Birdtown Half Marathon focuses on community involvement

May 17 race will wind through Robbinsdale, Golden Valley, Crystal, and Brooklyn Center

The first annual Birdtown Half Marathon, 8k, 4k, and “Lil’ Birdie” Fun Runs will kick off at 8 a.m., May 17th, at Lakeview Terrace Park.

The events are designed for runners of all ability levels, organizers said.

“It’s for competitive racers, but it’s also for people to just be social and get out on a Saturday morning,” said Race Director Mark Bontrager. “That’s the main premise – to get active, be active.”

The 8k and 4k distances are both wheelchair-friendly, and any participant is welcome to walk those distances if they choose. The half marathon can be walked, too, provided participants are able to maintain a 16 minute per mile pace overall.

“Whatever activity you want to do, come out and do it. You will be supported,” said Bontrager.

Getting active at the Birdtown isn’t just for those running the races, Bontrager says. He and other organizers hope to have the community as a whole come together to cheer on participants and patronize local businesses in downtown Robbinsdale. Bontrager mentioned stopping at the Birdtown Cafe for breakfast as an example.

“We are closing down two blocks (along West Broadway) from 40th to 42nd, and I want that to be one giant cheer squad. I want cowbells and people cheering and encouraging and just screaming and yelling positive thoughts,” Bontrager said.

“You can participate as a runner, you can participate as a business, as a sponsor, and you can participate as a spectator, so there’s something for everyone,” said Robbinsdale Mayor Regan Murphy.

Each race will start in Lakeview Terrace Park. The half marathon winds through Golden Valley, Crystal, and Brooklyn Center, touching along Twin Lake, through Sochacki Park, and several neighborhoods along Sanborn Park. The 4k is basically a loop around Crystal Lake and surrounding neighborhoods, and the fun runs – which are designed for children up to age 12 – will most likely consist of a lap around the Lakeview Terrace Park or a run along the baseball field’s basepaths, depending on the ages of participants. All three adult races will also feature a long run along Victory Memorial Parkway.

The idea for the Birdtown has been in the works for years.

Bontrager served on the Robbinsdale Planning Commission with now-Mayor Murphy. Both competed in triathlons and bonded over their mutual appreciation of those races and similar ones.

Murphy said his 2013 New Year’s resolution was to create the half marathon.

To that end, Bontrager, Murphy, and a handful of other fitness enthusiasts, such as Lions Gym co-owner Leah Menya, got together to actually plan a race in Robbinsdale last May.

North Memorial Hospital hosts an annual 5k during Whiz Bang Days and the most recent Minneapolis Marathon had a brief portion of its course in Robbinsdale, but the Birdtown is the first time Robbinsdale itself has ever had a half marathon, Murphy said.

“It’s just one of those things where there was a group of people that kept talking about wanting to have a race or something in Robbinsdale on a grander scale than a five or 10k,” Bontrager said in a phone interview.

“Something with a little more community involvement,” he added.

Community involvement is a key component of the Birdtown.

He and other event organizers have compiled seven sponsors, all of whom are local businesses ranging from Pig Ate My Pizza to Lions Gym to Wuollet’s bakery, which will be donating 500 muffins to hungry participants on race day. Sponsorships pay for many of the race’s basic costs, like timing equipment, printing race shirts, and paying a race management company.

The Lodge, Murphy said, is the official “post-race” sponsor and a t-shirt sponsor, meaning they’ll have their business’ name and logo on official Birdtown t-shirts and host the official race after party.

Money from registrants, Bontrager said, will hopefully comprise the race’s profits. A majority of those profits will go to the Heart of Robbinsdale Community Foundation.

“It’s another way of giving back, making Robbinsdale a better place,” Bontrager said of the contribution to the foundation.

The half marathon’s primary sponsor is North Memorial Healthcare. The hospital – with the goal of increasing its profile in the community – is donating time, money, ambulances, paramedics, and volunteers towards the races.

“They’ve kind of had this renewed commitment to Robbinsdale and the surrounding community,” Murphy said. “I think this is a big part of them illustrating that.”

As of Feb. 21, the Birdtown Half Marathon has roughly 12 sponsors lined up and 200 runners registered in total, regardless of distance.

Registration costs will increase on Feb. 28, then remain constant through April 17. The cost to register on the day of the event will be even higher.

Murphy said the registration goal has been set at 500 participants across all distances, and that organizers are thinking of fun incentives to reach that goal.

One possible incentive? If the race ends up with 400 or 500 registrants – Murphy and Bontrager haven’t settled on a number yet – Murphy will run the half marathon in a kilt.

“It’s something fun. I don’t know if it’ll encourage people, but it’s something unique and quirky,” Murphy said.