The Rivanna Greenbelt Marathon started in September 2014 as an opportunity for local runners to have a last chance to qualify for the Boston Marathon. I designed the course to follow the flattest section you can find in a town a HILLS, a paved trail that along the Rivanna River. Because the trail is just 2 miles from the start to the end, participants need to complete 6.5 “loops” of the course. Some people thought it would be boring or crazy to run such a course, but I found more than enough runners who were up for the challenge!
When I created the race I wanted to make it low-key and no-frills. There were no shirts or swag. The only people who got a medal were those who DNF. I wrote a blog once about how hard it is to quit a race even when it’s the right thing to do (i.e., if you feel like you’re developing an injury or if you don’t think you’ll hit your goal, etc.). I joked that we should give medals for dropping out. I took that idea and put it into action at my own race. I actually earned a medal myself in October 2014 when I dropped out of my own race.
Having the race in September in the Mid-Atlantic was quite challenging in terms of weather. We had heat waves and thunderstorms. I decided during the pandemic that I would change the timing of the race. We adjusted a few things for safety and had our race in November 2020 on a perfect day. I directed three races in 2021 (March, October, and December) and added a half to the mix.
As both a runner and a volunteer, I wanted my race to have everything that I think is important for an amazing experience. We have medical support from the UVA Runners’ Clinic, volunteers from the running community, chalk messages and signs along the course, free course photos, and chip timing with finish line video. Our race mascot is “Coney” - a funny addition inspired by satirist and writer Mark Remy (The Dumb Runner). It’s fitting because you need to run around cones multiple times. In 2020 I started to give out mini traffic cones with googly eyes and hand-drawn mouths to finishers. Also, by adding a half marathon and raising the entry I was able to donate almost $2,500 this year to three charities.
I’m really proud of my quirky little race. There are runners who come back every year (when they aren’t injured) and I’ve heard so many amazing stories from participants about what motivated them to pick my race. I always send evaluation surveys to both runners and volunteers so I can keep improving the event.
We had a panel of local runners talk about Lessons Learned with Joan Benoit Samuelson and I spoke about the importance of giving back to the running community by volunteering at a race. That inspired a few new volunteers to show up my November 2020 event!
I really love talking about my race because it’s been a labor of love for me and my identical twin sister. There’s been a lot of ups and downs - during the 2nd race I had to disqualify a friend because she turned around before the course marking twice and it was on video. For the first 6 races we did all the timing old school (no chips!) with Time Machine and lap counters. That was labor intensive to compile the results, but it was always a thrill to submit them to the B.A.A. We’ve had people complete their first marathon and first half marathon with us and it means so much to be part of someone’s important running history.