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5K runners to take flight on new airport runway

A choice number of South Floridians will make history at the Fort Lauderdale airport next month — by running on the new runway, weeks before it opens to airline traffic.

The idea of being among the first to pound the pavement of the 8,000-foot elevated airstrip, with the other runways fully operational about a half-mile away, is irresistible to avid runners.

"I thought, Wow, seeing all the planes coming and going, and being on a runway when planes haven't even been on it yet. I thought it was phenomenal," said Helene Albee, 62, a medical transcriptionist from Plantation. "It's just different. You run in parks and on A1A, but that gets boring."

The Inauguration Runway 5K, scheduled for Aug. 23 and benefiting the American Cancer Society, sold out of all 2,000 spots 72 hours after it opened for $15 and $20 registrations. The accompanying Relay For Life on the Runway walk is still accepting sign-ups, American Cancer Society officials said.

Once the runway opens to traffic, it won't be shut down again for an event of this kind, "so it's a one-time-only thing," said Karolynn Willman-Benzanis, the airport's contracting grants administrator.

At the height of South Florida's summer, the run should be a hot one, but less so with an evening start time — and well worth the sweat, said Tom Kasprik, a mail carrier from Boca Raton.

"Racing in [the] August heat on a runway is probably not a wise idea, but a fun run and social event is in order," said Kasprik, 51.

The event is designed to involve the public in celebrating the completion of the $791 million south runway, scheduled to open on Sept. 18, nearly three years after construction began in January 2012.

"We wanted to increase the public's awareness of how they benefit from the runway," said Willman-Benzanis, listing a more efficient flow of airplane traffic, 11,000 construction jobs and an injection of $1.4 billion into the local economy among the advantages. "And it was a great opportunity to help the American Cancer Society out. It was a real good win-win situation for everybody."

Security is not a concern, she added. Not only is the construction area separated from the rest of the airport by a high fence, but the race area is sectioned off by barricades and a heavy presence of Broward Sheriff's and airport security officers will be on hand.

The run/walk is two years in the making. It evolved when American Cancer Society officials approached the airport about hosting a run on the roof of one of its parking garages, Willman-Benzanis said. That effort fell through, but when the paperwork was being processed for the new runway, the airport suggested the elevated airstrip as a venue.

"We were like, 'That's awesome,' and we've been running with it," said Tim Drevins, a Relay For Life specialist for the American Cancer Society's Florida division.

Though the run route is still being mapped out, it will start on the west end of the new 150-foot-wide concrete runway, moving east to the overpass above the FEC Railway tracks and US 1, though not across it, because that section is still under construction, she said.

So far, 38 teams of 304 participants have paid the $10 registration for the Relay For Life on the Runway, which will begin at 5 p.m. with opening ceremonies and a survivors' lap taking place on the makeshift track, less than a quarter-mile around. The 5K will follow at 7:30 p.m.

And there's a possibility that the 5K will open to more runners. Because participants will have to be shuttled to the runway route from airport parking garages about 15 or 30 minutes away, officials had to cap the number at 2,000. But Drevins said if more sponsors come forward, allowing for race officials to handle transportation for a bigger crowd, they'd reopen registration.

Long-time runner Elisia Owens Mumford, 49, a freelance writer from Cooper City, said the runway 5K "is definitely going to be the most unique race I've ever been on."

"How many times have you flown in and out of there and never thought you'd be running on [the runway]?" she said. "It's awesome. I couldn't pass it up."

As a cancer survivor whose family has long been impacted by the deadly disease, Michell Aldas, 27, makes it her mission to participate in at least one Relay for Life each year. But just two months into remission from Stage 4 ovarian and Stage 3 stomach cancer, Aldas said the Relay For Life on the Runway will be special.

"It's a brilliant idea. It makes a lot of sense because [the runway] has a lot of open space, and the airport is a big, central location well-known in the area," said Aldas, a dental office manager from Palm Beach Gardens. "I never thought something like that would be legal."

Inauguration Runway 5K and Relay For Life on the Runway walk

When: Aug. 23

Time: Relay For Life walk: 5-11 p.m.; 5K starts at 7:30 p.m.

Where: Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport, 100 Aviation Blvd., Fort Lauderdale

Parking: Location to be announced. Plan to arrive at the designated parking site no later than 6:30 p.m. to catch the last shuttle to the 5K route.

Cost: Relay For Life walk, $10 registration; 5K run sold out


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