Hey there, everyone! Time again for another edition of “Allison in Madison,” and like the first entry to this category, this one is something I had direct participation in this weekend! What is it, you ask?
The event is the Crazylegs Classic, which is held every spring in Madison, usually on the last Saturday in April. There are two separate routes in the Crazylegs Classic, a 2-mile non-competitive walk and a timed run that lasts 8 kilometers (roughly 5 miles for those who still don’t care for the Metric System). Both routes end at the same spot — Camp Randall Stadium, home to the Wisconsin Badgers football team.
The Crazylegs Classic was conceived in 1981 by three gentlemen and running buddies who wanted to help raise funds for the UW-Madison athletic program. (One of those gentlemen, Tom Grantham, continues to serve as the event’s general chairman; he has run in or has been present for every Crazylegs event.) The trio were admirers of Elroy Hirsch, long regarded as a UW legend for his work as the school’s athletic director, his enthusiasm for UW athletics as a whole, and for his feats on the football field (his running ability inspired a Chicago sportswriter to bestow on Hirsch the nickname he would wear until his 2004 death, “Crazylegs”).
After Grantham and his colleagues gained Hirsch’s blessing to have his nickname applied to the event, the first “Crazylegs Run” was held in the spring of 1982; it attracted over 1,500 runners and raised $9,500 for the UW athletic program. Since then, the Crazylegs Classic has attracted over 316,000 runners and walkers (the walking segment was added in 1987), with the all-time high watermark for entrants occurring in 2010 (20,445 walkers and runners). Crazylegs has gained not just local but national recognition; Runner’s World magazine rated it one of “America’s Best 100 Events,” while the Road Runners Club of America named it among its 20 “Great Races! Great Places” events (the race runs through the UW campus, where most of the scenery is gorgeous). Adding to Crazylegs’ popularity is its occasional scheduling alongside the UW football team’s spring game; the race would be run in the morning, with the barricades at Camp Randall Stadium cleared out to make way for the football game later that same afternoon. (This year, though, the football team held its spring game one full week before Crazylegs.)
Proceeds from the Crazylegs Classic still go to support UW athletics, with over $3 million raised for the department since the event’s inception. The athletic department supervises the event’s operations, though for a 15-year period (2001-2015) it was under the operation of the National W Club, the school’s lettermen’s club that was separate from the athletic department until it absorbed the W Club in the fall of 2015. Naturally, Crazylegs is a popular way to promote and support UW athletics, though it was far from the first to do so. In fact, from 1974 until 2002, a separate event known as Butch’s Bologna Bash was as much a fixture on school supporters’ springtime calendars as Crazylegs is now. Butch’s Bash was started by another UW football alum, Palmer “Butch” Strickler, who with his brother operated a sausage-making plant in the southern Wisconsin community of New Glarus (their father was a butcher, hence Palmer Strickler’s nickname). The Bash was no running event, however; it was simply a party featuring lots of brats, burgers, potato salad, and, yes, beer. It’s that last part about the drinking — and the trouble that drinking can generate — that led to the Bash’s decline in popularity. The last Butch’s Bologna Bash, in 2002, helped to endow a UW athletic scholarship in the name of Butch Strickler and his wife.
But that was the Bash and this post is supposed to be devoted to the Crazylegs Classic. And this year, the 35th running of Crazylegs attracted a reported 13,000 runners and walkers. UW men’s basketball coach Greg Gard was the event’s grand marshal, and Pat Jenkins and Jessa Hackman were the overall men’s and women’s winners. They do not receive any prize money for winning — in fact, no Crazylegs entrant receives money — but they and the 2nd- and 3rd-place overall male and female finishers receive plaques, while the top male and female finishers in each age group (14 and under, 15-19, 20-24, etc.) will also receive recognition.
Which brings me to my participation in this year’s Crazylegs Classic. I will go into detail on my experience in my next post, but I will say that, no, I didn’t finish atop my age group. I will also say that I didn’t enter to gain first place, but I ran to fulfill a challenge I set upon myself to participate. And I will also say that just participating in my very first road race meant more to me than how I finished. So, consider that your prompt to read my next post, where I go into detail on my very first Crazylegs Classic experience. It’s a long post, I must warn you, but I have so much to share and I hope you’ll find it a rewarding read. Enjoy!