This weekend was supposed to be the 22nd running of the Teterboro Airport 5k. I say supposed to because after many years of dealing with hot races (an airport runway in July is rarely cool), this year’s forecast exceeded anything that was safe and for the first time, the event was cancelled.
I was there in the beginning. No, I didn’t run it that first year, I ran the 2nd year and another 14 times after that over the years, although I was there at the actual beginning, before most. I was the Vice President for Bergen County’s United Way (the event’s organizer and beneficiary) in 1997 and responsible for special events. The conversation with my boss went something like this:
“We did a 5k to raise money a few years ago – on the runway of Teterboro Airport. We only did it that once. I don’t think the airport was happy with how it had gone,” he told me.
“Wow! What a really awesome idea for a race! If I can create something the airport would be happy with, could we try it again?” I asked.
Having just finished my first marathon, I felt I could accomplish anything. The agreement was that I had his blessing as long as I promised I’d find someone to pay for it and it wouldn’t create any bad publicity for the organization. I made a call to the airport manager, satisfied his concerns (I’d find someone to pay for it and hire a professional race director) and got his okay to proceed.
Professional help was a good thing. I was fairly new to the sport at the time and had no clue as to what went on behind the scenes. I made a call to USA Track & Field NJ for recommendations and hired the one most enthusiastic about the idea: Mark Zenobia of On Your Mark Productions. He helped me outline a realistic budget, so I’d know how much I needed to find from a sponsor. We determined that to create a high-end event with a “wow factor” for all involved, plus some added cushion, I would look to secure a title sponsor at $10,000. Not an easy task for a first-time event. But like I said, I had just finished my first marathon and my confidence level was pretty high.
I set up an appointment with a local bank president who sat on our board. His Assistant said I had 15 minutes. I managed a concise and powerful pitch and walked out with the money I needed to proceed. The rest, as they say, is history. The first Teterboro Airport 5k took place on July 16, 1998. There were over 500 participants which was phenomenal for a first-time 5k in New Jersey. During the awards ceremony our title sponsor publicly said they were on board for next year and asked the airport manager if they were up for doing it again, too. They were, of course. An event manager couldn’t have asked for a better outcome.
Of all the things I’ve achieved in my career, the Teterboro Airport 5k, is the one of which I am most proud and satisfied. Maybe because it combined my love of making a difference for the community with my love of running. The event evolved over the years, especially after September 11th. I learned a lot about working with lots of constituents at various levels, being flexible, and responsive. I had a great partner in Mark (he remains a close friend) and perhaps the best boss I ever had in BCUW’s Tom Toronto. They both trusted me to do my job and I felt respected and appreciated. As a result, I delivered. I am also proud of the fact that Mark and I stepped away from the event as did all the key airport personnel and our original sponsor but the event has lived on because of the template we created – and the fact that it’s still simply a really awesome idea for an event.
The idea of a run on an airport runway of course wasn’t our idea, nor was it even an original idea the first time it was done at Teterboro. The original airport runway run was a 10k that first took place at JFK in 1972! The JFK Runway Run became a 5k after 2001, but it’s now in its 47th year! It typically takes place in April although the weekend varies depending on where Easter falls.
While not an original, I do feel we set a trend. When I moved to Chicago last year, I heard about the 5k at Chicago Executive Airport. I ran it last month. It’s only in it’s 6thyear. That got me thinking. How many airport runway races are there? The answer is probably more than I have time for…at least more than I had time to include in the blog right now. One thing I did notice is that while Teterboro wasn’t the first, there’s a good chance it may have been the second. All the races I had time to review were established much more recently.
If you need some inspiration, watch this video of the Hiller Aviation Museum Airport Runway Run (2k, 5k, 10k) in San Carlos, California (or see additional videos by clicking on Dubai and Toronto on the list below). I have attempted to create a list in case anyone wishes to challenge 73 year old Carol Thomas, known as the “Runway Junkie” who, as of June 23rd, had completed 31 “Runway Runs.” This is by no way an exhaustive list (please let me know if you’re aware of others) and most don’t include links (although I will try to go back and fill those in as I have time).
According to my research these cities have (or had) airport runway races:
(click on the name of the city for the link or google the city, state/country followed by “airport run” to find more information)
Alaska: Fairbanks, Sitka
Arizona: Scottsdale, Tucson
California: San Carlos
Florida: Fort Pierce, Lakeland, Melbourne, Tampa, Palm Coast, Pensacola
Georgia: Atlanta, Clayton
Massachusetts: Chicopee, New Bedford, Stow
Michigan: Grand Rapids, Holland, Watervliet
New York: Ithaca, New York City (Queens), Penn Yak, Rochester, Wappinger Falls
New Jersey: Cape May, Newark, Teterboro
North Carolina: Charlotte, Greensboro
Ohio: Akron-Canton, Columbus, Vienna
Pennsylvania: Allentown, Philadelphia
South Carolina: Charleston, Sumter County
Virginia: Fredericksburg, Manassas, Newport News, Virginia Beach
Wisconsin: La Crosse, Wausau
See “USA Race Calendar lists” for more links to some of these races.
Australia (Cairns, Gold Coast)
New Zealand (Auckland, Christchurch)
South Africa (Cape Town)
United Kingdon (London, Scotland)
Virgin Islands (St. Croix)