Yesterday I blogged about my experiences in the Go! St. Louis Half Marathon
. Almost immediately, I received feedback from race sponsors about my posting, including comments about the new course, which took racers through East St. Louis. I wanted to clarify a few thoughts, lest I leave people with the wrong impression of my experience!
Born and raised in St. Louis – nothing but love for this city!
As a West County girl, I haven’t spent a lot of time in East St. Louis, which is an area of the city that struggles with crime and is sorely in need of economic development. When the race course included sections of East St. Louis with boarded up shops and chained up businesses, I wondered why race organizers had decided to highlight that part of St. Louis. Well, race organizers reached out to me to explain why they did so.
Jeff, Director of Business Development for Go! St. Louis, wrote:
“GO! St. Louis is a VERY customer centric organization. We’re all about the runner, sponsor and spectator experience. We’re very dialed into feedback. Candidly, almost to a fault.
When we surveyed the St. Louis running populace over the course of the last couple of years, the most common reasons for NOT signing up for the Half Marathon and Marathon were that the course was ‘stale’ and/or ‘too hilly’. So, we undertook a 10 month effort to organize and align all the political entities to make a new course possible. That process involved a lot of work, a lot of meetings with various factions of the City, the City of East Saint Louis, The East Saint Louis Police Department, The State of Illinois, MODOT, IDOT, the St. Louis Police, St. Louis streets, special events, Lumiere Place, etc.
Given the explosion of running events across the country, most events are experiencing a downward trend in race registration. The new course, in large part, provided GO! with expanded race registration, particularly in the Half Marathon.
East St. Louis has been fantastic to deal with. They were excited about the race coming to town as a chance to showcase their community. They organized their city, their community organizations and fully staffed the first Water Station in East St. Louis. By all feedback, they did a tremendous job!
From a race operations perspective, there are only two bridges we can use, the MLK & Eads. Clearly, volume prohibits use of the Poplar Street Bridge and the Stan Span is federally owned. It takes, literally, an act of Congress to use that bridge.
I can share that I personally spoke to hundreds of half marathon and marathon finishers after the race. The course changes are being very favorably reviewed as evidenced by the comments on our Facebook Page. A litany of people mentioned how beautiful downtown St. Louis looked as they returned via the MLK bridge and how neat it was seeing the Eastbound runners on the Eads Bridge.”
photo from Go! St. Louis Facebook page
After reflecting on this some more, I’m so glad they changed the course. Here’s why:
First, the Go! St. Louis half celebrated its 15th anniversary this year, and feedback from past races indicated that runners thought the old course was getting a little boring — and way too hilly. The new course took runners across the bridge into East St. Louis (which is technically in Illinois), then looped back around and returned to Missouri for the rest of the course. The return trip into the city offered amazing views of the St. Louis skyline — a fact which might have been obscured in my memory because that was also a point in the race when it started to rain on us! But I remember the views, and they really were great.
The second, and more important, reason that organizers chose to take runners into East St. Louis was to make sure that community could be involved in the race, which made the overall experience much more diverse for everyone — always a good thing! While the buildings and landscape were a little run-down, the people in that community were AWESOME. There were groups of people from East St. Louis churches (dressed in their Sunday best!) who cheered us along the course as soon as we crossed the bridge into their community. And the water station in East St. Louis was staffed entirely by volunteers from that community, including high school kids. I love that East St. Louisans came out to support runners–many of whom (like me!) are from a very different part of the city.
I may have been a little too glib in my post yesterday. I certainly didn’t mean to speak poorly of ESTL. If anything, the race showed me that the spirit in that community is strong, and that those of us from other parts of the city should be proud of the diversity our city offers and encouraged to get involved to help out when and where we can.