners on May 9. Credit: Wikipedia

No other running event in the Richmond area gives you the opportunity that Race 13.1 is putting in front of area runners on May 9. Not even within their own series of races scattered throughout the South East by this group out of North Carolina can you find a course like this. I’m talking about Richmond International Raceway — the track itself. It’s the marquee feature of one of Richmond’s newest running events, and you don’t even have to be an endurance runner to to get your chance at tromping the same path as some of the best drivers in the world.

The event will feature three distances — a half-marathon, a 10k and a 5k — and each distance takes runners around the D-shaped track in Henrico’s east end. Granted, as any NASCAR fan can tell you, that only accounts for ¾ of a mile of each course. But that’s O.K., because it turns out that there’s enough land in the parking lots to fit a 5k and a 10k course, with the half-marathon doing an out-and-back on Azalea Avenue to account for the rest.

Petersburg Half Marathon

Union Station is one of dozens of historic buildings featured in the new Petersburg Half Marathon, being held on April 18.

Union Station is one of dozens of historic buildings featured in the new Petersburg Half Marathon, being held on April 18.

Endurance running in the Tri-Cities makes its debut on April 18, when Petersburg hosts a half marathon. Like the Race 13.1 Richmond event, this one has a interesting slant. With a course that features a national park, a cemetery and a bunch of guys running around in pre-1800 garb pretending to fight for a nation’s independence, there’s no question that this half marathon offers a few things that others don’t.

After starting in Petersburg’s Old Towne, the course makes its way out to the city’s eastern edge and enters the Petersburg National Battlefield, following along Seige Road from one end of the park to the other. Shortly after runners exit the national park, they turn into the historic Blandford Cemetery and run a mile through Civil War headstones and around Blandford Church, itself a tribute to the Confederate lives lost during the war.

So the Civil War features prominently in the first half of the race. But the second half of the course takes runners even further back in history, all the way to the 1770s. An official Revolutionary War battle reenactment will take place at mile 10, put on by The Battersea Foundation.

The event also features a 5k and a kid’s run through Petersburg’s Old Towne. More information can be found at

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Richmond 2015, Sports Backers Unveil ‘Conquer the Cobbles’

This looks really cool.

As the top cyclists in the world compete at the 2015 UCI Road World Championships, Virginians and visitors from all over the globe will get their chance to tackle the same climbs and cobblestones that make up the championship course during two unique, public participation events.

Richmond 2015, the organizing committee of the 2015 UCI Road World Championships, and the Sports Backers, announced today that they are partnering to produce “Conquer the Cobbles,” a pair of evening public participation events taking place in conjunction with September’s world championships. The events include a running race and bike ride that will give participants a chance to experience the same Road Circuit Course that will be contested by competitors from more than 70 countries.

Riders climb the famous Libby Hill cobblestones. Credit:

Riders climb the famous Libby Hill cobblestones. Credit:

On Thursday, Sept. 24 beginning at 7 p.m., participants can enjoy a 10-mile running race that showcases the history and beauty of Monument Avenue as well as the challenging climbs of Libby Hill and 23rd Street. The following night, Sept. 25 beginning at 7 p.m., cyclists will get their crack at the championship circuit that awaits the best riders in the world. The riding event is limited to 2,015 entrants. Both events will provide participants with the safety of a completely closed course, live announcers and a festival atmosphere.

The Elite Women and Elite Men will compete for World Championships on the Road Circuit Course on Sept. 26 and 27, respectively.

“Imagine getting the chance to play Augusta the day before The Masters or Centre Court during Wimbledon’s fortnight,” said Tim Miller, chief operating officer of Richmond 2015. “This truly is a unique opportunity for riders and runners to test themselves on the same course that will challenge the world’s best cyclists.”

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Belmead Trailfest: Gorgeous venue, perfect place to launch an ultrarunner’s dreams

A runner in the woods at the 2014 Belmead Trailfest. Credit:

A runner in the woods at the 2014 Belmead Trailfest. Credit:

A motley bunch of us milled around the stable waiting calmly for directions to go forth into battle. Tall and fit, short and portly, old and the wise, naïve and undertrained, some were dressed in fabrics from 1972 cotton, while others had state-of-the-art 2014 dri-fit. All were up for a two-footed adventure on hallowed ground. Before we knew it, the cracked neon trash cans were positioned in a makeshift starting line and the nuns bestowed the final blessings. No nerves, no last minutes strides, no care in the world of where we were going or how long it would take to get to the end. At that very moment – I knew this day would be something so much more special than a simple race.

This was the Belmead Trailfest, a first year ultra-running festival traversing the rural, historic, and absolutely stunning acreage of the Belmead on the James property in Powhatan County. Maintained by the Sisters of the Blessed Sacrament when it was operational in the 1800s, the property now contains thousands of acres of singletrack trails, ornate old school buildings, and rolling cornfields. It is also the final resting place of so many who were called to live a religious vocation. The property is not usually open to the public, but today was different.

I chose the 50K race, but there was also a 50-miler. Both races were true no-frills affairs, with all sorts of characters, visual oddities, and comforts of home. This was no Rock ‘N’ Roll Marathon. It was like staying in a bed and breakfast in rural Ireland compared to checking in at a Marriott and hitting up IHOP. This race was so personal and inviting and you wanted to stay just a bit longer and fill up on conversation and homemade food.

Finisher's coasters for the first-ever Belmead Trailfest in Powhatan Co. Credit:

Finisher’s coasters for the first-ever Belmead Trailfest in Powhatan Co. Credit:

Each of the ten mile loops was like running through a fairytale. The morning dew never quite burned off, captured in delicate little spider webs on the freshly cut running path. Every now and then, a horse jump would appear, sometimes with bright orange and yellow mums planted inside the posts with care. After the first loop, I still felt the playful urge to self-hurdle over the barriers, but I knew it was not a great idea with the increasing probability of a face plant with each additional mile.

The sun beat down intensely in the middle miles of each loop, but my gaze remained transfixed on the simple little graveyard of white, painted, and unmarked wooden crosses centerpiecing the massive cornfield, as this sight allowed any discomfort, angst, or dread about this long race to melt away. I floated through these middle miles, thinking it would be fine if I moved on to the next life right now and rested under that white cross raised on the grassy knoll. As I ambled around the corners of the field, I snatched bursts of the smoky, spicy smell of charred corn. It was a spiritual sensory overload — a wonderful fusion of all of the life reflection taken from my very best runs, talks with God, and walks in the woods.

The second half of each loop immersed runners in not-too-technical singletrack deep in the woods of the property. Little wooden bridges spanned trickling creeks and hand carved wooden plaques, indicating the crossing of such curious spots as “Sister Foolproof Bridge.”

2014 Bellmead Trail Fest  (168) (Medium)

Mustering a smile is not easy deep into a 50-mile or 50K race.

Oh, the rest stops! Every three miles, a blue pop-up tent was spotted through the clearing. As fatigue and thirst crept into my body, I questioned whether this was a mirage or the read deal. Water? Blue Gatorade? A swig of pickle juice? Friendly, chatty volunteers were ready to cut up a nutella quesadilla, hand you a fig bar, or shove some turkey sandwich squares in your pocket to-go. This was race hospitality at its finest.

As the last left hand turn came into sight, I could hear the small, but mighty band of spectators and volunteers beckon me to the finish chute. I mustered up my finest form to bound through the finish flags with a big smile on my face. I was immediately handed a hand-carved wooden coaster, so I can proudly display proof of my new longest-race-distance on my coffee table for years to come.

I was excited to try out the 50k (31-mile) distance at a low key, trail event at a location close to home, but the entire experience was more rewarding than I ever imagined. I felt like my race entry was helping to fund the outreach and the deteriorating historic buildings on this beautiful property, while simultaneously feeding my soul doing what I love. I am ready to tackle some other races, but I am not sure they will be as special to me as the Belmead 50k.

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A weekend of Folk, and outdoor opportunities, too

With the Richmond Folk Festival set to go off tomorrow evening, it looks like most area race organizers decided to avoid scheduling events on this weekend.

Don't forget when you're at the Richmond Folk Festival that this is out there calling your name. Credit: Phil Riggan

Don’t forget when you’re at the Richmond Folk Festival that this is out there calling your name. Credit: Phil Riggan

But that’s not entirely true: If you’re itching for a Saturday morning burn, you could head out to Innsbrook Pavilion in Glen Allen where the 8th annual Step Up for Down Syndrome 5K and Family Festival will begin at 8:30 a.m. Chip timing is available, and take note ultra competitive types: The top 3 overall male and female winners will receive $100, $75 & $50 gift cards, respectively, from Road Runner running Store! All age group winners will receive $25 gift cards. Most importantly, all proceeds benefit the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Richmond.

For those seeking family fun, here’s a cool option. Maymont is putting on their first Family Campout: Spooky Spectacular. Parents and kids ages four and up can “meet some spooky creatures as we celebrate “Owl”-oween! Take a lantern-lit hike as the moon rises, make s’mores, and enjoy stories around the campfire. In the morning, enjoy a continental breakfast and another hike.” Online registration has closed, so call Maymont (804-358-7166, ext. 324) to register.

And while we might be missing an outdoors event or two in the RO calendar, it looks to be a light weekend. But that could be a good thing. The weather should be nice. The river will be warm still and the trails dry. Some friends of ours from Colorado are coming back to Richmond for a visit. They lived here for years, and every time they come back they rave about the outdoor options we have. We’ve talked about heading down to Pocahontas SP to bike, or maybe doing a big loop hike around the James via the downtown trails. We’ll probably ride our bikes, almost entirely off road from the Nickel Bridge area to the Folk Fest at least once day. In other words, it’ll be a classic RVA weekend.

Get out there and enjoy!

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The city that runs: Richmond full, half marathons set new entry records

The popularity of the Monument Avenue 10K was probably all the evidence we needed, but now there’s more to show what a huge — and growing — region of runners Central Virginia is.



The Sports Backers announced yesterday that the Anthem Richmond Marathon and American Family Fitness Half Marathon have both set new entry records, shattering last year’s numbers with more than five weeks to go until race day on November 15th.

As of the end of the day Monday, October 6th, the marathon had 6,179 registered participants, surpassing the 2013 record of 6,103. The half marathon had 9,266 entries, ahead of last year’s final record tally of 9,118.

When you add in the HCA Virginia 8k, more than 17,800 runners and walkers are currently registered to participate on November 15th.

Combined event entries are on track to easily surpass last year’s record of 19,629 by race day. With 9,266 runners and walkers already registered, the American Family Fitness Half Marathon is on pace to reach its 10,000-person limit well before race day. As soon as this happens, registration will close and no additional entries will be accepted.

Year       Marathon     Half Marathon 
2014         6,179*               9,266*
2013         6,103                 9,118
2012         6,003                8,215
2011          4,922                7,493
2010         4,952                6,605
2009         5,188                5,572
2008         4,316                4,619

*as of Monday, October 6th

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