If the number of people who showed up for a run/walk fund-rasier on Sunday afternoon is any indication, fools really do prefer to run at midnight.
Sunday's 18th Annual Only Fools Run/Walk featured a new afternoon time, a new venue in the Mendenhall Valley and a new emphasis on participation and raising money for the Alaska chapter of the Muscular Dystrophy Association.
All the variables led to a sharp decrease in entries as only about 70-75 runners showed up for a race that historically has drawn between 200 and 300, some wearing costumes as they completed the five-kilometer running or one-mile walking courses which used to be downtown. No runners were in costume Sunday.
"We knew it was a risk, but we had to take a chance," said Jeff Bauknecht, the Tacoma, Wash.-based regional field representative for MDA.
"We were trying to make it more of a fund-raiser instead of a race, and to make it more family oriented," said Amanda Tew, who works out of Anchorage for the Alaska chapter of MDA.
For several years, the race was called Only Fools Run at Midnight and took place at midnight on the Friday night/Saturday morning closest to the Summer Solstice. Last year, the start time was moved up to 10 p.m. on Friday and the race was called Only Fools Run at Night.
This year the event took place at 3 p.m. on a Sunday afternoon. A couple of past-year runners, who sat things out Sunday but did watch the race, were overheard asking each other if they were "boycotting" the race as some members of the running community had suggested.
"I liked it at midnight, it was easier," said Shawn Miller, the former Western Washington University runner who posted the fastest unofficial time around the long course (20 minutes, 4 seconds). "You can follow the police car if you're running at night, and the adrenaline kicks in and gets you going. I did a lot of my training early in the morning. I liked it when it was Only Fools Run at Midnight, then last year they moved it up two hours. Now it's not even at night anymore. In two years it probably means it will be at 6 a.m. on Monday."
While some runners didn't like the afternoon start, the earlier start time suited some parents of younger runners.
"Midnight is not the time for kids," said Joan Rieselbach, who ran the 5K course with her 9-year-old daughter, Maya. "She's been running with the Thursday kid runs and she wants to do more races now, like the Governor's Cup in July. I think the midnight start is harder for me than for her."
The venue change was a result of new state regulations for permits to hold events on state-owned public streets, which local running and cycling club officials said have made permits more difficult to obtain this year. Tew said MDA was warned the new regulations might make it hard to get a permit for the streets downtown, so they looked for another course.
In his pre-race introduction, Bauknecht told runners the course was changed again about two weeks ago when MDA found out it couldn't have the start-finish line at the Valley location of the Juneau Racquet Club, so the start-finish line moved to the Mendenhall Mall. He said that lengthened the long race from a 5K (3.1 miles) to 3.6 miles, and the short course went from one mile to 1.5 miles.
Race officials didn't record times this year, as they de-emphasized the competitive aspect of the event. The only concession to time was a large pace clock at the finish line. Runners were told to note their own times if they wanted them for their records.
Miller easily finished ahead of runner-up Dave Pusich, who posted an unofficial time of 21:47. High school runners Gabe Hayden (22:50) and Bryce Iverson (22:53) were next, followed by Wesley Dinnan (23:44) who becomes a ninth-grader in the fall.
"This was the first time I've done it, so I'm not sure," said Dinnan, when asked what he thought about the time change. "Midnight was sort of the race's trademark, but I had a good time."
"I heard a lot of people thought last year was funner," added Wesley's twin, Tyler Dinnan, who took seventh place in 25:09.
The top female runner, in 10th place overall, was Abby Blair (25:33), a local Mississippi State University veterinary medicine student who took eighth among more than 1,000 women in April's Country Music Marathon in Nashville, Tenn. The second female runner was high school runner Molly Krehlik (26:40 for 12th overall) and the third female was Jordan Moser (29:05), who enters high school this fall.
Tew said the main reason for all the changes was the event had reached a plateau as a fund-raiser and organizers hoped to find a way to raise more money to combat the 43 neuromuscular diseases associated with muscular dystrophy. All money raised by the event stays in Alaska and helps pay for annual flu shots, annual clinic visits, medical equipment and to send children with muscular dystrophy to summer camp. She said this year's event raised about $4,200 to $5,000, which is down from last year's net of $6,500.
"I think the running community has spoken," said Bauknecht, who added that MDA officials haven't decided what they'll do with the event next year. "I think the event got such a history, it became a great running event but wasn't doing what it needed to as a fund-raising event. Fund-raising goes in cycles, though. We used to hold bowling events that raised $40,000 and they don't raise $20,000 now."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.