Komen Race Plus St Jude Marathon: 31,500 Participants

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What's the most popular participant sport in America? The numbers suggest running and walking.

More than 16,000 people signed up to participate in last weekend's 2009 Komen Memphis-Midsouth Race for the Cure in Germantown. The St. Jude Memphis Marathon in December is at capacity with 3,500 participants in the marathon and a good chance of making the goal of 12,000 more in the FK and half marathon.

There are some lessons for backers of other sports vying for attention and funding in Memphis.

The Komen race and the marathon are annual events with professional marketing, volunteers, corporate sponsors, web sites, national charity tie-ins, and decades of experience. But turning out close to 30,000 people (not all "participants" run) is a remarkable achievement any way you look at it. So many people signed up for the Komen race, named for breast cancer victim Susan G. Komen, that the organizers ran out of race t-shirts (they're promising to make good within a few weeks to everyone who wants one).

The simplest and most effective way to get Memphis moving, it seems, is to get Memphians walking and running. It doesn't cost much to buy shoes and shorts. It doesn't require indoor facilities or special outdoor fields or structures. Almost anyone can do it. It's ideal for groups and partners. The benefits include health, camaraderie, competition, and helping a cause.

Simple? Yes and no. Achieving "event" status requires organizational skill and dedication. Both of these races started small. They didn't achieve critical mass for a few years, at least. But they tapped into something that made thousands of people say "I can do that." Those of us pushing court sports, boarding, cycling, or team sports are fishing in much smaller ponds. If you are a parks and recreation director, public official, or someone building a fitness facility, where do you put dollars?

One quibble. I don't understand the people who complain about the media, usually The Commercial Appeal, not covering the Komen race (the marathon gets more coverage). If 12,000 people ran and walked and recorded it or photographed it, then the word is getting out somehow. After 27 years, it's no longer news. Give the paper a break.

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