Raleigh Road Races: How They Work (or Don’t) and Why

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For many downtown Raleigh residents and businesses, the thought of disruption caused by April’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon has caused much frustration, leading the Raleigh City Council again examine whether their current downtown road race policies are sufficient.

Current Procedure
To get permission to host a road race in Raleigh, groups need to go through several steps. Initially, when interested in organizing a race held within Raleigh, organizations must go to the city’s website and navigate to the “Scheduling Special Events and Races” page. There, an organization must first apply for a date to hold its race. Then, the organization must call the Raleigh Police Department’s Special Operations Division to confirm the availability of their selected date.

Once the date has been confirmed, the organization must complete and submit the Public Street/Greenway Use Special Event Application. These applications cost $100 to complete and must be submitted at least 90 days prior to the day of the race. The application fee is scheduled to remain at $100 until the next fiscal year in July when prices will alter depending on the race.

The application will not be processed until the application and payment have both been received. If the race coordinator intends on using downtown, Hillsborough Street, or the greenways, they will then be contacted for additional information and fees.

Downtown races are reviewed by the Downtown Events Task Force. Once the group has approved the race it then needs to be presented for approval to the City Council.

running road race

Karen Tam

In the future, the city intends to begin offering the opportunity for date reservation up to three years in advance of a proposed race. This will ultimately allow event organizers more time to prepare for these events. The city also intends to grade organizations on their compliance with the city’s special event rules and they will provide an objective checklist to assist with policy adherence. A new special events office has been proposed to coordinate races. Meanwhile, Councilors are looking at other ways to balance the concerns about races with those holding them.

When Enough is Enough
A policy enacted this year only allows 100 races that require road closures. But many races scheduled before this policy went into effect last February were grandfathered. Some of these races do not meet new policy standards due to other events taking place on the same weekends.

“I would say races, generally, positively affect life downtown,” said Assistant City Manager Daniel Howe. “But it depends on who you ask. Churches have been concerned about Sunday races, but it’s a good day for the rest of the city because there’s less traffic.”

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Dilemma
One large upcoming event, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, is scheduled to take place downtown April 13. That particular Sunday is also Palm Sunday and the date has sparked debates between Raleigh churches and the City Council members about which roads can rightfully be blocked. Councilors approved the race route Oct. 15.


“We approved the race because it was an international event coming to our city for the first time,” said Baldwin. “I didn’t know it was Palm Sunday at the time; I just knew it was a Sunday. I’ll admit I didn’t look at the calendar.”

Councilors approved the date for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon and in return bumped another event scheduled for that weekend, the RunRaleigh Half Marathon and 5k, to a weekend in October.

“The city’s attitude here is that we need to pay close attention to everyone who is being disrupted,” commented Howe.

The date chosen for this race was largely determined by Competitor Group Inc.’s existing race calendar for the area, said vice president Alan Culpepper.

Culpepper oversees the Raleigh Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon event. He explained that there is reasoning behind the date, time and route selection for this race.

“We look intently at what we know will be enjoyable for the runners and how best we can highlights the city all while taking into consideration accessibility to various residences, businesses and churches along the route,” he said. “The key is understanding that there is a delicate balance that needs to be maintained between having the best course possible while still being a good city partner.”

When determining routes, Competitor Group Inc. prefers to design loop courses, if possible, to make it easier for runners and spectators to get to and from the race. They also minimize hills based on the topography of the region, and attempt to organize routes that will best showcase a city, such as Raleigh.

“We like to compliment the other events in the region and try our best to not come on top of an existing event,” he explained. “We also look at average temperatures for a time of year, sunrise and areas of impact to determine start time.”

Impact on the Churches
One parking lot outside of the First Baptist Church was planned to be blocked by the race’s initial layout. But former competitive racer Senior Pastor Christopher Chapman, along with other leaders of the church, were able to meet with marathon coordinators to alter the route so that their parking lot would remain accessible to churchgoers.

“The [Raleigh City of Oaks] race was bad enough,” commented Church of the Good Shepherd parishioner and Raleigh resident Amanda Penney. “I parked four blocks away because there was nowhere to park at the church. It’s frustrating.”

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon will begin on West South Street and end on Fayetteville Street. Runners will cover downtown streets such as South McDowell, South Saunders, Peace, Blount, and West Morgan throughout the course.

The design of the route has the potential to cause disruption on Palm Sunday not only to the First Baptist Church, but the First Presbyterian and Church of the Good Shepherd as well.

Chapman also said the possible disturbance to the church is simply a consequence of his church’s location downtown.

“It’ll still take a lot of communication to get everyone here. It’s not ideal, but they did work on a compromise,” Chapman said.

2 thoughts on “Raleigh Road Races: How They Work (or Don’t) and Why

  1. Sounds like there are in fact no criteria to reject a race. It doesn’t take much to take out a calendar and look for important holidays. As a resident impacted by far too many truly local community events and out-of-town for-profit races on Hillsborough Street, this is disconcerting to read that the possibility that even more mistakes will be “grandfathered” in by an expanded three-year advance reservation (THREE YEARS! REALLY?). It seems we will continue to see our roads misappropriated for for-profit events whenever someone waves a $100 bill at the city and promises a little publicity for the boosters downtown and at NCSU. We need more transparency and outreach. Citizens and businesses expect the roads they pay for and depend on everyday to be available everyday and deserve a real say when they are closed. The process as it is, and apparaently will remain, puts boosters and publicity hounds in charge of giving away other peoples’ candy for non-stake-holders marginal gain.

    And please, when we do have races, let’s make RPD to do a better job of making sure their officers can tell residents detour information to get back home, to the grocery store, to appointments across town, etc., rather than just shrugging or barking orders to turn around.

    Finally, this store misses a few facts and angles:

    1. the races were up until recently approved by the quasi-governmental, booster organzation known as the Downtown Raleigh Alliance, which had authority but not responsibility, and is by nature of its mission all to happy to give away citizens’ convenience for a little free publicity for downtown. The new city-based approval process and special events office takes on that role and might (or might not be) improve things. I hope we have a follow up on this new arrangements and any real checks and balances on the booster/publicity hounds looking to give away other people’s convenience and tax-funded public roads.

    2. The 100-limit of road races per year did not apply to race closures of Hillsborough Street and perhaps certain downtown streets according to the language that I read. Please correct/clarify this.

  2. As a pretty regular competitor in running events, I have often thought I would be a bit mad by the number of times I might get stuck at home on a race morning.

    I am signed up for the Rock and Roll Half Marathon and honestly parking is the least of the complaints they will get I bet. They are supposed to have a stage every couple of miles playing amplified music. This is for a race that starts at 7 AM Sunday, in neighborhoods.

    On one hand, there are people making money from these events, no doubt, but nearly all of them also donate to various charities, usually in the local area, though I am not sure how much money is donated. Also, there are a certain amount of hotel nights that are purchased by competitors from outside the area and also a large number of other Raleigh residents who participate in them. On the other hand, I would certainly hope that as an example, a large race like R&R, which is held in cities across the country by a corporation is not overly benefiting from free police work and only paying a $100 fee.

    If you have 10,000 people paying $75 each for entry (just round numbers but not far off for R&R) that is real money and having them kick in some small percentage seems fair to pay for the police presence, though that still does not address the inconvenience to residents.