Closer to Free

Good Exercise

Labor Day’s the first holiday of the school year, but a lot of folks don’t feel like resting that week. They prefer to run, bike or just play in the grass at health-conscious communal events.

First up are the runners. The New Haven Road Race has been held for three-and-a-half decades. This year, 7,000 runners will participate, the most ever. Nineteen of those 7,000 have run in every race since it began in 1977.

A whole culture has grown up around race day. It’s a festival of activities and community spirit for runners and non-runners alike. The whole Green is a flurry of activity, with live music, food samples (loaves from Chabaso! Ice cream from Turkey Hill!), information tents and more.

If you’re a child, you can participate in the half-mile “Kids Run”—that rare thrill of being able to run away from your parents, down the middle of a city street on a weekday morning, with the blessings of the entire city. (The Kids Run, sponsored by Children’s Dental Group, is afforded its own registration process, and nets the kids a “Participant” ribbon and a T-shirt.) But children who are shy about dashing off in a hundreds-strong throng of fleet feet can hang back on the Green and partake of a bouncy castle, an inflated tunnel contraption, a giant slide, an obstacle course and other high-energy distractions. For the runners, there are four live bands playing along the 5K course and 14 bands to be enjoyed by the 20K runners.

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Well-wishers line much of the runners’ routes, but the main spectator sport is watching the triumphant runners hit the Temple Street finish line, dizzy with excitement. Everybody gets to wind down after the races by exploring the Green. All three of the races—the half-mile Kids Run, and the 5K and 20K races for adults, all begin and end at the Green.

The New Haven Road Race is a non-profit organization with a host of big sponsors, among them Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield, Stratton Faxon, a couple of different orthopedic centers and the New Haven County Medical Association. The NHRR organization distributes its surplus funds to some two dozen charities. Last year, that long list included the Tommy Fund, the Freddy Fixer Parade Committee, New Haven Animal Shelter, Ring One Boxing, LEAP, Life Haven and several churches.

Another extensive endurance exercise, of more recent vintage, is the Closer to Free bicycle ride, which began just last year. This year’s ride occurs Saturday, September 8, starting and ending at the Yale Bowl. Closer to Free is a full-out fundraiser to benefit Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, where new methods to diagnose, prevent and treat cancer are developed. Each individual rider commits to raising at least $400 for the center.

That monetary minimum, and the pedal-happy mode of transportation, may be the only thing that all of the participants have in common. Riders can be of any age (though children need to be accompanied by adults) and can take any of three different routes: the 25-mile one, the 65-mile one or the (holy moly!) 100-mile one.

Last year’s inaugural ride raised over $400,000, and by mid-July this year’s ride has already brought in over $165,000 in sponsorships. The event also raises awareness of Smilow’s services, and can help more people become conscious of how cancer can be detected and treated. Many of the cyclists ride in honor of people they’ve known who’ve died of cancer.

So it’s a big week for the non-automotive among us. The routes for both the New Haven Road Race and the Closer to Free Bike Ride offer views of the city you might never glimpse from a car or bus. It’s a colorful, scenic, eye-opening way to experience the end of summer.

If all that dashing about seems the very antithesis of the “day of rest” which many see as the reward of Labor Day, remember that others find long runs and rides to be meditative, contemplative and peaceful. Especially when you’re thinking about good works being done for others.

Written by Christopher Arnott. Photographs courtesy of Closer to Free.

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