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An Odd Odyssey of 0.5 Kilometers

An Odyssey marked by trial and endurance.  Impossible scenes of Herculean strength and stamina. Masses of humanity motivated by the sheer will to survive. These are a few examples of storylines you will never, ever see emerge out of the Boerne 0.5K. Emphasis again on ever. What is the Boerne 0.5K? It’s an event that began in Boerne, Texas in the year C-2 (Coronavirus year 2020 minus 2, or 2018). The Boerne 0.5K was conceived around a simple idea, but one candy-coated in genius: what if a person organized an off-the-wall, intensely fun, community gathering, with all the proceeds going to charity? Allow for some beer, leave room for costumes, go heavy on the humor, and bada bing-bada bang, you have yourself a winner. This is exactly what Jay Milton, the organizer of the Boerne (pronounced “Bernie”) 0.5K did. Milton organized a small-town event that went viral with big-time appeal. School children challenged with obtaining enough food were fed as a result. The idea transcended simple brilliance and elevated itself into the more rarified space of “Cool,” or even dare I say, “Awesome.”

Boerne is a 10,000-person town tucked away in the hill country of central Texas, 30 miles to the northwest of San Antonio. It’s hard to put into words what its namesake event is exactly. The Boerne 0.5K is outwardly a race, except no one races. Entrants are in fact encouraged not to exert themselves. While many road races have post-event parties, here participants partake before, during, and after. Even if they were so inclined, the various costumes donned by entrants are certainly detrimental to the cause of speed and acceleration. This is not a problem as speed and acceleration are socially taboo, similar to exertion.

The best way to label the Boerne 0.5K is through what can be observed. This would be a gathering of humanity at one local pub, followed by a procession along a very scenic and winding path, ending at a social gathering approximately 500 yards away. Along the route, participants are “challenged” with “obstacles,” which they overcome or simply ignore. These events are in fact play pens. The water obstacle for example is a series of kiddie pools. The rope climb takes an entrant over a decorative rock about a foot high. Instead of pushing over the humongous tires found at Cross Fit gyms, tire obstacles are more appropriately sized for a garden wheelbarrow. There are no water stops on this course. In their place is a coffee and donut station. This may be the only race in America where participants intake more calories than they put out.

The Boerne 0.5K can also be thought as a parody of distance and adventure races that have a great following in the United States. Fun is poked at those who take the workout motif a little too seriously. Make no mistake, Milton, a former U.S. Navy submariner, is no compadre of running. This activity would not come out on a Google search of Milton’s favorite ways to pass time, even with a million other hits. And if by chance running did show up on his list, it would probably rank below getting sunburnt and slightly higher than being stung by a deranged, sawed-off hornet. The last time Milton admits to running was on the verbal orders of his high school football coach, something Milton describes years later almost as a Human Rights violation. So, call the Boerne 0.5K what you will, a gathering, a pub crawl, a volksmarch. What the Boerne 0.5K is without a doubt, is a blast. It is just an old-fashioned whoop-it-up where everyone is made better by their participation. If golf is what Mark Twain wrote was a “good walk ruined,” then the Boerne 0.5K is a good walk made crazy fun and for a good cause. To achieve equivalent value a person would have to eat a 100-pound chocolate bar and emerge with wash board, six-pack abs.

Humor is a predominant characteristic of this event, as prevalent as gravity is everywhere else on earth. Humor is the race’s primary load-bearing wall; the Clydesdale horse that does the heavy lifting. Mirthfulness is at the core of the very concept of the race, it’s layout, and its execution. The reason for this is simply that Jay Milton is a humorous guy. His official title in the organization is a member of the “Bored of Directors.” He eschews such grandiose titles however and prefers to go by the simpler, more blue-collar term of “Czar.” Milton’s personality is infectious. Twice during an interview, he was interrupted by patrons paying him mock homage, almost as if he were a mafia Godfather and this was his daughter’s wedding day.

Milton brings to mind Herb Kelleher, the late CEO of Southwest Airlines. Kelleher’s sense of humor was legendary and soon permeated the organizational culture of a multi-million-dollar enterprise. Entire business school case studies have explored the impact of Kelleher’s personality on the success of the airline he helped found. Such is Milton’s impact on the Boerne 0.5K. Milton’s natural demeanor filters its way into the DNA of the race, and people respond. Not only do they want to get in on the joke, they want to do so in the company of friends. The race has become a signature community event. Folks sign up as teams and then proceed to dress in very hilarious themes. Milton describes the 0.5K as being “Halloween for adults.”

The reservoir that Milton tapped into is a person’s inherent desire not simply to spectate but to participate. Not everyone is disposed to run a 10k or a 26-mile marathon. This however does not detract from wanting to be part of a social event, especially one where people draw energy off each other. In addition, people seem to enjoy a break from competitive pressures and to simply join with others without feeling they have to finish ahead in some way. There is certainly a time and place for competition, but the Boerne 0.5K is not that venue.

Not lost in all the race hoopla is that the raised funds will be put to fantastic use. Proceeds are turned over to a local branch of a national charity called “Blessings in a Backpack.” The mission of this charity is to provide food assistance to school children who otherwise may miss meals on weekends or holidays when their school cafeterias are closed. According to local coordinator Kathy Bandujo, in 2019 the group fed about 450 children a week during the school year, kids that were on the federal free meal program. Blessings sends them home on Friday afternoons with breakfast, lunch, a morning snack, an afternoon snack and an evening snack. Parents of the recipients can concern themselves with providing only dinner for two nights. The funds raised by the Boerne 0.5K constituted almost a full year’s operating budget for Blessings in a Backpack.

 

 

By every conceivable measure, the Boerne 0.5K has been an outstanding success. Out of nowhere the race exploded on the scene, achieved cult status, and became a very anticipated event in this small town. A trend seemed to have formed. The inaugural 2018 race exceeded all expectations and raised $30,000. The 2019 edition collected $46,000. The 2020 in-person event was cancelled because of Covid-19, yet still managed a sizable contribution to Blessings in a Backpack as many entrants donated their entry fees.  

In the short history of the Boerne 0.5K there have been no reports of pulled hamstrings, twisted ankles, or heat exhaustion. On-site medical personnel (real ones, not the World War II-themed nurses) would probably have been ecstatic with even a single emergency blister. Pretty impressive considering there is no evidence that anyone has ever stretched. For those who live in Fear of Missing Out, their radar should be active beginning is Spring 2021. In addition to life’s certainties of Death and Taxes, another sure bet is that all Boerne 0.5K participants will be conforming to the credo of “No Pain, All Gain.”

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