Mother’s Day road races clash in North Raleigh

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJanuary 28, 2014 

Kathryn Upchurch, left, and Lia Slaton cross the finish line during the Run for Young race in downtown Raleigh earlier this month. City leaders are still grappling with conflicts associated with Raleigh’s high demand for road races, including two Mother’s Day events in the same neighborhood.

JILL KNIGHT — jhknight@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— City leaders have approved two road races in North Raleigh’s Wakefield area on the same day despite pleas from one race organizer to reject the other event.

The controversy surrounding two Mother’s Day races highlights continued problems with the city’s street closing approval process as well as the ongoing tension between local organizers and for-profit national companies running similar events.

For months, the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon’s planned April debut in downtown Raleigh has generated outcry from some local running groups as well as affected businesses and churches. The latest running kerfuffle is taking place in North Raleigh, where two May 11 starting lines are just a half-mile apart.

The organizers of Run Like A Mother – a for-profit, female-only 5k held in eight cities across the country – asked the city council to reject retired Raleigh police officer Paula O’Neal’s Mother Of All Races event, which raises money for breast cancer patients. Run Like A Mother starts at the Kerr Family YMCA and winds through neighborhood streets, while Mother Of All Races starts at the Wakefield Food Lion center and runs down Falls of Neuse Road to the greenway.

“Participants will be confused by the name and proximity of these two similar events and schedules,” Run Like A Mother director Patricia Ball wrote to the city council. “Available parking will be compromised. Police and other city resources may be unnecessarily strained.”

O’Neal, however, thinks both races can take place on May 11 without any problems. But she says she got the runaround from city staffers in part because of the opposition from Run Like A Mother. And O’Neal has already had her RunRaleigh Half Marathon rescheduled to make way for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.

Initially, Mother Of All Races was tentatively approved, and O’Neal opened registration for the event. Then, she says, her former colleagues in the police department yanked the approval because the event was located too close to the other race.

“The fact that the Mother Of All Races is being scheduled the same date and time is not grounds to withhold approval because (Ball) views the Mother Of All Races as competition,” O’Neal wrote to the council.

O’Neal rejected Ball’s claim that the race was deliberately given a similar name to compete for the same runners. “Themed races on a holiday often have similar names,” she wrote.

The dispute between the two race organizers was further complicated by a little-enforced, decades-old rule: city ordinances don’t allow two races to occur at the same time. But that rule is often ignored, assistant city manager Dan Howe told the city council.

“There have been many instances where these races were in different parts of town at the same time,” Howe said. “It exposes a grey area in our policy. ... . It was very difficult for us to tell one or the other of the race organizers that theirs won’t go.”

Howe said one race agreed to a different start time to minimize the impact to traffic, which between the two events will close northbound lanes of Falls of Neuse as well as some neighborhood streets north of the YMCA.

“We think these two races can happen at the same time without any logistical impact,” Howe said.

But while council members approved both races this time, they’ll likely consider the scheduling concerns when they next discuss road race policies in the coming months.

“I have a feeling we’re going to be tweaking these things for the next two or three years before we get it acceptable,” Councilman John Odom said.

Campbell: 919-829-4802; Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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