The Man With All The Medals

Race organizer Neil Weintraub awards a finisher with a medal after the 2018 install of the Big Brothers Big Sisters 5K and Half Marathon.

It's an oldie, but a goodie.

The Big Brothers Big Sisters of Flagstaff Dave McKay Memorial Half Marathon and 5K, one the longest-standing races at its distance in the state of Arizona, takes place Saturday in Flagstaff as the Flagstaff Summer Series narrows down to just two remaining events.

At 42 years old, BBBSF is the second-oldest half marathon in the Grand Canyon State and is Flagstaff's oldest, having survived gaps in time where there were no running series in Flagstaff it could attach itself to.

It's one of the original races of the Flagstaff Summer Series, which started in 2005 and has grown to seven total events.

Neil Weintraub has been directing the race the past 18 years. He almost always takes the time at the Fratelli Pizza pre-dinner party to warn the visiting competitors -- many hailing from the Valley --  to remember how the course is plotted so they can "enjoy" the contest.

The race begins in downtown Flagstaff and climbs and climbs and climbs. Mars Hill breaks in the legs as runners make their way to Observatory Mesa, where runners will get a stunning view of the San Francisco Peaks while, as Weintraub explained, "gasping for air."

But that leaves time for runners to make up ground later in the race as it descends back down to the start/finish line at Wheeler Park.

The current course is now entering it's 18th year. The race was at Fort Tuthill Country Park originally, but when Tuthill went through a redesign, BBBSF made its move.

According to Weintraub, the event was originally connected only with Big Brothers back in 1978 and was started as a way to raise funds. Then Big Sisters joined in. Weintraub also noted that there was a period of time around the early 1980s when the race was a marathon and half marathon.

Before Weintraub took over as director, it was Dave McKay at the helm.

"Most runners know the cause they are running for and that’s one of the important parts of why this event has succeeded for so long," Weintraub said. "But for me it’s been the support."

Some 500 runners are set to take off from the start line of this year's edition.

Over the years, Weintraub said, he's received great support from fans of the race such as Coconino County Sheriff Jim Driscoll and former Flagstaff police officer and chief of police Edward “Pat” Madden. Meanwhile, the prestigious race has seen the likes of familiar faces such as Nick Hilton and Nick Arciniaga go toe to toe for the title. Mike Smith, the current director of cross country and track and field at Northern Arizona, has also left his mark on the race as one of its champions.

In 2015, when Hilton won the battle of Nicks, the course was a muddy mess.

“I have fingers crossed they say it might dry out, but it seems to always wait the night before to dump on the course," Weintraub said.

Last year, Chris Gomez won the men's half marathon in 1:20:40, while the women's side was taken by Emily Torrence in 1:34:47.

This year’s half marathon, presented by Capstone Homes, starts at 7:30 a.m. The 5K takes off at 7:45 a.m., with the kids’ dash immediately following. Noncompetitive runners or walkers can head out at 6 a.m. Last year, a record 60 walk/runners took the early start.

The Fratelli’s Pizza Party at the Thorpe Park Picnic Ramada is today from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

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Mike Hartman can be reached at 556-2255 or at mhartman@azdailysun.com. Follow him on Twitter @AZDS_Hartman.


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