Text: R. Collins // Photography: Amway River Bank Run
It’s almost time for Grand Rapids’ 44th Amway River Bank Run presented by Fifth Third Bank with Spectrum Health that will take race participants along the Grand River and through downtown and scenic natural areas. What began as an economic endeavor to support the city roughly 44 years ago, has become an annual promotion of health and wellness, and a celebrated tradition for elite, seasoned, and new athletes in the late spring that starts downtown. For the first time, the race, which also hosts the largest 25k in the country, has set its race-day start to the fall.
“As you can imagine we usually have 13,000 to 16,000 runners in all the events, so we start super early. We have an amazing group of volunteers who get there at dawn to help set up and then the energy just keeps building starting first thing in the morning as spectators, volunteers, and runners get down there,” said David Madiol, race director for the Amway River Bank Run. “There’s nothing like the start line right there on Monroe in front of the Amway Grand Plaza Hotel where there’s literally thousands of people getting ready to start the race.”
Though the race typically takes place on the second Saturday in May, this year’s race on October 23rd—pushed back due to COVID—will set road racers along a temperate path that features the best of western Michigan’s fall scenery. The 25k run course meanders through downtown and along the river to the forested Millennium Park, while the shortest race, a 5k run, boasts full sights of downtown as the route wraps around the river amid the downtown core.
The Amway River Bank Run is an inclusive event, offering a number of ways to participate in addition to the 25k and 5k run, such as the 25k handcycle and wheelchair races, a 25k relay event, a 10k run, and a 5k community walk. Participants also have the option of doing different training events, including those on the second Saturdays of the month at the downtown YMCA. All training options are beginner friendly, and participants are encouraged to bring friends and family to the social, low-pressure training environment. The race is positioned similarly as a space for enjoying—or exploring—the personal challenge of running and, as Madiol explained, it isn’t seen as something one can lose.
“I think the best part of the race is the finish line. You have the elite runners and a group of people who are into running 25ks no big deal, but when you are at the finish line, you’re able to high-five people who are running their first 25k,” Madiol said. “There are a ton of people who do it and it’s really a huge accomplishment—we love to be there and congratulate them.”
Of course, the post-race congratulatory event, or Finish Fest, with its complimentary beer at Calder Plaza is another perk of the race, and once runners return to finish downtown, the rest of the area’s restaurants, breweries, parks, and walkable routes are there for the enjoying with friends and family. This will be the third year Amway, a health and wellness company, is the title sponsor for the Riverbank Run. Spectrum Health is the official sponsor of the run and Fifth Third Bank is the 25k sponsor.