Kalamazoo

A cold, wintry Saturday in March? Must be time to get in shape for the Kalamazoo Marathon

Run Camp has long served as the group training for what is now the Zeigler Kalamazoo Marathon, happening April 24. 
It was a bitterly cold, wintry Saturday morning in March. Snow had covered everything overnight.
 
Yet, they came to run. They put Yaktrax on their shoes to keep from slipping on the snow and donned just the right layers to stay in that area between freezing and sweating. 
 
Most importantly, they had donned their deep, personal, motivation. 
 
It had been a long winter and a longer pandemic. Many runners have had to run alone. Now the community of runners is back together.
 
Run Camp returns after two years, headed by the new 501c3 nonprofit Run Kalamazoo. Run Camp has long served as the group training for what is now the Zeigler Kalamazoo Marathon, happening April 24. 
 
There've been a few changes with the rebirth of Kalamazoo's community-run. More about that later, but now it's time to train.
 
That cold morning, Run Camp's 4.5-mile route started at Chenery Auditorium, went through Vine, down Oakland Drive to a bit around the Winchell neighborhood, and turned to head back.
 
Tom Weissert was doing stretches at Chenery before leaving with the group training for the 5-10k.
 
How do you motivate yourself, especially when it's 15 degrees?
 
Tom Weissert (left) hits the snowy streets of Kalamazoo. He says, "You run on that collective motivation. Everybody is encouraging everybody else. It's a very inclusive democratic process. All body shapes, all ages, all backgrounds.""When you jump into a crowd of several hundred people, all of whom are just out to do something for their own health, and they're all positive, there is a huge amount of energy. And it doesn't matter how cold it is, or how windy it is, that energy just brightens up the entire morning," Weissert says.
 
"That's what you run on. You run on that collective motivation. Everybody is encouraging everybody else. It's a very inclusive democratic process. All body shapes, all ages, all backgrounds, all have one thing in common: Let's get up this morning and do something good for ourselves."
 
Running as a community
 
The Kalamazoo Marathon is all about individual fortitude combined with community spirit, Chris Lampen-Crowell, co-owner of Gazelle Sports and running advocate, says. 
 
"It's one of those spring celebrations saying, hey, we're Kalamazoo, we're proud of where we live, and we want to support a healthy community," he says.
 
Run Kalamazoo's Run Camp took place on a frigid Saturday Morning, March 12. Runners left Chenery Auditorium for a 4.5 mile route to the Winchell neighborhood and back.Lampen-Crowell sites Blaine Lam as the main organizer for the past 20 years of what was originally the Borgess Run Camp, Borgess Run for the Health of It, and Kalamazoo Marathon.
 
"I give credit to Blaine Lam for getting that high level of community engagement," he says. Every spring, non-runners would get involved, cheering on participants along the route, volunteering for official and non-official "spirit stations," and holding run/walk events for people who weren't hardcore marathoners.
 
After turning the run virtual for 2020 -- 3,000 ran, but not as a group -- Lam retired from his work with the events. In 2021, the marathon and run camp didn't happen.
 
For this year, Borgess turned to Lampen-Crowell to see if they could hand the marathon off to him. 
 
He says he asked himself, "How important is this, or do I just live in a running bubble, in a running store, being a runner. So I called a number of people who aren't runners but are local leaders in Kalamazoo, and a hundred percent of them said, yeah, this is an important event. One of those Kalamazoo events that the community can rally around, and it helps our identity as a healthy community."
 
To bring back the marathon, he needed sponsors -- therefore it's now the Zeigler Kalamazoo Marathon. Other sponsors include Ascension Borgess, Stryker, and AVB. 
 
Run Kalamazoo's Run Camp took place on a frigid Saturday Morning, March 12. Runners left Chenery Auditorium for a 4.5 mile route to the Winchell neighborhood and back.It's called the "Marathon," but this year the full run will be a half-marathon. Planning for the return of the event started in February. "It's logistically a lot more difficult to put a full marathon together, in terms of the course, in terms of volunteers, in terms of the expenses of putting it on. So there just wasn't the time and capacity to put that together for 2022," Lampen-Crowell says. The full marathon will return in 2023.
 
One big change this year is, "we're bringing the event downtown." The half-marathon, 10k, and 5k routes will start and end at Arcadia Creek Festival Place. 
 
Running is 10% physical, 90% mental, and maybe an extra 5% bacon
 
"The bacon's back," Lampen-Crowell says.
 
The unofficial tagline for the run is "Beer, bacon, and balloons!" he says. Zeigler will have their hot-air balloon at Arcadia. Imperial Beverage will have a special beer at the finish line. And "we're bringing back the Bacon Station."
 
Enthusiastic supporters at the 2019 marathon encourage runners with the promise of a cold beer at the end.On Waite Avenue long ago, neighbors spontaneously came together to hand bacon to runners. This year it'll be just before mile 10. 
 
Why? Why not some high-performance gel pack marketed to runners and bikers, the kind packed with quick-burning calories and amino acids and such?
 
"When you're running long distances, it's the salts and the fats!" Carrie Drake, race director, says.
 
"There are ultra runners out there who'll have their sag wagons (support team) give them full pizzas because you're burning so many calories." 
 
Drake says she once did a trail marathon where her run partner got them lost. After growing feelings of hopelessness, they managed to find an aid station, "and there were blueberries and pretzels, and it was just... The blueberries and pretzels were so delicious!" 
 
Run Kalamazoo's Run Camp took place on a frigid Saturday Morning, March 12. Runners left Chenery Auditorium for a 4.5 mile route to the Winchell neighborhood and back.Long-distance runners face an extreme test of their abilities, put their bodies, muscles, metabolisms into such a state where shoving bacon or whole pizzas to their stomachs while running is an ecstatic experience. 
 
A Kalamazoo native, Drake has run marathons from here to Boston. She's learned there's a mindset behind being able to cross the finish line. 
 
"Running is 10% physical and 90% mental," she says.
 
It's all about "cultivating a mindset of positivity, of also openness.... Whether I'm expecting just to cross the finish line or I'm going for a PR (personal record), I just go in with an openness to what the day will bring. Because there is only so much I can control. And that includes how my body's going to feel, if it's a good run-day or not, but the goal is still the same. I trust my training, and I think that openness allows me to move through the course with all the challenges and obstacles, mentally and physically, with an attitude or mindset that's more resilient than if I have rigid expectations." 
 
'I'm part of this!'
 
The beauty of the marathon is, it doesn't matter if one is an elite, she says. This event is one where the average runner "can be with the elites... run at the same time as the elites are running, on the same course. I think that's an incredible thing," Drake says.
 
It's inclusive, a group of people trying their best, but not in fierce competition with each other to be first across the finish line.
 
A shot from the 2019 Marathon shows runners and those encouraging their run."The beauty of events like these is... you're collectively all together. There's so much energy and empowerment that you can get from others," Drake says.
 
"Also it's such a singular experience, too, because you're relying so heavily on yourself. That's such a unique, beautiful metaphor for life overall, in that we are together, and yet we're moving ourselves forward.... Moving forward together, and yet singularly." 
 
Before running out into the snowy frigid Saturday, Run Camp co-organizer Andrea Charmley addressed the crowd. 
 
"You made it today! Which is fantastic! Because as you saw, the driving conditions are a tiny bit sketchy my friends." She let them know that the person putting out markers for the course had a problem driving up a hill to place the one-mile marker. "Don't worry, it's not there."
 
Drivers might be struggling, cars could be a danger, try to stay on the sidewalks though they might not be shoveled, a marker might be missing -- the difficulties they'd face were all laid out with a positive, "you can do this!" vibe.
 
Weissert thinks of what it's like to work up the motivation to do it alone.
 
"I think when you're trying to do something on your own, and it's hard, you aren't always your best own motivator. But when you're with a group, everybody encouraging you, high-fiving you, slapping you on the back and telling you what a good job you're doing, you feel like, 'I'm part of this!'" 
 
 
Mark Wedel has been a Kalamazoo-based freelance journalist since 1993. Full disclosure: He's married to Jules Isenberg-Wedel, who has often brought out her wig collection for her and friends, to run the wiggiest Kalamazoo Marathon spirit station.