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MIM Guide: How to run your best race at the Great American River Run

Memphis in May International Festival closes out on Memorial Day weekend with the Great American River Run. Read on for tips and tricks on running your best race or spectating like a pro.

The Great American River Run features a half-marathon, 10K and 5K, beginning and ending on Beale Street on May 27. (Blair Ball/The Daily Memphian file)

On Saturday, May 27, runners will gather on Beale Street for Memphis in May’s 7th Great American River Run, which offers half-marathon, 10K and 5K race distances. The course zips through Downtown and offers sweeping river views and cash prizes for the fastest runners. The half-marathon and 10K begin at 7:30 a.m., and the 5K begins at 7:45 a.m. Course maps for all distances can be found on the MIM website.


The Great American River Run race expo will be held at the Renasant Convention Center on Friday, May 26. (Mark Weber/The Daily Memphian file)

Don’t forget to pick up your bib: Be sure to stop by the race expo on Friday, May 26 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Renasant Convention Center. There, you’ll pick up your race bib and T-shirt, and you can shop for running gear from Grivet Outdoors, Racessentials and other vendors. Can’t make it to packet pick-up? MIM allows friends and family to pick up packets for other runners, or you can pick it up yourself on race day beginning at 6 a.m. Parking at the Renasant is free during the expo.

Where to park on race day: While there’s ample parking for Friday’s race expo, there’s no designated parking for Saturday’s race. But MIM has shared maps of Premium Parking spaces and other parking areas Downtown. This goes for any race, but to find the best parking, arrive at least one hour before the race start (maybe even earlier).

The Great American River Run is now in its seventh year. (The Daily Memphian file)

Warm up those legs: Get some blood flowing in those leg muscles before the race starts. OrthoSouth will host a warm-up session just before the race in Robert R. Church Park.


Prepare to be hot: Traditionally, the GARR race is a hot one, and since Downtown lacks shade in many areas, you’ll want to be prepared to run in full sun. Don’t forget to apply sunscreen on race morning, and a hat and sunglasses would be a good idea, too. Be sure to hydrate throughout the race; there are 11 water stops along the course. Because of the heat, it’s also best to adjust your race expectations: It may not be the best time to aim for a personal record. 

Look for the cooling towels: On that note, don’t miss the free cooling towels. At every water station, MIM will provide hand towels soaked in ice water. For best results, put this on your neck or over your head.

The half-marathon course includes a stretch of Island Drive in Harbor Town with a sprint up the A.W. Willis Bridge. (The Daily Memphian file)

Be the King/Queen of the Hill: MIM awards a total of $8,700 in cash prizes for the fastest runners in all race distances. The first through fifth place winners in the half-marathon will win cash in varying amounts, and the first place winners of the 5K and 10K will receive $500. If you’re running the half, you can also aim for the King/Queen of the Hill award: The person with the fastest time on the A.W. Willis Bridge in Harbor Town will also receive $500. You’ll have to be very quick though; last year’s male and female winners cleared the hill in under 40 seconds.

Slower runners and walkers are welcome: Don’t think you have what it takes to win? No worries; only a handful of elites will place in the races. The Great American River Run is actually walker-friendly with a four-hour cutoff time for the half-marathon. That means you can walk (or very slowly jog) at an 18:19 minute-per-mile pace and still leave with an awesome finisher’s medal. There is no official cutoff time for the 10K and 5K, but you’ll want to be done in that four-hour window, which shouldn’t be a problem for even the slowest walker.


Blind Mississippi Morris performed at the Beale Street Music Festival at Liberty Park on Sunday May 1, 2022. (Ziggy Mack/Special to The Daily Memphian file)

Party on the race course: Headphones are great, but nothing beats live music on the course. Look for performances by blues legend Blind Mississippi Morris, DJ MadFX and others.

Leave your dog and your baby at home: Strollers are not allowed at the race this year, and due to insurance reasons, neither are dogs. Other prohibited items include outside food and drink, aerosol sunscreens and pepper spray. See here for a full list.

A spectator at the 2022 St. Jude Marathon got creative with his sign. (Patrick Lantrip/The Daily Memphian file)

Be the best cheerleader: Races are fun for spectators, too. So pick up some poster board, write an inspiring message and check the course maps for a good place to cheer during the race. There are typically more people cheering near the start and finish lines of races, so a nice mid-course spot could be the perfect place. You’d be amazed at what an uplifting message and a smile can do to boost a runner’s spirits, and they’ll need that mid-race. Some sign examples you’ll see at pretty much every race: “Worst parade ever,” “Run like someone just called you a jogger,” “You’re running better than the government,” and “Toenails are overrated.”

Volunteer along the course: If you plan to come watch the race, you might as well help out. The folks at Breakaway Running are still looking for water station and course monitor volunteers. If you’re interested, contact Bryan Roberson at Breakaway by calling the Midtown location at 901-722-8797 or emailing

Earlier this month, Handy Park was home to the Blues on Beale stage during the Beale Street Music Festival. The Great American River Run post-race party will also be held in Handy Park. (Brad Vest/Special to The Daily Memphian)

Stay for the party: The Great American River Run has one of the best post-race parties around. The race ends on Beale Street with an after-party at Handy Park. There’s free beer from Michelob Ultra for runners 21 and up. The menu of free food for runners includes burger sliders from Kooky Canuck, pork sliders from Central BBQ, chicken sliders and veggie sandwiches from Hog Wild, cupcakes from Cupcake Cutie, Makeda’s butter cookies and fresh fruit from Aldi.

Have a great race, runners! And happy Memorial Day!

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