It’s not the Olympics, but the TMC Meet Me Downtown 5K Night Run and Walk has become a destination race for many top runners.
Need proof? Just ask Andrew Lemoncello. He’d know.
The endurance runner, who ran the 3,000-meter steeplechase for Great Britain in the 2008 Summer Olympics, is on the mend and back in town for the popular race, which begins at 7 p.m. Saturday.
Founded a decade ago by Randy and Tia Accetta, the race — which has blossomed into a full weekend of fitness and fun — will attract dozens of the top road runners in the country, from 30 states.
The field is expected to include numerous former college and professional runners, Accetta said.
The Road Runners Club of America named the 5K as the West Regional Championship.
Friday night’s 1-mile race served as the Arizona state 1-mile road championship.
“This is going to be a really good test for me,” said Lemoncello, who is working his way back from a torn hamstring and subsequent nerve issues. “It’s one of the races where you can get good competition — there’s maybe only a few in Arizona, maybe three. It’s a good opportunity to race hard against good runners.”
And with more than $6,000 in prize money at stake, it’s more than a tune-up.
Lemoncello has been sidelined for nearly two months, derailing his chance to attempt to qualify for the 2016 Olympics. He missed the 2012 Olympics, too, because of injury, and he’s switched sports — from steeplechase to marathon — to give it another go. The 33-year-old married father of two is coaching runners while he battles his way back, one race at a time.
“I try to look at it as what can I do today that will help me tomorrow,” he said. “I cross-trained as much as I could, I rehabbed — I didn’t have control of it. Just got to make tomorrow slightly better than today.”
Lemoncello isn’t the only one using the race as a springboard back into competition.
Former Mississippi State long-distance runner Robert Scribner is eager to take to the road for the first time in a long while. He’s recovering from a chronic hip injury caused by the wear and tear of running for so long, and while he’s not yet 100 percent — maybe just 60 percent, he guesses — he wasn’t going to watch again after missing last year’s event.
“Last year, I was envious,” said Scribner, who works at The Running Shop, a local fitness store. “I was on the sidelines. Even if I wasn’t going to race competitively, I was excited to jump into this race because it’s such a cool, unique thing that Tucson has.”
Scribner acknowledged that the competitive field has him excited to compete once more.
“To look at the start list, you’re like, ‘Wow, it’s a real event,’” Scribner said. “The fact they put up prize money — and even the fact it’s at night and downtown — it’s different from a small race that starts at 7 a.m. There’s a little more nervous excitement.”
And though it’s already a decade in, Accetta said, this is just the start.
“Part of the excitement is having national-class runners duke it out in the Tucson heat,” Accetta said. “We’ve got some great racers coming to try to take prize money from local runners, so it’ll be pretty fast up front.”