“I’m running Crazylegs,” I told a friend.
“So,” she said, “do you, like, have to wear crazy tights or something?”
No, the Crazylegs Classic — an 8k run and 2-mile walk — does not require the wearing of insane leg apparel. It does, however, involve a grueling climb up Observatory Hill, a triumphant finish on the field at Camp Randall, and a 30-year history at UW-Madison.
The legacy of the Crazylegs Classic started exactly how the present-day race finishes — with a glass of beer. In 1981, Badger fans Tom Grantham, Ken Sparks, and Rich Backus were thinking of ways to raise money for UW Athletics, and they arrived at the idea of a race across campus. The three were also big admirers of the UW’s Athletic Director of the time, Elroy Hirsch x’42 — former Badgers running back and receiver for the 1942 season. The friends brought the idea to Hirsch, and he agreed to let them title the race after his football nickname: “Crazylegs.”
Hirsch, who earned the nickname “Crazylegs” for his unorthodox running style, only played one season with the Badgers — he had a commitment to the Navy V-12 program that required him to transfer to the University of Michigan. After two seasons as a Wolverine, Hirsch was drafted, not by the military but by professional football — he was a first-round pick in 1945. He played for the Chicago Rockets of the All-America Football Conference from 1948–48 and the NFL’s Los Angeles Rams from 1949–57, before returning to Madison as the athletic director.
Much like football attendance during Hirsch’s 18-year tenure, participation in the Crazylegs Classic has done nothing but increase. The inaugural race in 1982 had 1,525 participants, and reached a record high in 2010 of 20,415 total participants. With the addition of the walk in 1987, Crazylegs has seen more than 300,000 runners and walkers in its 34 years.
On April 25, another pack of runners and walkers will take to the Capitol Square for the 34th annual Crazylegs Classic. Coach Kelly Sheffield, the 2014 Big Ten Coach of the Year for women’s volleyball, will kick of the festivities as Grand Marshal. You can follow all of the actions with @CrazylegsRun on Twitter, or… you know … you could always register yourself (up until 9am on-site, day-of) and join WAA staffers as we ditch our red pens and AP Stylebooks for spandex and running shoes. Be sure to meet us at the WAA member reception before the big event for some pre-race snacks, too.
See you at the finish line!