Ferguson Twilight Run debuted in May 2010 as the first evening race in North St. Louis County. Since the beginning, the event has encouraged a sense of community while supporting a common interest. Proceeds are donated to nonprofits in North St. Louis County that promote the healthy and sustainable benefits of fitness. To date, more than $100,000 has been given to community organizations through the Donnie White Sr. Memorial Beneficiary Award.
The idea for the Ferguson Twilight Run developed as the City of Ferguson and Trailnet collaborated on Live Well Ferguson, a community initiative that helps area residents lead healthier lifestyles through active living and improved dietary habits. As part of the initiative, a “Couch to 5K” program trained runners with the goal of completing the 5K distance at the annual GO! St. Louis Marathon & Family Fitness Weekend.
“We wondered, why take these people outside of our community,” said race director Dwayne James. “The first year of the Ferguson Twilight Run, we hoped to get around 300 people. We ended up getting 900. It went from a point of excitement to getting scary, and then back to excitement once we saw everyone come together to help.”
James is quick to point to both his “amazing team” and “community ownership” of the run as reasons for its continued success. (Ferguson Twilight Run has been recognized by Big River Race Management for “Best Neighborhood Support” five out of the past six years.) Participants can expect motivational yard signs and cheer stations along the route, along with an inclusive sense of welcome and fellowship.
“It’s the community’s race. During the run, people will see folks on their front porches cheering them on. They’ll see yard signs. Those people did the cheer stations and yard signs. And it was organic. We just promote that as part of the race,” said James. “The run is pro timed, to ensure the experience is good for seasoned runners, but we’re cognizant that the people who walk across the finish line are just as important. We keep the route open, and the volunteers clap just as hard for the last person as for the first. That’s the sense of community we portray.”
In 2014, amidst the turmoil surrounding the shooting death of Michael Brown, the Ferguson Twilight Run also provided perspective, says James. “I saw people share stories [on social media] of when they did the run, just to show all aspects [of the community],” he said. “The course goes all over Ferguson and North County, so runners and walkers see the area in a new light instead of what they see in the media. They see our homes, businesses, and infrastructure and encounter people that aren’t always showcased on the news.”
The run has grown to 2,000 participants in person and virtually, with 21 states and 128 zip codes represented in a normal year. In 2021, the Ferguson Twilight Run will welcome up to 700 participants to run or walk the 1-mile, 5K, or 10K distances. Due to limited capacity, registration is encouraged in advance. For the safety of in-person runners and walkers, there will be staggered starts between pace groups.
A new route starting and finishing at McCluer South Berkeley School awaits runners this year. The 5K (3.1 miles) and 10K (6.2 miles) routes will use most of the Ted Jones Trail. Routes are USATF-certified by Big River Race Management.
Also new is a partnership with a professional sports team, Hoka One One Northern Arizona Elite (NAZ). NAZ athletes are promoting the race to running fans around the globe and are actively involved in planning the 2021 race. The team, based out of Flagstaff, Arizona, has a connection to St. Louis through head coach Ben Rosario.
“2020 was a year that forced our athletes to do a lot of soul-searching about why exactly it is they do what they do, and for not only what they want to get out of the sport of running but also what they can do to give back,” Rosario said.
This year, the Ferguson Twilight Run will benefit four organizations: A Red Circle, Emerson Family YMCA, Girls on the Run St. Louis Ferguson-Florissant School District, and St. Vincent Home for Children.
“The goal is for the money to go into continued involvement with the community,” said James. “The thing I’m proudest of is seeing people who started out as volunteers — because they didn’t think they could finish the run — who are now participants and seasoned runners. That and people who were kids that first year who are adults now and still running. That’s the biggest thing to me.”
Author: Brad Kovach is the editor/publisher of Terrain Magazine.