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!


3-Day Blog Throwback – The Insider’s Guide

Hi there readers!

Erin D. here. In addition to being the 3-Day’s head blogger, social media mover and shaker, and occasional event staffer, I’m also a 15-time veteran walker.

susan g. komen 3-day breast cancer walk blog 60 miles social media insider's guide

Alysssa, Jenn and me – the 3-Day social media team in action!

A year ago, we ran a series of posts on the 3-Day blog called the “Insider’s Guide to the 3-Day.” The posts were written by yours truly, as a way to share my experiences on the 3-Day, from Opening to Closing. The series was meant to serve as a way for people to get a look at various aspects of the event from the perspective of someone who has been there many times.

If you didn’t get a chance to see the Insider’s Guide series, particularly if you’re new to the 3-Day, we encourage you to click back through the posts.

The Start of Something Beautiful

Pointing, Pacing, and… Motorcycles Wearing Lingerie

Pit Stops and Cheering and Sweeps, Oh My!

3-Day Camp: Just Like a Sleepover, Only More Pink

3-Day Camp: I love the Night Life

3-Day Camp: Happy Glamping on Main Street

Over But Not Ending

I’m just one Insider, and I know that every single walker, crew member, volunteer and supporter experiences the 3-Day in a different way. We love hearing about your experiences and memories, so share them in comments or post them to the 3-Day’s Facebook page, tweet them @The3Day or tag #The3Day in your Instagrams!




The Insider’s Guide to the 3-Day – Over, But Not Ending

Picture yourself at mile 59.10689832_10152803430310281_2939375863063230015_n

Can you really be this close to the end of your Susan G. Komen 3-Day®? Your weary feet and legs say yes, but your heart says no way. It feels as though Friday morning—when you arrived in the pre-dawn darkness, dropped off your bag, met up with your teammates and felt the sun rise over the beautiful Opening Ceremony before taking your first steps—was an eternity ago. And yet, you can’t believe it’s almost over. These brief few days have been packed with so many memories and experiences that as you near the finish line, you find yourself overwhelmed with emotion once again.IMG_8517

I’ve crossed the finish line as a Komen 3-Day walker fifteen times, and the impact of that one simple experience is as strong and profound now as it was the first time. Back then, my emotional response to completing the 3-Day® was mostly based on the personal amazement and pride that I felt over physically accomplishing the 60-mile walk. But in the many years since then, the impassioned response I feel as I finish the 3-Day is so much more than “I did it!” It’s also, “Look at all of these people who did it!”


I look around at the faces of my fellow walkers and crew members. I see journeys that are so much longer and greater than three days.

I see young people who had to learn about the devastation of cancer too early in their lives…

Philadelphia Day 3

…older people who have seen so much in their lifetimes and wear their years like a badge of honor…

3day_2016_michigan_gf_0348…parents who would walk 60,000 miles if it meant making the world a little safer for the children who run to hug them at the finish line…

…daughters and sons who, in 72 hours of their lives, learned a lifelong lesson about just how much power one person can have as a force for good in the world…

Arizona Day 3…friends who helped and supported each other in ways that go deeper than mere friendship…

2016_3day_atl_gf_-26…determined fighters, taped up like mummies, who pile out of a sweep van 2 blocks from the end just so they can cross the finish line on their own two throbbing feet…

Susan G. Komen walkers gear up and take on Day 3 for breast cancer awareness.…survivors who once felt crushed under the words, “You have breast cancer,” now marching forward in proud defiance, as if to shout back, “It didn’t defeat me!”

San Diego Day 3

I see true heroes.

I link arms with my teammates, all of us in some combined state of crying/laughing/cheering/limping and we cross together.


The walk is over, but the energy is sustained here in the Participant Finish Area. There’s music and noise and flowers, non-stop cheering and a long “human tunnel” of fellow walkers who have already made it to the end, and choose to STILL be on their feet—giving individual high fives to ever single new walker who comes in. Washington DC 3-Day Day 3My teammates and I give each other hugs, find a bathroom (some things never change…), pick up our Victory T-shirts, take more pictures, join the others in cheering the finishing walkers in and eventually find a place to sit and take off our shoes for a few minutes (but also, get up and dance when a song we like comes on). Soon, we will be lining up and processing out of this waiting area and into the Closing Ceremony.


The march into Closing is a victory parade, and the streets are lined with the loved ones who supported us and our fellow walkers the other 362 days of the year. People hold up signs, take pictures and videos, and point with excitement when they see their walker going by. There are more hugs, more tears, and we’re not even into the Closing Ceremony yet!

The Closing Ceremony, like so much of the 3-Day, is hard to put into words. It’s a celebration of all that we have achieved on our 3-Day journey. The walkers enter, followed by the crew, and then the survivors. In a beautifully moving tribute to this last group, everyone holds up a shoe. I love this part. This shoe salute wasn’t something that was scripted or prompted. It was a gesture that just started spontaneously somewhere along the way,  many years ago, and quickly became an honored tradition in every 3-Day city, another small example of what makes the 3-Day so special.


The Closing Ceremony is a brief, moving end cap to a weekend celebrating the everyday pink warriors, who, for 3 days, went way above expectations, becoming true heroes in the lives of everyone touched by breast cancer.


The walk is over, but the journey is not ending. I come back to the 3-Day every year because our work isn’t done, and because those 3 days are like fill-up for my soul. Like me, you will take all of the things you have experienced in these unforgettable 3 days and carry them with you into the world. And the world will be better for it.

And with that, our Insider’s Guide series comes to an end too. I’ve done my little part to give you lots of details about what to expect on the 3-Day, but it’s impossible for me to capture what the whole experience will be like for you. One “insider’s” view may be different from another’s, but the overall theme is the same – the 3-Day changes your life, in ways that no one but you can know.

We hope you will join us.


Want to see the entire Insider’s Guide to the 3-Day? Here are all of the segments:

The Start of Something Beautiful
Pointing, Pacing, and… Motorcycles Wearing Lingerie
Pit Stops and Cheering and Sweeps, Oh My!
3-Day Camp: Just Like a Sleepover, Only More Pink
3-Day Camp: I love the Night Life
3-Day Camp: Happy Glamping on  Main Street