The Insider’s Peek at the 3-Day Route – Part 2

Thanks for coming back to this special Insider’s Guide to the Susan G. Komen 3-Day®, friends! We’re halfway through a deep dive into the ins-and-outs of planning the Komen 3-Day route. I’m a walker, like many of you, and for years I’ve wondered about what exactly goes into the monumental endeavor of routing this three-day, 60-mile monster of an event. So I asked.

In case you missed Part 1, start with it here. When we left off, the Event Planning Managers (EPMs) were plotting out a route that highlights the most iconic scenery each 3-Day® city has to offer, while also solidifying the major sites (camp, ceremonies, and all the stops along the route) and connecting those dots with a well-conceived route that’s both safe and interesting.susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk blog route

Getting Friendly With the Locals – In a perfect world, we would just say, “We want this site and this route,” but as we’ve demonstrated, it’s way more complicated than that. Is the site available on the event weekend? Can the route safely accommodate all of our walkers? Is there construction planned 10 months from now in a site that looks fine today? This is where local jurisdictions—law enforcement, local governments—come in and work with us to approve routes. The police departments typically have the biggest say, though we also get input from fire departments, health departments and city managers. One issue can change everything. One PD might say, “We don’t have the resources to support you, and without that you can’t walk here,” so then we have to rethink. Sometimes, permitting is needed just to be able to walk on some streets (even though we don’t close off streets or sidewalks the way, say, a marathon would). Cities can say no. So those conversations are happening, and things begin lining up. As we get closer to the event, the EPMs coordinate the finer details including the actual turn-by-turn, street-by-street route directions and obtaining required special permits.

Can you see why that all would take at least a year?

The 3-Day is Coming, the 3-Day is Coming! – Often, our permits will require us to go into the community and present notice. But beyond that, we make an effort to visit the communities and neighborhoods we’ll be walking through anyway, because we WANT them to know about the 3-Day! About 3-4 weeks prior to each event, the local coach and the volunteer coordinator organize a Street Team Day, where volunteers come out and help canvas the route to alert the businesses and residents along the way that we’ll be coming through. They pass out flyers to businesses located on the side of the street the walkers will be walking down and talk to folks to let them know what to expect and how they can show their support; in the majority of areas that we walk through year after year, folks know about the 3-Day far in advance of Street Team Day and are already planning incredible ways to show their love. (Incidentally, if any of you are interested in helping with Street Team Day in your 3-Day city, contact the coaches to find out how to help!)susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk blog route

Mileage Anxiety – I’m terrible at math. But even being arithmetically-challenged, I know that there have been times throughout my years on the 3-Day that I’ve done some simple calculation and was left scratching my head—Day 1: 19 miles; Day 2: 21 miles; Day 3: 16 miles…wait a second, that doesn’t equal 60!

So here’s the deal, according to Sarah, and it makes great sense when you think about it: we try and make the route as close to 60 miles as possible, but there are many things that dictate how many miles we can do each day. The amount of daylight hours is the biggest factor. You’ll notice that on the San Diego 3-Day, the total mileage is less than 60, while the Twin Cities 3-Day is just about on target with 60 miles total. This is because we have copious amounts of daylight in the summer in Minnesota, but very limited amounts in late November in Southern California. On top of that, it’s worth noting that with all the added steps around pit stops, camp and ceremonies, it really does total 60 or more. Truly.susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk blog route

The Event Planning team maps the route using Google Earth, which is arguably the most accurate and reputable mapping technology available. But these days, when everyone has a GPS tracker on their phone or their wrist, we sometimes get folks telling us that our reported mileage (the route card saying that pit stop 2 is at mile 6.4, for example) is different than what their tracker reports. In my experience with those trackers, they are never 100% accurate, or 100% consistent with each other. I’ve been on walks with teammates, where we’re all tracking on our own phones—sometimes using the same app!—and we all get slightly different distances reported. And don’t forget that it’s also counting the steps you take within a route stop (yes, doing the Cupid Shuffle in the middle of the lunch stop might add half a mile onto your tracker).

Okay, Let’s Get Real: Why Doesn’t the Route Ever Change? – Look, I get it. Variety is the spice of life, as they say. I’ve walked in San Diego four times, and four times, the route has been exactly the same (or so I thought). And even though that route is spectacular, after a few go-rounds, I’ve found myself wondering if it was ever going to be any different. How hard could it be, I asked myself, to just move this pit stop over there, or walk along those streets instead of these ones? I know I’m not the only walker who has felt this kind of restlessness with a seemingly-unchanging route. Keeping a route fresh and exciting to returning walkers is a prospect that becomes more and more challenging every year that passes, simply because there are more and more collective years of experience building up in everyone’s memories. Naturally, someone who has walked a particular route five or eight or a dozen times is going to see it differently than someone who’s walking it for the first or second time.

But the truth is, even the most long-standing 3-Day routes have had portions—big and small—changed throughout the years, based on both participant feedback and various changes within our jurisdictions (i.e. construction, police input, etc.). The 3-Day is well-established in all of our current locations, which is wonderful, right? We started with a planning process that was extremely intense, time-consuming and costly. But over the last 10+ years, we have been able to efficiently hone that process while also evolving the events by getting feedback, talking with jurisdictions, holding focus groups, etc. Over the years, the 3-Day really has developed events to include what the participants want, because that’s what they’re telling us. They want trails, residential, city, iconic spots, great scenery. Not everyone wants the same thing, but by providing variety, we’re able to hit the majority of “wants”.susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk blog route

I understand the questions of wanting change, because I’ve asked them too. But knowing better now what it takes to plan these events, I really can see how difficult, time-inefficient and expensive it would be to do a major overhaul of any event. Also, I can really respect that every 3-Day event is what it is based on a lot of tweaking. Changes are being made, even if they’re not always noticed. Sometimes the changes are big, like what we saw in Michigan and Twin Cities last year, and sometimes they’re small, like reversing the entrance/exit to a pit stop.

The Journey and the Goal – One of the things I love the most about the 3-Day community is its passion. We LOVE our 3-Day. It’s not just an event, it’s part of who we are. Being so close to a thing and caring so much about it, we naturally want it to be the absolute best it can be, and I have to say that, from where I sit, the 3-Day is pretty darn close to perfection. And even the things that I may be inclined to gripe about are things that I understand are that way for a reason.

Besides, the rock-solid foundation that the 3-Day’s entire existence is built on isn’t some obligation to give me a pretty route to walk along for three days, it’s a promise and a commitment to do whatever we’re humanly capable of doing to put an end to breast cancer.

However much or little the journey to get us there changes, that goal doesn’t change.


The Insider’s Peek at the 3-Day Route – Part 1

Hi friends! It’s Erin, your Susan G. Komen 3-Day Insider, and I’m coming at you today with a special Insider’s Guide to the 3-Day. Last year, we brought you the full Insider’s Guide to the 3-Day, which included (among many other exciting things) some details about the route, from the perspective of yours truly, a 15-time 3-Day walker. Those posts (which you can see here and here) really focused on what walkers can expect to see and hear on the route, but didn’t really dive too deeply into how the route is created. And that’s good. I mean, if we here at the 3-Day are doing our jobs right, walkers will journey through their miles, enjoying all that the route has to offer, without ever questioning the behind-the-scenes work that goes into building that 60-mile experience.susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog route

But you know what? I do have questions. I know I’m not alone either; many of you out there have probably wondered a lot of the same things I have about how an event of this size and scope is executed every year so flawlessly. I’ve been around the 3-Day for the better part of my adult life, and my curiosity has always itched for behind-the-scenes intel. Even having worked for the 3-Day for the past 5+ years, I’ve never really pulled back the curtain, so to speak, on how the incredible routes come into being. Until now!

I had the chance to chat up my colleague and friend, Sarah C., who is the Director of Event Production for the 3-Day, and the expert on the ins-and-outs of how the 3-Day route is created.

Here’s what I learned…

The Women With the Plans – So who are these wizards behind the event planning curtain? The 3-Day employs 4 full-time Event Planning Managers (or EPMs) on staff, who are dedicated to planning all aspects of each 3-Day event, including the route. One of the EPMs (Meredith) manages one 3-Day event, and the other three (Emily, Kiki and Missy) handle two 3-Day locations each.

Down Time? What’s That? – One might think that after one 3-Day ends, the EPM can kick back and relax for a few months before even thinking about the next year’s events, but that’s not true. It takes nearly a full year to plan a 3-Day event, so once one ends, it’s time to start thinking about the next one right away. (I imagine it’s like Santa’s elves on December 26: “Okay, let’s start getting ready for next Christmas!”) Everything has to be redone every year. Nothing is a given. The event planning team prides itself on building great relationships in all seven 3-Day markets, but those associations are fluid; sometimes there are new contacts (a new fire inspector, for example) or new legal requirements, so it’s a new learning curve. There’s some networking and sales involved, but the EPMs know the cities well and spend a lot of time nurturing relationships. Because the 3-Day is a well-established event at this point, it’s a little easier, but all the magic still has to happen every year.

Let’s Talk Big Picture – The first thing the EPMs think about is, how are we going to highlight the city? In every 3-Day market, there are some really iconic sights we want to make sure we include which showcase the location we’re in. Think about it: if you’re going to Seattle, you’re going to want to see the Space Needle, right? Or visit LOVE Park in Philadelphia. Or spend lots of time on the Pacific Coast in San Diego. So the plan starts there, then works outward to surrounding areas. Even for an event like Michigan, which isn’t really centered in one major city, we try to include towns that, over the years, have evolved into what the Michigan event is (think Plymouth and its amazing pink fountain cheering station, for example); we knew that the metro areas were so great, so THAT’s what we wanted to hit instead of being right in Detroit.

susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog route

Walking in Twin Cities? Of course we’ll take you through the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden!

Once we know what points in the city we want to spotlight, the cycle starts with contracting our major sites (Opening and Closing Ceremony locations, camp, lunch and pit stops) in the winter months.

Major Sites = Kind of a Big Deal – I think a lot of participants, myself included, take for granted the task of finding a camp location. When it comes to planning the route, camp serves as the anchor site, and everything else works outward from there. There are so many different moving parts, not only for camp to work logistically, but also to be a great layout from an experience standpoint. Is the site big enough to accommodate all of our participants and tents and vehicles? Does it have a terrain that’s conducive to a great camp experience? Sarah shared a story about how, a few years ago, they had considered using a really nice community college as camp for one 3-Day event; it would have been beautiful, but not the best from an experience standpoint, because the showers would have to be located half a mile from the sleeping area, which was too far from the dining tent. Stuff like that is taken into consideration, and so the plan is constantly tweaked.

susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog route camp

Building Camp is a tall order.

There is also a ton of permitting required for camp; we need building permits so we can put stakes into the ground and keep those giant tents upright, permits for propane and water usage, fire code compliance, having enough exits, food service permits, noise permits… There have been amazing potential camp sites that seemed perfect, but then oh no, they didn’t allow overnight sleeping. If one thing isn’t checked off, it may be a no-go. Finding Opening and Closing Ceremony sites is a similar process, though a little less intensive. The more permitting required, the harder it is to get a site.

Connecting the Dots – Think of route planning as establishing the dots first: camp is the biggest dot, followed by ceremony locations, then lunch and pit stops for each day. We figure out where the dots are going to be, then look at routes we could possibly take to connect them.

You Have Thoughts – At this point, I asked Sarah a kind of cynical question, but it’s one I’ve certainly thought about through my years of walking, and one I’ve heard from other walkers too: does the 3-Day really listen to suggestions that participants make about the route? Sarah answered with an immediate and resounding, “Yes!” (I should’ve known better…)

We’ve gotten feedback in survey comments about “Can’t we highlight here or there, walk past this spot or that spot?” and sometimes we can make it happen. We know that the majority of our participants like a good mixture of trails, city walking, residential neighborhoods and downtown/main street areas, so we think about that and we listen to what you have to say. There are certain neighborhoods that we know are safe, have good sidewalks, etc. If we know there’s a beautiful trail between two stops in Dallas, we’ll try to include it, to have some variety. We might go a few blocks in one direction or another to make sure we pass the Governor’s mansion in Atlanta (in fact, a few years ago, almost the entire Atlanta route was revamped based on participant feedback). And just this past year, we got numerous comments from Twin Cities walkers about all the trails, and so we changed a large portion of Day 2 to include a new town and some more residential walking.

All that said, I think we all can acknowledge that, while we’d love to set up the route to include every great area and neighborhood around a 3-Day city, we also need to create a safe (priority numero uno), continuous route—dot-connecting all those logistically-complex major sites, remember? So if you have a great park/neighborhood/trail to suggest, heck yeah you can tell us, and we’ll do our best! And hey, if it turns out we can’t incorporate them into the route, you can always use those amazing locations as the setting for some spectacular training walks. Boom!

Oh, By the Way… With variety, often comes hills. We don’t intentionally include hills, but we also can’t avoid them. In case you were wondering.

susan g. komen 3-Day breast cancer walk blog route

A little elevation gain is good for the soul.

Fascinating stuff, right? Well we’re not done! Later in the week, your Insider will be back with Part 2 from my conversation with Sarah, about all things 3-Day route! Check back soon, and meanwhile, let us know your thoughts in comments!


Join us for the first ever 3-Day Facebook Meet-Up!

Join us on Tuesday, February 24 at 5:00 p.m. PST (7:00 p.m. CT, 8:00 p.m. EST) for our first-ever Facebook Meet-Up! We’ll be chatting about how you can use the Susan G. Komen 3-Day® website to get you started on your fundraising and training, and how to stay motivated on your Komen 3-Day journey.


How does the 3-Day® Facebook meet-up work? On Tuesday the 24th, around 4:50 p.m., we’ll post a status update on our Facebook page that says something like this:

“Welcome to the 3-Day Facebook Meet-Up! We’ll be answering your questions and sharing tips, tricks and information in this status update in just a couple of minutes. Reply directly in the comments, and don’t forget to reply and chat with everyone else who joins!”

Your 3-Day social media virtuosos, Alyssa and Erin, will be asking questions and commenting back and forth with you as “The 3-Day.” Now what fun is it if nobody chats, right? Be sure to jump in and introduce yourself to other commenters and ask and answer questions, too. You may have to occasionally refresh the Facebook page to see the most recent comments, questions, and replies.

We’ll chat for an hour, and hope you’ll join us! Any questions? Let us know!

~Alyssa and Erin