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.
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!)
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.
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”.
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.