Pass the Baton

Celebrating Beach to Bay’s 40th anniversary

By: Jessica Dusek
Photos by: Paul Marshall

Attracting runners throughout the United States and across the globe, Beach to Bay is the largest relay race of its nature in the United States. This year marks the 40th anniversary for the nationally recognized running event. Founded in 1976 by military man John Butterfield, the event began in honor of Armed Forces Day. The event has since grown to 2,500 relay teams and has expanded its nonprofit community support for local causes.

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The event’s success has been due in large part to race director, Doug McBee. “You have to be a grab-the-bull-by-the-horns kind of guy,” McBee describes of the focus to deliver a promising event with an attendance of 25,000 people including runners and supporters. The 18 high-scoring Boone and Crocket deer heads on McBee’s office wall confirm his level of seriousness regarding the planning process.

McBee started out as a bit of a rookie runner to lose weight. He is now training for his 103rd personal marathon and 11th Boston Marathon. “Having a background in running,” McBee explains, has been key to his success with for the famous annual event. He credits his dedicated, 20-member committee, who utilize the 12 months of prep-time.

His 23-year involvement began as an equipment manager in the early 1990s. “When I first started Beach to Bay, the budget was $70K, and now I spend more than that on T-shirts,” McBee says of the event’s tremendous growth. Beach to Bay’s half-a-million-dollar budget supports the buying and selling of local resources for the Coastal Bend and Corpus Christi area. “It has grown leaps and bounds.”

The largest day event in Corpus Christi holds an economic impact of $8 to $10 million, according to McBee. “It is the single largest relay race in America.” Consisting of 2,500 teams of six participants, Beach to Bay continues to gain popularity for its growth and community impact.

Game day
Weekend warriors and seasonal runners alike consist of 2,500 teams, all lined up in a sea of runners. Participants are layered back three-fourths of a mile to take their positions. Strategy varies across the board. “Every team is different,” McBee explains. “Some people want their strong runners first. Other teams want their strong runners last.”

Beating the traffic and meeting teammates early in the morning is half the battle. “The teams get together to strategize the night before,” McBee says. “They get everyone located at right time – who would run in the sand better?” With leg distances averaging 4.4 miles, it is recommended to have a minimum of two people to coordinating their locations in plenty of time. Race participants can park their bikes to ride back when they have finished their leg.

The race has progressed considerably in numbers over the years. As McBee recalls the town’s layout and race route, “The JFK causeway construction was going through (its) first major construction.” The then 500 teams jumped to 700 teams, finally landing 1,000 teams of six relay runners. In 2013, the race peaked out at 2,600 teams, consisting of six members to a team, with five exchange points and distance legs ranging from four to five miles each.

Weather conditions can be unpredictable. “God hasn’t even decided yet,” McBee says. “We’ve run through seaweed – alongside the (sand) dunes.” A key prep point: McBee stresses to stay hydrated. Fortunately, there are close to 40 water stops along the entire race. During the event, the runner is dedicated to win a trophy or keep from getting passed.

McBee recalls his own experience as a runner in years past: “Trying to get to your next runner as fast as you can. You have to have strategy and have good pace.” All in all, the victory leads to good fun; McBee describes the event as an “adult spring break.” He maintains, “It’s not all about the fast runners; it’s about everybody having fun.”

Strictly trophies
And for the fierce runners ready to take something home, there are 21 different categories for teams to win upon entering the race. Every category has awards in place of completion. The finish line is a celebration of victory at McCaughan Park.

And a bonus this year: “You can now go jump into the ocean.” The uninterrupted beach access allows marathon participants family and friends to enjoy the newly renovated street access.

Nonprofit and community
In the spirit of causes and community, Beach to Bay benefits 80 local organizations, including Special Olympics, Navy Relief Society and A&M Track and Cross Country Scholarships. These nonprofit organizations raise $80,000 to $90,000 per year in proceeds. It is an opportunity for small causes to raise money. Local high schools and charities also look forward to the annual event to support their causes.

Live music fills the park at the finish line. Sponsors are there to support the event. Presenting sponsors include Miller Light, Valero and Herrman & Herrman, to name a few. You will find H-E-B handing out fruit, Pepsi and Hoyst to re-supplement the runners’ bodies, as well as mini vendors – Italian snow cones. Hotdogs fans are welcome, too!

McBee’s tips before game day
“Eat right. Drink right, sensibly. Consider traffic. Plan ahead. Be early.” He concludes, “Save Saturday night for the partying (after the race.) And for the 40th Beach to Bay relay race, what a party it will be!”

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