The scope and significance of the Michigan Mile keeps growing. The university-sponsored event officially kicks off the Crim Festival of Races at 7 p.m. Friday and features seven different one-mile races.
This year, there is a new route and three new races as part of the Michigan Mile Race Series.
Two years ago, the "Michigan Mile" took place after Saturday's ten-mile race, said Theresa Roach, communications and outreach manager of the Crim Fitness Foundation.
Last year, it was moved to Friday, with races added for professional women and men and high school students.
Andrew Younger, the Crim Fitness Foundation race director said the Michigan Mile series, held entirely on or adjacent to campus, has "absolutely" grown in significance to the overall festival.
"It's the first of all the races of the festival. In that sense, it's a big deal," he said.
This year's Michigan Mile series starts at Kearsley Street near Wallenberg Street and ends at First Street and Stevens Street. This moves the start and finish line closer together.
"It will make it easier for people to see both," Younger said.
The Michigan Mile course is entirely on or adjacent to the University of Michigan-Flint campus.
The race series also features a young runners event this year for those 12 and under and their parents. USA Track and Field is joining the Friday festivities this year, with its Masters Road Mile National Championship for both men and women. The event is for USATF members who are amateurs, 40 years of age and older.
"I think it's really great that both organizations (UM-Flint and the Crim Fitness Foundation) partner to kick off the Crim Festival of Races with the Michigan Mile Series in downtown Flint," said Theresa Landis, UM-Flint's director of auxiliary and recreational services. "We are proud that the Michigan Mile Series has grown into a series of mile races from the open fun race to the competitive races."
The Michigan Mile event features about 650 participants in its first year. It jumped to 1,200 last year, with Younger expecting between 1,500 to 2,000 people taking part Friday.
"The university has always been a fantastic supporter," Younger said.
The footprint on the festival by the university runs deep. Renowned alumnus Bobby Crim started the race in 1977 and helped shepherd it into a lasting legacy. Organizers say the weekend of events draws more than 15,000 participants, with tens of thousands more spectators and volunteers.
That includes countless University of Michigan-Flint staff, students and faculty. Volunteers from the university hand out water and cheer on the runners Saturday at the one-mile marker water station.
Adam Mata, a senior majoring in psychology, has volunteered at the Saturday races throughout his college career. Spending much of his life in Swartz Creek, Mata said it wasn't until he started attending the University of Michigan-Flint that he attended a Crim event.
"It's a great experience," Mata said about the weekend, adding that participating in one of the races is "definitely on the bucket list" after he graduates.
Mata, who works at the university's Recreation Center, also participates in another way the university helps out with the Crim.
Staff and students at the Recreation Center conduct fitness tests on people who take part in the 15-week CrimFit Adult Training Program, in which participants meet in groups weekly from May to August. The Recreation Center is the official training site and participants can access reduced membership rates.
Chris Clolinger, assistant director for facility management in the recreation services department at the university, oversees and operates the fitness testing. The university staff and students measure several fitness indicators such as balance, flexibility and body fat index and composition. These are done both in May, before the participants start their training and then in August after the races.
"It's important for the participant to see the positive effects training has on their bodies. I think it hits home harder. They see the effects of exercise on their bodies and the bodies of their peers," he said.
UM-Flint Dean of the School of Health Professions and Studies David Gordon, MD said the Crim Festival of Races is one important example of combating the health challenges in Genesee County, which often ranks near the bottom or at the bottom state-wide in several county health rankings. Gordon, who is participating in the 10 mile walk Saturday for the fourth straight year, said the Crim events align well with the initiatives and efforts of the School of Health Profession and Studies and the university overall.
"We certainly have challenges, and the Crim is one key community example of an effort to make us healthier through increased physical fitness and hopefully decreased obesity rates."