Hundreds of elite, and not so elite, runners will be running laps in downtown Columbia on Saturday night in one of the more unusual running events in the Midlands. After a successful first effort, the Main Street Crit is back for its second tour.
Crit is short for criterium, which generally is used to describe bicycle races that feature laps on a short course. Running crits have begun to catch on in recent years. The Columbia event organizers were inspired by a popular event in Athens, Ga.
The group planning last year’s inaugural crit decided “let’s do something unique, and let’s do something that’ll highlight our city,” said Steven Johnson, one of the event’s board members.
Running laps on downtown streets makes for a better viewing experience than events such as the Governor’s Cup Half Marathon or the Columbia Marathon. In those traditional distance events, the runners pass the same spot twice at the most. People who want to follow them end up driving or biking from one spot on the course to another.
At the Main Street Crit, spectators can plant themselves in one spot on the course – basically the two blocks bordered by Main, Hampton, Sumter and Blanding streets – and keep up with their favorite runners while also enjoying the overall race. DJs will be set up on the corners, playing music to enliven the scene. Some of the Soda City Farmers Market vendors, who usually take over that section of Main on Saturday mornings, will come back for the evening race.
“We want spectators to come out, and we want them to see it’s safe on Main Street at night,” Johnson said.
The runners in the 8K do about nine laps of the course, while the 5K runners complete about six laps. The starting lines are staggered so all of the races finish in one spot, at Main and Taylor in front of Mast General.
The first crit, with minimal publicity, drew 150 runners last year. Several elite runners came from outside the state, lured by a larger-then-typical prize money pool. This year, the prize pool is $8,000, and organizers expect nearly 400 runners. Most runners will compete in the 5K. Only those with qualifying times can run in the 8K.
Working with Let’s Move Columbia, the event also wants to encourage young runners. The Kid’s Fun Run, which covers 1K, is free. Kids can run in their 7 p.m. event, grab some food from the vendors, and watch the adults in the 5K at 7:30 p.m. and the 8K at 8:45 p.m.