Offering a full marathon for the second year in a row, the Brian Mickelsen Memorial Run has steadily grown to become one of Arizona's premier races, but still stays true to its beginnings, offering a race for the community.
"Our focus continues to be to provide this race, an affordable race, to the people of the Verde Valley first and foremost," said program supervisor Ryan Bigelow. "If we attract people form around the state and around the country, I consider that a bonus, but really, this is for the people that we live with."
The Brian Mickelsen Memorial Run began 21 years ago as the Verde/Mingus Blowout 10k, which offered a 10k race and a 2-mile race. In 2007, the race was renamed the Brian Mickelsen Memorial Run after the passing of the former City Manager, honoring what he had done for Cottonwood during his 20 plus years of service.
In the first year of the event, the race drew more than 400 participants and that number has grown to 630 for 2012's event. This year, registration is up for the half and full marathons, with many runners coming from around Arizona and the rest of the United States.
"I don't have number off the top of my head, but I can tell you that registrations are up in the full marathon and in the half marathon," Bigelow said. "It's yet to be determined in the 10k and 2-mile, but we already have more regis tered for the half and the full than we did last year."
The increased awareness of the race is great for the city, according to Bigelow, because it brings in more money with competitors staying in hotels, and visiting the local restaurants. The money raised from racer registration is donated to local charities, groups and the Brian Mickelsen Memorial Fund.
"Lin Mickelsen has a foundation in Brian's name, and she donates money in his name to Kiwanis," Bigelow said. "There's a scholarship in Brian's name and then also she donates money to search and rescue, who are the ones who found Brian in 2007."
One reason the race is still going as strong as it is today is due to the community's support and volunteers. Members of the community and different Cottonwood public services can be seen scattered through the race, handing out water and helping in other ways.
"Many, if not all, of the city departments get together and really support this event. We use staff from nearly every department in one fashion or another," Bigelow said. "The fire department is out there manning a water station and helping us with first aid. The police department helps us as far as patrolling and making sure our runners are getting out there safely. We've got public works, who shut down the roads. We've got Morgan Scott, who's one of the city engineers and manager at this point in time, who's had a heavy hand in this since day one. Its not just volunteer oriented, the entire city comes together on this and makes it happen."
The community participation is one thing that Bigelow believes has kept the race going for so long and, due to the smaller size of the community, the friendliness that comes with it to increase the reputation of the race.
"I think, most importantly, it's most important to have a good reputation. The reputation will follow itself," Bigelow said. "I think its just one of the really nice benefits of living in a smaller community. Everybody knows everybody, everybody's got a hand in things and there's a real sense of pride, not just with the Brian Mickelsen, but with a lot of the stuff that we do and that the city does and that the people around here do. We're all trying to help each other out."
The race takes participants on a tour of the Verde Valley, showing off all it has to offer in terms of trails and sights.
"The beauty of the course [is] we take our runners from the start of River Park, go through Old Town Cottonwood, up to Tuzigoot National Monument, back through some single-track national trail, they get to see the Verde River back there, and then they come through into Dead Horse Ranch State Park," Bigelow said. "The full marathon will take them out Sycamore Canyon Road. I think primarily, it's the beauty of the course."
With the influx in out of town runners coming to Cottonwood, Bigelow hopes that the participants will enjoy the town and what it has to offer and come back.
"We're trying to market other items, or other things there are to do in this town to help everybody in this community see some tourism dollars injected," Bigelow said. "Not just for the race, but showcase what we have. I think that's one of the things the course itself does a great job of doing. It speaks for itself, it showcases a lot of what the Verde Valley has to offer, but to not only bring them back for running events, but for other things we have to offer too."
The Brian Mickelsen Memorial Run will be held April 20. The marathon begins at 6 a.m., followed by the half marathon at 7:30, the 10k at 7:40 and the 2-mile at 7:50. All the races will begin, and finish, at Riverfront Park.
"There's a race for everybody. You don't have to be super-fit to be able to do this. There's something for everybody," Bigelow said.