A Behind-the-Scenes Glimpse at the Iconic Tour deCatur Race

For over a decade, groggy Decaturites have woken on one Saturday morning every year to discover that their downtown area has been overtaken by hordes of runners, thousands of people grinning as they shuffle through the morning cold. What are all of those people doing? Are those kids running too? And why are they up so darned early? They’re running the Tour deCatur, of course! For this week’s Friday Five, WellATL fell in step with Gail Rothman, Executive Director of the Decatur Education Foundation, to learn more about this popular Atlanta area race and the great organization it benefits.

Decatur Education Foundation Executive Director Gail Rothman

Decatur Education Foundation Executive Director Gail Rothman

This is the 13th year for Tour deCatur and it’s grown to be quite the event. How much has changed since that inaugural run?

Thirteen years ago, a few teachers from City Schools of Decatur decided to put on a run to raise funds for the very newly formed Decatur Education Foundation. Before someone came up with the current brilliant name, the event was called “The 5K Road Race and One Mile Fun Run to Benefit The Decatur Education Foundation.” That was a lot to put on the front of the t-shirt! The first event had about 100 people and raised $3,000. When I came on board as executive director of DEF in 2009, the event had become better known, and that year, it drew 750 participants and raised about $15,000.

In 2004, Anne Moore, a teacher at one of our elementary schools had a great idea that turned our little event into a community happening. She thought there should be more kids at the race and boom! the idea of a track club (now called the iRUN program) was formed. In the subsequent years, track clubs were started at each of our elementary schools, and those drew both students and families. Last year, we had 2,600 registered participants and raised over $85,000.

This year, we added the Tour deCatur Expo the night before the race. Since our date is Pi Day (3.14.15), we are adding some fun Pi/Pie-themed events at the expo and encouraging people to come out and pick up their numbers. Local businesses will offer specials and discounts to customers who show up with their race numbers.

Give us a little behind-the-scenes info on what it takes to organize a race of this size through such a busy city.

There are a lot of moving parts. One of the first things we do is to confirm our date with the city of Decatur, file our permits, and work with the police to get approval for our course. We spend most of January confirming our sponsors. We raise about a third of the money from sponsors —both local businesses that have sponsored us for years, like Dorough & DoroughFleet Feet Decatur, and Data for Solutions, and larger companies like Gas South and Whole Foods. Of course having Mizuno, an internationally renowned running company, as our presenting sponsor really raises the profile of the race. We work with a super talented design team at Lampe-Farley to create a unique look for the race and design the collaterals (event t-shirts, postcards, posters, banners, etc.). We promote the race around Decatur, especially through the schools. During February, we process registrations (over 2,500 of them) and finalize the logistics: who will sing the “Star Spangled Banner,” how many recycling bins are needed, chip timing, working with the race coordinator to be sure the course is set, etc.

The Decatur Education Foundation does a lot of things to help students reach their full potential, and this race is your biggest fundraiser. What are a few specific ways the race proceeds have made a difference in students’ lives?

The proceeds from the Tour support the Foundation’s many programs, which can be summed up in three distinct “buckets”:

  1. We remove obstacles that get in the way of a child’s success in school – for example by providing eyeglasses to a low-income student or a grant to participate in a summer enrichment program.
  2. We fuel personal effort – for example, we support the award-winning robotics program at Decatur High School as well as our merit-based college scholarships.
  3. We support teacher innovation – providing grants to teachers so they can try creative approaches in classrooms across Decatur. Recently funded grants include things like inventor kits to teach kids how to code, a frog research project for third graders in partnership with the Atlanta Botanical Garden, a student poetry club, and a woodworking shop for set building at Decatur High.

To learn more about our impact, you can also visit DecaturEducationFoundation.org.

Running the Foundation, pulling together Tour DeCatur, organizing other fundraisers, and raising three kids… that’s gotta be stressful. What motivates you to keep fighting the good fight?

I think I have one of the best jobs in the world. Anyone who knows me knows how passionate I am about making sure every kid has opportunities. I am constantly amazed and overwhelmed by the generosity of our community — whether we are doing a year-end fundraising campaign or the fund-a-need portion of a live auction or honoring our teachers — people step up again and again. A few years ago, we had a talented student who was trying out for an all-state orchestra and they needed a viola (they had previously borrowed one). Through our neighborhood list-serves, we connected with a woman who had a viola she no longer played and she was thrilled to donate it to the student. That type of thing just fuels us at the Foundation. We feel so lucky to be the faces of DEF but we know that the Foundation is really the community, hundreds of people making things happen for kids — big things, little things, amazing things. And of course, the kids are often the ones who inspire us the most. Many of them have overcome hardships that are not always obvious, and we get to hear firsthand the difference that DEF makes in their lives.

It’s pretty easy for runners to support the DEF; they just pay their entry fee and run the race, but what about non-runners?

Last year, we started a cool new program geared towards non-runners. We had interested community members apply to be Tour deCatur Training Ambassadors. In exchange for blogging for us about their training experience, the Ambassadors get free registration for Fleet Feet Decatur’s No Boundaries 5k Training program, free entry into the Tour deCatur, and a free pair of Mizuno Running Shoes. The Ambassadors share their ups and down as they train. This year, our bloggers are Caroline Herring and Brandi Baker. People can follow their training journey on our website.

Those who want to support the Tour but don’t want to run can sign up to be part of our giant crew of volunteers. It takes over 90 volunteers to put on the race and the new Tour deCatur Expo event. They can check out the opportunities and sign up to help online. Throughout the year, we rely on volunteers to expand our capacity: We have a fun and active office volunteer crew that comes to support overall operations. We have Community Councils that are project-based groups. We have specialized volunteers — professional writers, designers, videographers, and even volunteer bakers who make treats for special events. We have a place for everyone at Decatur Education Foundation. Interested community members can contact Meagan@decatureducationfoundation.org.

Keep up with the Decatur Education Foundation on Facebook. And don’t forget to register for the Tour deCatur happening on Pi Day, 3/14/15.