Sporting a purple jacket, gray shorts, and Brooks running shoes, Mandy Zimmerman comes blazing around the corner of a long and dusty road. With sunshine illuminating her face, her disposition this morning is aided by God, grit, and a strongly brisk northern wind. Despite the unseasonably cold temperatures, she’s smiling as she strides. She’s running for therapy. For love of the sport. Principally, she’s running in preparation of winning the championship title at the Bill Snyder Highway Half Marathon and 5K.
Each May, near the off-ramp of Interstate 70’s Exit 313, this area south of the Little Apple comes alive with thousands of excited entrants in Manhattan’s most prestigious foot race. Beginning with a complimentary pre-dawn school bus ride to the starting line, the race commences on Bill Snyder Highway/K-177. This exciting, albeit challenging 13.1-mile road race takes participants on an incredibly scenic journey through the rolling Flint Hills.
The first eight miles are run directly on the highway, with participants in the right lane, orange cones lining the middle, and open vehicle traffic in the left lane. Coming into town down a big hill, upon crossing the Kansas River, the sprint really begins when the runners hit the city limit sign.
The Flint Hills Discovery Center is Manhattan’s first big landmark that runners pass before hitting Poyntz Avenue, through the middle of Downtown MHK. After three-quarters of a lap around City Park, the competition parallels Aggieville on 11th Avenue towards Vattier Street. Crossing Manhattan Avenue, they then enter the campus of Kansas State University. Anderson Hall — K-State’s most prominent building — and historic Hale Library will come into full view. Competitors will cruise through the Quad and the rest of campus, before heading back to College Avenue. There, they’ll enter Bill Snyder Family Stadium, and finish on the field where the K-State Wildcats play football! (Editor’s note: due to turf replacement inside the stadium, the 2023 version will finish at the brand-new Shamrock Indoor Football Practice Facility.)
“The course isn't bad. It really isn't. It's probably one of my favorite courses,” says Mandy. “There are some tough parts about it, like going through campus, but Bill Snyder Highway is so beautiful. There’s been some times where the sun is rising, and you just kind of get to enjoy the beauty, which just sounds weird while you're running,” she laughs. “But, that's always part of the fun.”
The Bill Snyder Highway Half Marathon and 5K’s creation began like a play out of the legendary coach’s playbook. It was drawn up by a team of highly skilled people who huddled up to bring an event of this magnitude to fruition.
The concept for this half marathon was a long time coming for Ben Sigle and Trey Vernon of the Manhattan Running Company. In addition to owning their specialty running shoe and apparel store, they time foot races with their other company, Red Dirt Race Management. The aim of creating a half-marathon for Manhattan had been a long-time discussion when this idea was brought up. “We might've been talking to my brother. Trey might've come up with it, it might’ve been Marcia (Rozell), I’m not really sure,” says Ben. “But it came from our inner circle of people with the idea. We just didn't want to use Coach Snyder’s name on something without his blessing. I had never talked to the man in my lift, so we had to figure out how to get a hold of him to ask.”
So that’s what they did. Ben and Trey, both Oklahoma State graduates, reached out to fellow Oklahoma State University graduate, Chad Weiberg. Weiberg, now the Director of Athletics at OSU, was then the Senior Associate Athletic Director for Development at K-State. He liked the idea and helped get them introduced to Coach Snyder.
“We talked to Coach Snyder and said, ‘If you would do this honor by letting us put your name on this, we would love for you to name a title charity to benefit.’ He said, ‘Absolutely, no problem.’ So, we started working on it. Thanks to this event, we have now raised between $300,000 and $350,000 over the last several years to give to charities”. In 2023, the three charities Coach Snyder has chosen are Katie’s Way, Good Shepherd Homecare and Hospice, and Shepherd Crossing.
Furthermore, Coach Snyder himself comes out to enjoy the race day and watch each finisher come across the finish line. He also helps hand out the individual medals that are awarded to age-group winners. “To get that medal in that stadium is just super cool,” says Trey. “Coach Snyder sticks around for every single person that wants an autograph, every single time. He's that awesome.”
Which leads us back to that cold, dusty dirt road and Mandy Zimmerman’s training session in early April. With a few Bill Snyder Highway Half Marathon wins under her belt, the biggest piece of advice she can give is to stay consistent. “I think a lot of people look into specific programs when they haven't really been running, and then all of a sudden, they start running and quickly get discouraged,” she says. “If you're new to running, just focus on making a simple goal. For example, start out running three times a week for 15 minutes. A lot of times we have this mindset where we must go from zero to 10 right away. Just stay consistent, and just keep showing up. You have to enjoy the ride. Enjoy the run, enjoy the race. It’s always worth it.”
The 9th Annual Bill Snyder Highway Half and 5K, presented by Orthopaedics and Sports Medicine Center, is Saturday, May 27th, 2023. Learn more and get registered at billsnyderhighwayhalf.com