I was discussing the abundance of new outdoor events in central Arkansas with a friend the other day; runs, bicycle rides and races, paddling, climbing events, etc. Something he said struck me, “I remember when all we had was the Firecracker Fast 5K.” I’m sure there were other events back in the mid-seventies but not many are still going strong. Since the purchase of Gary Smith’s Easy Runner by regional running store, Fleet Feet Sports, the fate of the Firecracker Fast 5K, a 4th of July staple, has been in question. Bill Torrey, long time race manager, recently opened his own running store, Rock City Running, and would not be organizing the race. Instead, Fleet Feet brought in Start2Finish event management, an event organizer out of Memphis, Tennessee that runs several events in Arkansas including the Mighty Mite Triathlon in Wynne/Forrest City. The big purse that previously brought in big running names was gone making this race more accessible (winable) to the local runners. With over 1400 participants, the lack of big money prizes didn’t seem to hurt entries.
The race began at the starting line used for the first time last year which is about a block west of University on Kavanaugh. This allows for a straight start instead of making a turn at the top. After the first little hill at the beginning it’s almost all downhill. Many of the participants show up anticipating setting their own personal bests.
Shortly after crossing Cantrell Road the runners leave the Heights area and enter Hillcrest, with big beautiful homes on one side and Allsopp Park on the other. As the road winds down in front of Mount St. Mary’s Academy, volunteers are ready with the only water station of the course. The runners then turn off Kavanaugh and on to Van Buren as they head to War Memorial Stadium. The entire course is closed for the duration of the race giving runners full access to both lanes as they fly down toward Markham Avenue. Most of the course is fairly shaded which also aids the speed of the runners but that doesn’t help much when they make the turn at the Little Rock Zoo to head up the only real hill of the run.
The Summer heat begins to rob people of their motivation at this point. Some of those pushing really hard have been known to misplace their cookies somewhere along this portion. This is the only walking portion for some but everyone keeps moving forward to the top of the hill which is followed by a short downhill to the finish line. Start2Finish used chip timing which allowed all the runners to see if they succeeded in achieving a PR.
The finish line was crowded by the time I got there. Tents were up with various foods to replenish the runners and to keep everyone in the spirit of Independence Day, the Bob Boyd Sounds was there to play patriotic music. Shuttles were available to take participants back to the start to get their cars but many used the opportunity of a beautiful morning to walk the course back.
The Heights is home to another running store, Go! Running where an after-race party was brewing. Refreshing drinks, chicken and waffles, a wading pool and hula-hoop were awaiting those who were drawn in by the music that could be heard for blocks around.
After 37 years it looks like the Firecracker Fast 5K will continue being a staple of the Little Rock running community. We hope to see you there next year.
Running fast downhill is for those with a low center of gravity or those who are fleet of feet. I am neither. Most of the video below was shot from my bicycle as I made good use of gravity.
Check out the photos on our Facebook Page! So many it took two albums to do it.
Photos Part One
Photos Part Two