"Run fast, and run often."
That's the message Palo Alto Grand Prix organizer Nick MacFalls wants to instill in local runners -- particularly kids -- with the annual race series.
And when the gun fires to start off the Moonlight Run on Sept. 28, it won't be the beginning of just the 28-year-old nighttime race. Runners -- some of them unwittingly -- will also be participating in the first leg of a local race series that spans six months and five separate races.
This will be the first time that the Moonlight Run, the most popular of the five races, will begin the series, which also consists of Marsh Madness, Juana Run, the Home Run and the Running of the Bulls.
The organizers hope to improve participation in each of the five races by starting the series in September with the Moonlight Run instead of in March.
"We wanted to start this year off with our biggest race so people can come find out about the other opportunities throughout the year," said MacFalls, who is also the director for the Running of the Bulls race. "The Moonlight Run is like the quintessential Palo Alto race, so people can come and learn about the Prix and about the other races that are a part of it."
Proceeds from each of the races will go to assorted charities. The Moonlight Run is the first event in the Palo Alto Weekly's annual Holiday Fund drive, which last year raised more than $350,000 for local nonprofits serving families and kids.
The Marsh Madness race on Oct. 27 supports the YMCA; the Nov. 11 Home Run gives to Habitat for Humanity; March 2's Juana Run proceeds go to local public schools; the Running of the Bulls race on May 12 raises funds for Gunn and A Foundation for Building Strength; and some of the Prix's overall proceeds go to the Bay Area Track Club.
MacFalls said the Prix and its races are about more than just fundraising -- they're valuable to the community as well.
"I just think it's great to have something active for the community to do," he said. "Palo Alto values an active lifestyle, and having all these races mirrors that value. There are a lot of kids' races, too. We're making sure we're taking care of the kids, making sure they run in a race early in their lives to see how they like it."
Karen Saxena, who organizes Juana Run, said the series is something the average-Joe runner can participate in and still be competitive.
"People can see that running is a lifelong activity, and we have people out there who are young and people all the way up to 80-plus," she said. "It's a great way to set goals and say, 'OK. I'm not just going to run this one race; I'm going to run this series of five races."
The Palo Alto Grand Prix started seven years ago when MacFalls, Saxena and a other few amateur race managers in the Palo Alto area decided to pool their resources to try to keep individual race-promotion costs down and maximize the overlap in attendees.
In each of the races, the Prix gives scores to racers who place in the top 10 overall and in the top 10 for each age category. The winners of the Prix are those who have the highest cumulative score at the end of the five races.
"It rewards the racers who run fast and run often," MacFalls said. "Someone who comes to one race and wins doesn't score as well as someone who does well in all the races. It really rewards participation over speed."
Each year at a season-end dinner, the Prix organizers give completion prizes such as mugs and certificates to participants and come up with a modest prize for the winner. The entire series operates on only $1,000 to $1,200 per year.
In past years the Prix has had up to nine races, but several of the smaller ones have ended after a few years. Saxena said she and the other organizers hope to expand the Prix, but cautiously.
"We like participating races to have a few years under their belts so we know they'll stick around," she said. "We really try to find the local benefit races to make sure the money is going to a good cause."
While there are other cities that have similar series, MacFalls considers Palo Alto's to be special.
It takes an unusual city to be able to support this many races, he said. "You've got five races that give so much back to the community, and they have such different themes -- it's definitely not the norm."