As the McGrath family plows through the final preparations for Sunday’s Runnin’ of the Green, the the race with an Irish lilt that serves as the unofficial kickoff to the Colorado running season, it is constantly reminded of the one thing missing this year.
Race founder Terry McGrath wanted nothing more than to see his labor of love, which started with notes scribbled on bar napkins, to its 30th anniversary. He died unexpectedly last April at age 66 — a month after the 29th race.
Festivities surrounding Sunday’s race will include step dancers, bagpipers, a folk band, Irish beer and corned beef. The 7-kilometer (4.35-mile) race unfolds on streets between Union Station and Coors Field, skirting the Highlands area to Confluence Park and back. Many of the runners will be in costume and in a mood to make the morning a party.
Though a party it may be, Haley McGrath, one of Terry’s two daughters, anticipates difficult emotions with “a lot of waterworks” as they put the race on without him for the first time.
It all goes back to beers at Rick’s Cafe, a Denver fern bar, in 1988.
Brainstorming with another Irishman, Kevin FitzGerald, McGrath decided he wanted to put on an Irish-themed race connected to St. Patrick’s Day. It felt natural to make it a 7K because seven is a lucky number in Irish lore. He would shepherd the event for three decades while working full time as a master electrician and owner of McGrath Electric.
“He worked really hard and he liked to play hard,” said his wife, Margot Stride, who is organizing this year’s race with Haley and Terry’s other daughter, Teren. “He loved running, and that’s one reason he created the Runnin’ of the Green. He wanted a healthy alternative to the drinking fest that St. Patrick’s Day brings. He wanted people to be able to go out and enjoy the sunshine, have fun, friends and family — just get everybody together and have a good time.”
Teren was 4 years old when the first race stepped off, and Haley was 2. They grew up watching their dad put his heart and soul into planning and managing the race.
“It was like a third child for six months of the year,” Teren said.
“It is like the sibling we love and hate, all at the same time,” Haley added.
On race day, runners could easily pick Terry out of the crowd because he dressed in green tights and a jacket with tails. “He was the master of ceremonies,” Stride said. “He just had so much energy and charisma.”
Longtime Denver race manager Creigh Kelley remembers McGrath as a man who loved the sport and wanted his race to be a celebration of the lifestyle.
“His passion was about running and sharing it,” Kelley said. “Anyone who did the Runnin’ of the Green would tell you it was the kickoff of the running season in Colorado. Period.”
Sunday’s race is expected to draw up to 3,000 runners. The starting line will be on 17th Street between Blake and Wazee and will benefit Volunteers of America, just as it always has.
“We’ve always been involved with the race, but we had no idea what it took to put on a race until we didn’t have him,” Haley said. “He always did everything. He was our leader. You don’t realize how much someone is doing until they’re not here to do it. Every day we appreciate him more and more.”
It will be a race, and an Irish wake, too.
“This is going to be a celebration for him,” Haley said. “This is going to be our celebration, our tribute to him in the best way that we know how.”
Registration for Runnin’ of the Green starts at 7 a.m. and the race steps off at 10:15 a.m. in Lower Downtown. Individual registrations $30 and $45 at rotg.org.
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