The River Run is morphing into something more than just a road race.
Officials have attempted to turn Saturday into an event for runners, walkers and spectators, as new additions offer something to do for all those in attendance in downtown Wichita.
“The whole family can come out now,” said Mary Beth Jarvis, CEO of Wichita Festivals Inc., which is putting on the annual River Festival. “Even friends that aren’t running can come out and support and be a part of the atmosphere. Whether you’re a hardcore runner running in the 10k or are just there with the family, there’s something for you.”
The marquee race of the day, the GoRun 10-kilometer run, will remain the same, as will the 2-mile run and the tot trot, both sponsored by Meritrust.
But a new addition, the Greater Wichita YMCA Family 2-mile walk, presents a new option for families with small children that want to complete the race together.
“People that may have been intimidated by the title of a race now have something that they can participate in,” said Clark Ensz, a race sponsor who helped coordinate the courses. “All of that is what makes these types of events work.”
Thousands are expected to be in attendance at the River Run, which will make for the largest road race in Kansas. But it’s not just about the race.
The race attracts hundreds of runners from out of state and many can stay in hotels the night before, which coincides with the River Festival’s opening night fireworks.
There is a pancake feed early Saturday morning before the race, then afterward the Spirit AeroSystems Rockin’ on the River concert will kick off at the Kennedy Plaza Stage.
“We want to give our runners the full experience,” Jarvis said. “We feel like there’s a whole weekend full of fun for them.”
But the focus hasn’t shifted off the 10k.
The new course introduced last year won’t change, according to Ensz.
“I think everybody liked the new course we did last year,” Ensz said. “I think 10k runners like a little consistency, so we’re going to try to keep the course for a while.”
The route takes runners through a mixture of the city, residential areas, parks, all the while staying along the river. And the finish, under an arch leading into the runner’s village, is still the same.
“You get this great hero’s finish, whether you are the first one in your age group or the last,” Jarvis said.
Running has seen a boom in popularity in recent years in Wichita, as the Prairie Fire Marathon series has hatched and evolved as a major race to rival the River Run.
But it’s not a competition, Ensz said, because everyone wins if more people are running.
“I think we’re all looking to do the same thing,” Ensz said. “My guess is most of the people that run in the River Run probably run something in the Prairie Fire, too. It’s great to see that we have a younger generation that understands that fitness is going to be a part of their lifestyle.”