By Erin Crowell
This year, the National Cherry Festival turns 84, making one of its
events, the Meijer Festival of Races, look young at a spry
38-years-old. However, the races have been around long enough to
inspire family traditions and bring thousands together, both
participants and spectators, for one last Cherry Festival hoorah.
Even more new to the scene is Lisa Taylor race director for the
event. This will only be Taylors second year taking the helm; but
with over 30 years of experience running in the festival race, Taylor
is well versed in all that is cherry.
The Express recently chatted with Taylor over the phone about the
upcoming 5k and 15k Meijer Festival of Races, happening July 10, in
downtown Traverse City. Fittingly, the U.S. Navys Blue Angels were
just coming into town at the time, ripping apart the skies with their
first-round of aerial practices for the week.
NE: So, I hope you can hear me over the jet engines.
Taylor: Yes, Wow! It looks like Cherry Festival is really here
NE: So, could you tell me a little about your new role as race director?
Taylor: Last year was my first year and I was like, Oh, Im just
going to see how all of this works and see what kind of reception I
get. It went really well. So that got me fired up to do it again and
make it really great.
NE: How did you fall into the role?
Taylor: Theres certainly no college degree in race directing. It was
really because I have a great love in participating in the event. Ive
spent years being a participant and observing races all over the
country. I qualified for and ran the Boston Marathon. Ive always
watched with the eye of, If I did this, I would do it like that.
Ive picked pieces and observed as a way to kind of prepare.
NE: What kind of numbers are you expecting at this years race?
Taylor: Its really exciting to see whats happening with running
events across the country. The last year or two theres been like a
second boom of running. Were anticipating a 25 to 30 percent increase
over last year, so well over 3,000 people.
Taylor: Yeah, its big. Ive tried to add some elements that would
make it more of a social type of activity, because thats what this
race has become for a lot of people. Were going to havefor the
second yearthe new finish at the intersection of Front and Union
streets. It was initially off a road where not as many parade goers
could see it. The runners finish on the parade route, literally. It
really is a fun experience.
The other new thing is a beer tent awards finish. Get a little cold
one to cool off, whether its cherry soda or beer. We plan on seeing
how that goes and see if we cant turn that into a type of pseudo
Another change is the Golden Mile. Its back to its original home.
Since 1983, the Festival of Races has had this elite mile which
invites elite men and women from all over. The men have to qualify at
a 4:10 mile pace, with women at a 4:50 pace. So, some of the best
runners come to duke it out. Theres also prize money for the man who
finishes under four minutes; and the woman who finishes under 4:30.
There will be about a dozen in each race.
NE: I thought the Golden Mile had found a new home at the Traverse
City Film Festival?
Taylor: Yes, and the guys behind the raceBryan Burns and Eric
Houghtonreintroduced the concept. The film festival was a great
venue; but they asked, Can we do it again like we did back in 83?
The last time the Cherry Festival hosted the Golden Mile was back in
2002; and now its back. Were really excitedwait, hold on (She
pauses as the sound of a jet engine roars in the background).
NE: In your opinion, what makes a great race?
Taylor: Accurate timing, an organized registration system and the
venue and race course itself. Ours is just fantastic. Running along
the east shores of East Bay, going over the peninsula and McKinley
Hill once you get back down the hill you follow down West Bay and its
just a beautiful venue for running. That is, of course, the 15k.
The 5k has a run through some of the classic neighborhoods, like
Washington Street onto Front.
The other element is to have fun activities that are associated with
the finish area, like good finish food.
NE: What food is on the menu for this year?
Taylor: Yogurt, cookies, bagels, bananas Were going to hand the
racers a cup of sweet cherries from Cherry Bay Orchards. I dont know
of any other race that can give fresh sweet cherries, grown locally.
NE: Ive always been curious about this: how do you measure a race
course? I picture a bunch of people piled into a car hitting the
Taylor: (Laughs) That is an excellent question! Not many people ask
that. I have a certified course measurer with U.S. Amateur Track and
Field; and they have this very elaborate requirement for how a course
is to be measured. It involves special equipment that you mount to
your bike. You have to calibrate your bike to a pre-measured distance,
then it involves spring scales, steel tape, tire pressure. Oh, and
NE: What makes these races so special?
Taylor: As a director, seeing everyone having so much fun, doing a
really healthy physical activity together. As a participant, part of
what I like about races like the Cherry Festivalwhich has been going
on for 38 yearsis the traditions that people have established around
the event. I know in our family, its run the race, talk with friends,
watch others finish, eat a bratwurst, sit and watch the parade, then
go home, take a nap and then return into town for the fireworks.
NE: Sounds like a good day. What advice would you give to first-time
runners of this race?
Taylor: My advice would be start slowly and start according to your
ability. We have pace corrals that will help people pace themselves.
For example, if I started running 12-minute miles, I shouldnt be
lined up with guys running 5-minute miles. Someone will get hurt.
Notice everything around you, the people that are at your same pace
and enjoy being together. The second thing would be, get registered
early (laughs) so you can think through the timeline of your morning
and really maximizing your day with a fun event, like a 5k or 15k run.
Registration for the Meijer Festival of Races, happening July 10, is
available online through July 8 at visit.cherryfestival.org/race-info.
There you will find complete information on the course, as well as
packet-pickup location and times.