Folks in the upper Midwest know what to expect in March….but in 2012, known as “the Winter that Wasn’t,” all expectations were turned upside down in the most delightful way imaginable. The longest, earliest warm spell on record in Madison, WI set in during the first and second week of March and was punctuated multiple days of record-high temperatures. Kids frolicked in short sleeves, runners rejoiced at trading their treadmill workouts for fresh air, and the organizers of the Madison Shamrock Shuffle thanked their lucky stars.
And then the registration numbers for the Shamrock Shuffle began to climb along with the thermometer.
It passed 2,000 runners…then passed 3,000….and when it exceeded 3,500 in online registration alone, a tough decision had to be made. “With the sudden surge in the last days of online registration, we had to…shut down registration so we could keep everyone well taken care of with the amount of supplies in hand,” said Julia Voss, Shamrock Shuffle Organizer and Board Member. To add to the complexity, road construction on the racecourse necessitated re-routing just three days before the event.
But with sunshine and the serendipity of the Shamrock Shuffle falling on St. Patrick’s Day itself, the good vibes were unstoppable. While the Shuffle began in 2004 as a somber memorial to a runner named Jim Beyer who had been killed by a drug-impaired driver, the vibrancy and the sheer size of the 2012 event served as a fitting legacy.
Not to mention the legacy that the Madison Shamrock Shuffle has given to the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County, which benefits from the proceeds. Over the years the event has become one of the biggest annual fundraisers for the nonprofit, which offers a range of activities and programs for economically disadvantaged youth. “We feel our participants show up to run for the cause and they feel good afterwards, knowing their donation and hard work was for the benefit of The Boys & Girls Club of Dane County,” said Voss.
Race Director Steve Donovan had confidence that all would go well, but also knew it would be a challenge to meet the needs of so many participants. What he witnessed at the beginning of the race amazed him. Recounting the logistics involved in ensuring that participants in the 10k run were safely separated from those in the 5k run and the 2-mile walk, he said,
“Never did I see such an amazing display of solidarity as I did when I went to the 10K corral. I heard [the announcer] Marc Lovicott say over and over again that ‘the human gate will separate the 10K run from the 5K run,’ I went to check on what exactly the volunteers were doing. I noticed Dave, the head volunteer….forming all the start line volunteers in a row to help partition the two corrals. This long, street-wide human fence adorned in forest green shirts stood together. They helped organize the runners one by one, asking them, "Are you 10K? 10K up here." One by one, they got most of the 10K runners up the front. As the 10K runners took off, the gap left behind revealed only Dave and 16 college-aged kids standing in a line, holding back 2,500 other participants. As they were completely gone, they walked forward and led all these people to the start line.
To witness this amazing achievement in our volunteers as as team, I was quite floored. And this moment was only one of the amazing displays of camaraderie that helped us produce the best results possible: The best, most fun race for the participants. Simply amazing day.”
Many racers agreed that the event was remarkable. When asked to name most memorable moments, Michele Peterson said, “The cheering crowd along State Street as I ran to the finish of my very first race and finding a group of family & friends waiting for me there. What a rush!” Sarah Torgerson said, “I would have to say that the State Street crowd was awesome. And the bagpipers.” The infectious enthusiasm of youth participants with the Boys & Girls Club of Dane County brought huge grins for Brenda Bond, who said, “I loved giving the kids high-fives! They were awesome!!” And from an event organizer perspective, Ryan Greissmeyer of Race Day Events said, “The race director and his team did a great job adjusting to the growth of the event as well as rolling with the punches when it came to road construction. A job well done and something most people don’t even notice.”
With thousands of happy participants and tens of thousands of dollars raised for the Boys & Girls Club, time will tell what the future holds for what has become a tremendously inspiring, and very green, Madison tradition.