Ten is such a nice, round number.
It just stands to reason: 10 fingers and 10 toes, thus 10 commandments, 10-dollar bills, “perfect 10s,” and top-10 lists.
Maybe if we had three toes like elephants or four fingers like Bart Simpson, runners would be lining up for the ninth annual Tar Heel 6- or 8-mile race on Saturday, April 23, on the University of North Carolna’s Chapel Hill Campus.
But no, 10 seems to be the perfect length for this race – for at least as many reasons as you can count on both hands. Any longer, and we’d need more fingers; any shorter, and the race course could not possibly fit in all the spectacular sights of springtime in Chapel Hill.
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With over 6,400 runners running in last year’s races, The Tar Heel 10-Miler and the Fleet Feet Four Mile run are the town’s biggest road races. They are designed to celebrate and showcase downtown Chapel Hill, the UNC campus and the surrounding communities.
The events benefit UNC Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center, the YMCA of the Triangle’s Annual Campaign, and the charity BeautifulTogether.com.
Registration for both races is still open on the events’ website: tarheel10miler.com.
Four-milers will begin their race at 7:15 a.m. on race day, and 10-milers will begin 30 minutes later.
Both races will start on South Road in front of the Bell Tower on the UNC campus and wind through downtown Chapel Hill, passing through several gorgeous residential neighborhoods. It culminates with a finish at Kenan Memorial Football Stadium.
Steve Lackey, founder and publisher of Endurance Magazine – which stages the race and other events including the Quintiles Bull City Race Fest and Rambling Rose Triathlon Series – expects the race to grow by several hundred runners this year.
“I think we’ll be close to 6,700 or 6,800 runners,” Lackey said, adding that course changes allowed for continued growth both this year and into the future.
“We’ve expanded the course to allow for more people,” he said. “We wanted to make sure we didn’t pinch people at certain spots on the course.”
Lackey said the 10-mile course now eliminates some sharp turns early in favor of a longer stretch along Franklin Street, thus reducing congestion. The 4-mile course has been changed as well, eliminating the precipitous Laurel Hill neighborhoods still included in the 10-mile offering.
“The four-miler used to go down Raleigh Road, but we’re staying completely on top of the hill now,” Lackey explained. “Runners still get to run down Franklin Street, they pass the Old Well, and run through the Gimghoul neighborhood. They get a little less intimidation, but as anyone running locally knows, Chapel Hill is still far from flat.”
Lackey said the less-daunting course has brought about a 15 percent increase in registration for the 4-miler.
“I think word is getting out that the course may be a little more accessible,” he said. “Some will miss Laurel Hill, but those who want to can still reach for the 10-mile distance and do it there.”
Aiming for 10,000 runners by next year’s 10th annual 10-miler, Lackey said the real priority is conservative growth.
“The progress we’ve been making is repeatable every year,” he said. “We’re seeing around 5 percent (annual) growth, and we’re fine with that. Whether or not we see 10,000 runners next year, we’ll still shoot for it, but there’s no guarantee; it’s not necessary to get to that number. Between 6,500 and 7,000 is a healthy number, and we’re happy with it.”
The more disparate courses will allow for further growth, in that 4-milers will no longer be encroached upon by speedier 10-mile runners starting later. Lackey said both courses still offer unparalleled beauty, however.
“The courses are spectacular,” Lackey said. “We’re so lucky to be able to run in Chapel Hill the way we do. We’re both excited and very grateful to the Chapel Hill Police, UNC, UNC Public Safety, UNC Transportation and Parking, and UNC Athletics. It’s always refreshing to me how much these agencies support what we’re trying to do for the community.”
The event will still incorporate several favorite features, including the Laurel Hill race-within-a-race and the United Healthcare Corporate Challenge.
“That’s based on size,” Lackey explained. “You wouldn’t want Blue Cross competing against Top of the Hill, for example.”
The race will also still offer runners the chance to sport their college allegiances through a Crash the Party component, embracing the fun rivalry across neighboring campuses.
“It’s still mostly Duke, N.C. State, and East Carolina who have the most affiliations participating, and that’s almost 1,000 of our runners,” Lackey said. “I think the rest are UNC fans, and that makes sense since we’re pretty heavily branded ‘Carolina,’ but it’s all a lot of fun.”
Lackey said the race benefited from a wealth of volunteers, including various community groups and even UNC varsity sports teams, but it also gives as good as it gets. In addition to the two traditional recipients of event proceeds — UNC’s Lineberger Cancer Center and the YMCA of the Triangle – organizers have announced a third.
“We’ve added ‘Beautifultogether.org,’ which is a charity my wife and I started this past year for children waiting for families—both kids in the foster care process as well as those waiting to be adopted,” Lackey said.
“Of course, we still support the YMCA and UNC Lineberger, but with over 6,000 people running, a lot of things resonate. The new charity got a lot of interest: a lot of people felt like they could really have in impact.”
Lackey remains in awe of how well the race has evolved over the past nine years.
This is my favorite of all the things I do in terms of running,” he said. “Being able to live in Chapel Hill and produce this race is something I’m really proud of.”