When the Junior League of Little Rock (AR) launched their annual Downtown Dash event in 2014, one of its goals was to make it accessible to families and runners of all abilities. “We saw a need in the community for more foot races, specifically 10Ks, which are a popular bridge distance between a 5K and a marathon,” says 2016 Downtown Dash Chair Ashley Hudson. “We also wanted to create a race that was in line with the Junior League's mission, which in part deals with our goal of trying to decrease childhood obesity, so it was important that our races were open to all.”

The Downtown Dash event includes three components: a 5K and a 10K, which follow a route in downtown Little Rock, and a 1K fun run for small children. The routes and scheduling were carefully selected with handicapped runners and stroller runners in mind.

Hudson shares some of her tips for creating a safe event that's accessible for runners of all abilities.

  1. Pick a consistently flat and paved route. “You need to think about the terrain on which runners will be expected to run the race,” Hudson says. “There is a popular place called River Trail that some other organizations use for their footraces that incorporates some unpaved trail, but because we wanted this race to be accessible to runners and walkers of different abilities, we chose a route that loops through downtown, which is relatively flat and provides a wide track.”
  2. Appoint volunteer “route scouts.” In the week leading up to a race, a team of volunteers are tasked with surveying the route for potholes, construction sites and other potential hazards that could potentially cause a risk for runners and walkers, including those who might be visually impaired or sitting in a wheelchair on race day.
  3. Set an earlier “gun time” for wheelchair-bound racers. “We always give our wheelchair-bound racers a head start to go off before the rest of the pack,” Hudson says. “We try to time the race to the best of our ability to ensure we aren't unintentionally creating more of a traffic jam than there already is at the beginning of a race.”
  4. Position stroller racers at the back of the starting line. This alleviates some congestion and eliminates the potential frustration more serious runners may experience in a crowded space.
  5. Market the race to your intended audience. “We try to take every opportunity we have to spread the word about our foot races, whether it be a broad or narrow audience,” Hudson says. “I make it a point to talk about how accessible our race is whenever I speak on local media.”

Source: Ashley Welch Hudson, 2016 Downtown Dash Chair, Junior League of Little Rock, Little Rock, AR. Phone (501) 375-5557. E-mail: Ashley.Hudson@kutakrock.com. Website: www.jllrdowntowndash.racesonline.com