by Bri Kilroy
As the sun begins keeping a regular schedule and Grand Rapids’ most popular running events approach, a halo glows around the opportunity to participate in a local 5K, 10K or half marathon. The craving to do so simmers within many individuals, whether they consider themselves a runner or not, because the feat represents overcoming obstacles physically, emotionally and historically.
The Gazelle Girl 5K, 10K & Half Marathon began five years ago as Michigan’s first women’s-only half marathon, celebrating the passing of Title IX in 1972. This part of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibited gender discrimination in government-funded education programs including access to higher education and school sports.
Despite the long held belief that a woman’s uterus would fall out if she exerted herself, many women took to the country’s most iconic races to compete officially and demolish their perceived physical incapability. In the same year Title IX passed, long-distance runner Nina Kuscsik became the first woman to win the Boston Marathon with a time of 3 hours and 10 minutes. In 1974, Kathrine Switzer won the New York City Marathon in 3 hours and 7 minutes.
The pace at which women have become prominent participants in sports across the board makes it hard to remember their race presence was unheard of 45 years ago, but Gazelle Girl annually celebrates the strides we’ve made with a weekend of events leading up to the Gazelle Girl 5K, 10K & Half Marathon.
“It gives people looking for greater community a space to connect, celebrate whatever miles they’re doing, and just relax and have fun.”
“There’s something for everyone all weekend long,” Race Director Holly Visser said as she listed the special events and features she and her team developed to celebrate the unique personality and energy of Gazelle Girl. “It gives people looking for greater community a space to connect, celebrate whatever miles they’re doing, and just relax and have fun.”
The festivities kick off April 21 at 7 p.m. with a new event, Sneakers & Sass, held at 20 Monroe LIVE (11 Ottawa Ave. NW). Everyone is invited to arrive dressed in their favorite style, so guests can anticipate an eclectic mix of fashion at this one-of-a-kind party. Whether your favorite look falls under cocktail, ball gown or ’80s garb, complete it by wearing your running sneakers. You’ll be glad to be wearing cozy footwear as you spend the evening strolling through the venue enjoying food, drinks, entertainment, friends and a scavenger hunt.
Tickets for Sneakers & Sass are $50 with 100 percent of proceeds going toward this year’s charity partners: Girls on the Run of Kent and Muskegon Counties (GOTR-KMC), YWCA, Grand Rapids Opportunities for Women (GROW) and the Gazelle Sports Foundation. Tickets can be purchased at GazelleGirlHalfMarathon.com.
The following day’s Expotique at the JW Marriott (235 Louis St. NW) keeps the party going from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Expotique annually upgrades race participants from the typical packet pick-up by providing a number of interactive experiences, the opportunity to shop athletic apparel at the fashion booths, sample energy gels and foods and get a feel for the camaraderie surrounding Gazelle Girl. This year, community members are invited to gather at the JW Marriott a few hours before the Expotique at 8:30 a.m. for a 2-mile group run led by Mel Charbonneau and Torri Sager of Fellow Flowers. The brief warm-up run is followed by a yoga session with Elizabeth Sanders of Kula Yoga at 9:30 a.m. Both events are free, but registration is recommended at RunSignUp.com.
“It’s an event for more than just the runners,” Visser said, adding that Gazelle Girl harnesses an all-inclusive personality. “[The event] brings a large number of first time participants and it allows them to take the first steps or hundreds of steps, depending on what distance you cover, to achieve something great.”
Speaking of taking steps, this is the first year Gazelle Girl includes a 10K race option, giving ambitious runners a stepping-stone between the 5K and the half marathon. Those who are accustom to the 5K distance (3.1 miles) are tempted to push their goals further by signing up for the 10K (6.2 miles) without committing to the full half marathon (13.1 miles); however, if you’re itching to run a half marathon at some point in your life, this wildly empowering race is the one to do it.
Sunday, April 23 at 8 a.m., over 3,000 women are expected to approach the Gazelle Girl 5K, 10K & Half Marathon starting line from which they will launch into a 3.1 to 13.1-mile journey that extends beyond the act of just running. Supporters and volunteers line the course with motivational signs, tutus, noisemakers, hydration and more methods of empowerment that push you through even the most tiring miles with a smile.
If you need incentive beyond the “can-do-anything” feeling you’re guaranteed after completing a race like this one, the Finish Line Festival is certainly something you want to run toward. Live music, food trucks and interactive sponsor booths are there to celebrate with you as soon as you cross the finish line along with Brewery Vivant beer and Fenn Valley wine. Every runner age 21 and older gets one drink ticket attached to their racing bib to enjoy a well-deserved drink after an outstanding accomplishment.
If you feel like giving more after giving it your all at the race, the Sole Sisters group is taking donations of gently used sports apparel at the event. Every piece of clothing donated or “tossed” during the race is collected and repurposed in the Sole Sisters closet, which provides women with athletic gear that can’t afford it.
Completing a 5K, 10K or half marathon is a feat that sticks with you and, when you are graced with that official Gazelle Girl 5K, 10K & Half Marathon medal at the finish line, wear it proudly as you enjoy the after-party and bask with your fellow sisters over what you have just achieved. Gazelle Girl participants who want to add to their medal collection can sign up for either the Fifth Third River Bank Run (May 13) or the Detroit Women’s Half Marathon (September 17) to receive a special edition medal that boasts double the glory for completing two big races.
The Gazelle Girl 5K, 10K & Half Marathon is an event that gets everyone in on the action and reminds us we are all athletes who celebrate everyone from the first place finisher to the last one to cross the finish line. For more information about the race and to register, visit GazelleGirlHalfMarathon.com.
We’ll see you there!
What: Gazelle Girl 5K, 10K & Half Marathon
Where: Calder Plaza, 351 Ottawa Ave. NW
When: April 23, 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Start times: Half Marathon (8 a.m.), 10K (8:15 a.m.) and 5K (8:30 a.m.).
Expotique: April 22, 11 a.m.-5 p.m., JW Marriott (235 Louis St. NW)
Sneakers & Sass: April 21, 7-11 p.m., 20 Monroe LIVE (11 Ottawa Ave. NW)
Why: Celebration, empowerment and wine at the finish line.