Ferguson. What comes to mind when you hear that word?
There’s no doubt that there are as many views about what’s taken place there over the last nine months as there are people. And with all those varying views, it seems there’s a constant flow of rumors of planned unrest, both peaceful and not-so-peaceful.
It’s against that backdrop that this race hit my radar. I’d been thinking about this race, but frankly, was very concerned about the atmosphere there. That wasn’t helped much by rumors of a “Ferguson Spring” event that was targeting this weekend. Even the race organizers addressed this rumor on their website. They also talked about their commitment to a safe, fun race.
That didn’t stop me from checking social media and other spots on the web as Becky drove us to Ferguson. I was willing to bail on the event if it looked like there would be danger afoot. I just simply wouldn’t put us in a dangerous situation for a medal.
We parked, and caught the shuttles from the parking to the race event. And already I was getting more comfortable with my decision to run this race. There were people of all ages, capabilities, and races in the bus with us. It was really a melting pot.
The race site was amazing. There was plenty of food and people everywhere! I picked up my shirt and bib, and we headed to the party. The center of the event was a place called The Plaza at 501. It was a neat little community area, with plenty of space and a nice pavilion. Normally, I’d feel a little weird about leaving Darla behind as I raced, but entertainment was everywhere — jugglers, live band, and a drum circle that invited anyone to join in.
My time to race came, and I kissed Darla, heading to the starting corrals. This race was capped at 2500 runners, and I’m not sure they had that many there, but there was a huge crowd nonetheless. The horn sounded, and we began moving slowly toward the actual start line. Of course, once we hit the line, folks took off.
I ran for the first two songs (as measured by the music on my iPhone!), and began to walk. I discovered that this was a very, very hot and humid day, and that was sucking the life out of me. I walked the rest of course.
And in retrospect, I was cool with that. I made it a point to pet every big dog I encountered. I danced like a kid in the spray from an open fire hydrant. I enjoyed this race!
For the last three years, this race has been voted “Best Community Support”, and I see why. Throughout the whole course, there were neighbors sitting on the sidewalk and on their stoops, cheering on the runners. There were signs of encouragement everywhere along the course. Along the course was a rock band, and a little while later part of a marching band from one of the schools. The community was really into this race, and made it a joy to do, despite the heat.
Because I was walking, I got to see an awful lot of the area. I’ve never been to Ferguson before, and at my slow pace I was able to take it all in. There were some beautiful older homes hidden in the neighborhoods, and some that were obviously not as big. As I wound up and the down the hills (and the hills were ugly in the heat!), the neighborhood got behind me, and I came into the business district.
That’s where it got very surreal for me.
I was suddenly aware that I was passing the Ferguson City Hall, and eventually the police headquarters. I walked past shop windows, still boarded up from the unrest. I saw murals painted on the wood panels, advocating peace. It was tremendously moving to see this area first hand, and realize just how much things had calmed since August. It was emotional to be there.
And with all that, I still felt very comfortable on the course. There was a ton of very visible security on the course — folks at the street closures, volunteers on bicycles among the racers, and loads of uniformed first responders at the Plaza. It was obvious that there was a tremendous desire by the folks in Ferguson to have a safe, fun event. I think they succeeded.
While I’d vote for cooler weather, this was easily one of the most enjoyable races I’ve participated in over the last three years. I do believe that I’ll add Ferguson to my list of races I’ll run yearly. It was that good.