Small suggestion led to big task of creating Ann Arbor Marathon
Angela J. Cesere | AnnArbor.com
Mike Highfield drove around, searching. He took laps around the city. He went out to Saline.
Highfield is the founder of Champions for Charity, the organization that sponsors many of the running events in the Ann Arbor area. This one was going to be bigger than all of them.
As Highfield hopped into his car last summer, he was in search of the perfect route for Ann Arbor’s first marathon, which will be run June 17.
The idea wasn’t new. Highfield had a friend try to put one together 10 years ago. After the city rejected the proposal, the idea lay dormant — until last summer.
For Ann Arbor’s biggest running event to come to fruition, it took the tiniest suggestion.
Ellie Serras, a retired event coordinator for the Main Street Area Association and avid marathon runner, thought a marathon in Ann Arbor might allow people to discover new places and attract visitors to the city
At Champions for Charity’s July 4 Ann Arbor Firecracker 5K last summer, she casually mentioned the idea to Highfield and his wife, Andrea Highfield, Champions for Charity’s executive director.
“I just happened to throw it out to Andrea and just say, ‘You know what? You guys really ought to look at having a marathon in Ann Arbor because you guys could do this.’” Serras said. “I think it was that offhand remark that might have just sparked it for them.”
“That inspired me,” Mike Highfield said. “I just got in my car, and I just started driving.”
He didn’t think the city was going to allow the entire race within Ann Arbor boundaries, so he constructed a route to Saline High School and back. Then he sat down with the Ann Arbor Police Department.
“They sort of said, ‘Well, you could do this,’” Highfield said. “You could go down Geddes and do that. Then I started conceiving a course entirely in the city limits of Ann Arbor.”
After talking with some other runners, Highfield constructed a course. A few revisions were necessary to make sure the marathon didn’t interfere too much with Michigan’s football camp, which starts on the same day, or the Ann Arbor Transit Authority's routes.
Eventually, Highfield had a course entirely within the city passed through city council.
The race starts at the intersection of Keech and Main, right by the northwest corner of Michigan Stadium. It goes up Main, across to Liberty and North University, down Geddes, up and back on Huron to Fuller, through part of the Nichols Arboretum, down and up Washtenaw, down State Street to Eisenhower, back to Main Street and finishes at Elbel Field. Course maps can be found on the Ann Arbor Marathon website.
Now, the focus has changed to spreading the word. Champions for Charity is working with local businesses, churches and anybody else affected by the marathon to ensure nobody is harmed by the race.
“We’re even having churches calling and saying they want to help and businesses on the course who are going to be there and put out water stops,” Andrea Highfield said. “People are just amazingly excited about this, more than I anticipated.”
As of late March, there were registrants from 33 states and Washington D.C.
The marathon is limited to 2,500 participants this year, in an effort to make sure everything runs smoothly and the streets aren’t closed too long. But the event also includes a half-marathon (limited to 5,000 participants), a 5K, and a 1.2-mile run.
“All of our races are to raise money for nonprofits and for charity, and so I think that even got people more interested in it,” Andrea Highfield said. “People kept asking us and saying ‘Oh please do this.’ I didn’t realize what a demand there would be outside of Ann Arbor though.”
The Ann Arbor Public Schools Education Foundation is the Ann Arbor Marathon’s beneficiary. Six dollars of every registration fee will go to the foundation, as well as any additional contributions made by runners. Community members also can make fundraising pages through the foundation to help the cause.
The goal is to raise $60,000 to be used “where most needed,” board member Christy Perros. said.
“It’s an incredible gift to us and the community,” Perros said. “When we were putting together our budget for this fiscal year, we had no idea that this was even going to happen. So when they came to us and asked if we’d be willing to be the main beneficiary, or really the only beneficiary they’re giving their registration fees to, we’re absolutely thrilled.”
She, and a whole lot of people who will run June 17.