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VOL. 36 | NO. 46 | Friday, November 16, 2012

Binge or blessing?

Thanksgiving Day runners have to decide between Boulevard Bolt, new race showcasing downtown course

By Vincent Troia

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Will runners continue their annual pilgrimage up and down Belle Meade Blvd. this Thanksgiving Day or opt for a new downtown race? Both events are raising money for the city’s homeless.

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There’s nothing wrong with trying something new on Thanksgiving Day, but we all know that too much of a good thing can be a problem.

With that in mind, Nashville’s ‘turkey day’ offerings for those fleet of foot include a new race this year – the first Music City Thanksgiving Day Run/Walk – to go along with its traditional dish, The Boulevard Bolt. And just like the decision to go with the candied yams or the green bean casserole, runners will have to make a choice since both events start at 8 a.m. on Nov. 22.

For 18 years, organizers of the Boulevard Bolt, a 5-mile run up and down Belle Meade Boulevard, have put together a family-friendly and well-attended race that drew nearly 8,400 runners in 2011. The Bolt’s main charitable focus has been helping Nashville’s homeless population and the many agencies that work on its behalf.

For 2012, there are 23 beneficiaries of the Bolt, including Second Harvest Food Bank, Safe Haven Family Shelter, The Contributor, St. Luke’s Community House and the Nashville Food Project. To date, the event has raised more than $2 million in the fight to end homelessness, says George Mabry, who helps lead the Bolt’s volunteer steering committee.

So what cause will organizers of the inaugural Music City Run/Walk event take up?

That would be Nashville’s homeless, too. Specifically, the beneficiary is the Nashville Rescue Mission, according to the race’s organizing group, I Run for the Party. Surprisingly, the Mission is not on the Bolt’s lengthy list of beneficiaries.

“The Mission’s not on our list? That surprises me,” says Mabry. “I have to tell you, though, if their goal is to raise money for the homeless, I couldn’t be happier. This is the perfect time to have another race. The more the merrier.”

The Key Alliance, an agency working to end homelessness in Nashville, says there are between 2,000-4,000 individuals without permanent shelter in the city. Numbers vary depending on the type of count and who conducts it.

Run First, Party Later

Just as it’s wrong to eat pumpkin pie with your fingers, it would be incorrect to think that another group starting a competing event would ruffle Mabry’s feathers. In fact, the downtown race’s originator, I Run for the Party founder Emmit Martin, not only confirms that the event would benefit Nashville homelessness, but he designed the route specifically to pass by the Rescue Mission.

“We got tons of requests to do a Thanksgiving race downtown,” says Martin, adding that one of the company’s niches is the holiday-themed event. “I think Nashville’s running world is expanding, and the city is ready for another race (on Thanksgiving).”

Whether or not the city is ready, the Bolt is not just another race, according to the many runners who have made it their annual November pilgrimage.

“It’s an excellent race, and it has become this iconic Nashville tradition,” says Alexa Hinton, a veteran Bolter who finished first in her age bracket last year. “You can trot the trot in the morning and earn the right to eat your way through the day.”

There seems to be room for everybody at this holiday table, judging from the number of events on the I Run for the Party (IRFTP) calendar. The Thanksgiving race is one of 10 ‘Race Series’ events in 2012, and the organization is managing nine others.

It might seem like IRFTP is gobbling up weekends. Now in its eighth year, the Nashville-based event management company has, according to Martin, “proudly brought more than 100,000 runners to their feet for health, community and charity.”

Passion for Community

At first glance, Mabry and Martin seem like distant cousins with little in common thrown together to share a holiday meal.

Mabry shepherds an all-volunteer, multi-denominational committee compiled from three places of worship in Belle Meade: St. George’s Episcopal, The Temple and Immanuel Baptist.

Martin has a paid staff of 8 to 10 people whose challenge is to turn serious racing into fun racing, hence the ‘party’ reference in the moniker.

Mabry calls the Bolt “a unique neighborhood race” that stretches down a mostly level, well-maintained street under mature trees, along rows of stately homes with elegant landscaping.

Martin calls his event a niche “stroll through the streets of downtown Nashville” and past the rescue mission.

What binds them together though is the word “community.”

“We are passionate about helping people in the Nashville community, and we hope the opportunity to provide (meals) to less fortunate families, along with the race, will start a much needed Nashville tradition,” Martin says. A key element of the plan is to have each runner bring one frozen turkey to the event.

‘Everyone Does It’

Hinton says the Bolt’s sense of community keeps her coming back – if she can leave at all.

“The best thing about the race is that everyone does it, so on the day that you are celebrating all that you are grateful for, you get to see so many faces in one place of people you love,” she says. “It took me an hour to leave the race once it was over because I kept running into people I knew.”

People have kept coming, too. Mabry says drawing nearly 8,500 folks has really expanded the event’s waistline. He thinks if the Bolt “loses a few people” it will be like loosening the belt a notch after pushing yourself away from the table.

“It might be a bit more comfortable this year. Anything over 8,500 was going to be a concern from a safety standpoint,” he says, noting registrations have increased over the years and that the event has consistently raised money.

“We’ve been blessed,” he explains, conceding that there is room for another race, especially one that “does something positive for the homeless.”

So set another plate at the holiday race table. After all, there are Thanksgiving Day events in Franklin, Mt. Juliet, Murfreesboro and Hendersonville, too.

“It doesn’t matter to me that there is another venue on the same day for the same cause. If this other race can raise money for the homeless too, then that’s great,” says Jennifer Sanders of Nashville. “The Bolt will always be The Bolt.”

And that’s all well and good for everybody who has made the Bolt a part of their annual Thanksgiving plans – well, nearly everybody…

“The Bolt’s been one of my favorite races ever since I moved here 15 years ago. I hate to have to let it go,” laments Martin. “I’m really going to miss it.”

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