While the residents of Athens sleep on a fall Saturday morning, over 150 pairs of sneakers will pound the empty streets. With just one remaining group run before the AthHalf half marathon, the Fleet Feet training group continues to train for the 13.1-mile race that will take place on Oct. 27 with over 2,000 participants.
The race will take place Oct. 26-27. With volunteers and fans that will congregate in the streets on race day, it’s undeniable that the event encompasses more than just running.
Mile 1: The history of the AthHalf
This year’s race celebrates the events 10th anniversary. The race began in 2010 to supplement the AthFest Music & Arts Festival in fundraising for the nonprofit AthFest Educates, and has since emphasized the importance of the arts in Athens’ schools.
Mile 2: AthFest Educates
The nonprofit organization strives to support music and art education in Athens-Clarke County schools by providing funds for student equipment and experiences, as well as art and music-based professional development opportunities for educators. To date, the charity has raised over $410,000 that has been awarded to local schools and programs such as Barnett Shoals Elementary, Hilsman Middle and the University of Georgia Music Education Program.
Mile 3: The 5K
In 2016, AthFest Educates introduced a 5K race in addition to the AthHalf. The event takes place on Saturday and provides a family-friendly way for athletes of all ages and abilities to take part in the activities.
Mile 4: The AthHalf Health & Fitness Expo
Held at the Classic Center Pavilion the afternoon before Sunday’s AthHalf, the exposition is an opportunity for the 2,500 5K and half marathon runners to browse discounted athletic merchandise, sample nutrition supplements and products and experience fitness exhibits.
Mile 5: The preparation
Fleet Feet, a running shop located on South Lumpkin Street, begins its free half marathon training program in August to help participants increase their mileage, get familiar with the course and build community. The group runs are open to runners of all paces and fitness levels.
Mile 6: The sponsors
Local sponsors Southern Brewing Company, Athens Bagel Co. and Athens Running Company made contributions to this year’s race, a component of the event that AthHalf’s race director, Jill Helme, said makes it a “hyper local Athens event.”
Mile 7: The volunteers
On race day, up to 260 volunteers donate their time to help with setup, registration, course monitoring, clean up and overall morale. Helme said that these volunteers take part in the event out of sheer enjoyment of the AthHalf.
Mile 8: The course
Beginning on Washington Street then winding through the historical districts, UGA's campus and Five Points, the scenic 13.1 mile course is lined with neighborhood residences, sorority and fraternity houses and Athens landmarks. The finish line, located in Sanford Stadium, makes the route significant for UGA students and alumni.
“You can’t just recreate someone’s college town experience,” Helme said. “You can’t do it anywhere else.”
Mile 9: The live and local music
At every odd mile, a live local band is stationed to provide entertainment for the runners. Administering water at the even mile markers, Helme said the AthHalf is designed so that participants have something to look forward to at every mile. This year’s lineup includes performances from DJ Mahogany, the Flamethrowers Surf Band and Dawg-town DJ.
Mile 10: The Athens businesses
Helme also described the supportive atmosphere between businesses and nonprofits in the Classic City. Having experienced the cultures of various U.S. cities in her lifetime, she finds the alliance between local companies to be unrivaled.
Mile 11: The runners
The 2,000 runners, coming from 23 different states, each have a story that motivates them to line up on race day. Nolan Gottlieb — who will be completing his 12th 5K since his lung transplant last year due to cystic fibrosis — and Carol Lively — the race’s “sweeper” who follows behind the pack decorated with balloons to encourage other participants and a number of family duos — will return for this year’s race to accompany first-time 5K and half marathon runners. Helme said she finds inspiration through the runners who race in remembrance of friends and family and the enthusiastic fans that cheer on the participants the whole way.
“It’s bigger than just running,” Helme said. “The Athens community comes together because they get it; they understand it.”
Mile 12: The virtual runners
The AthHalf also offers an option for athletes to virtually participate in the race if an injury stunts their mileage or if they can’t make it to the race. Upon turning in virtual evidence of completion of the 13.1 mile run, eligible participants are issued an official medal and race T-shirt.
Mile 13: The tradition
The AthHalf raises between $40,000 and $50,000 each year to support education, in addition to promoting healthy lifestyle choices. For the last ten years, the race has been a way for the Athens community to come together for a common cause.
Dustin Shinholser, the owner of Fleet Feet Athens and four-time AthHalf runner, said the camaraderie and community have renewed the energy behind this year’s race for him.
“Running is something for everyone whether you’re the first person to cross the finish line or the last back there with [Carol Lively]. Everybody can get across that finish line,” Shinholser said. “No one’s out there judging anybody as long as you get out and try. That’s the cool thing about it.”