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Zilker Relays Origin Story

The 20th running of the Zilker Relays is happening September 8th and will benefit Marathon Kids.  I am excited and incredibly grateful that we are about to hit this monumental milestone and wanted to share some thoughts on how this event has evolved and where it is headed.

I discovered running back in the late 70s when my mother decided I needed a positive outlet for the high energy and chaos I brought to the family dinner table and into every classroom I entered back in my elementary school days.  Little did she know at that time but dropping me off at an organized track practice when I was 10 years old would lead to a lifetime of running and working in the running industry.

I was lucky enough to have a solid high school and college track career and experience, which led me to getting a job at a local run specialty shop in San Antonio (Soler’s Sports) and later brought me to Austin where I worked at RunTex and began building a career in the running industry.  

During those competitive years of running, I fell in love with racing on relay teams.  Some of my fondest memories from high school were of running the 4 x 400 after having just finished up a competitive mile.  Some of my fondest memories of college and the years just after graduation were of trips to Corpus Christi to compete at the Beach to Bay Relay Marathon and the annual trip to the San Antonio Zoo Relays.  I loved being part of a team. I loved being accountable to more than myself. I loved the social vibe and atmosphere after those events where we talked trash and enjoyed the post-run festivities. And … At least for a few years there, I loved running fast!

My goal when we started the Zilker Relays was to create a fun, competitive, and highly social atmosphere where runners of all levels could compete, or simply complete, the distance of 2.5 miles and share in some of the incredible benefits of being on a team together.  The vision was for an event not dissimilar to the relays I ran in my youth, where the social part was truly as memorable if not more so than the competition. It was a place for training groups to compete and the business community to foster teambuilding activities.  I think we found that balance and more!  In fact, we added a kid’s relay about 12 years ago, to help foster a love of running and build memories for children that might lead them into a life of running.

This dream became a reality with the help of my good friends James Allen, and Tacodeli co-owners, Roberto Espinosa, and Eric Wilkerson.  These original partners, along with everyone that has volunteered, sponsored, or participated in the event have led it to become the unofficial kickoff to the fall racing season in Austin.  It is also known as having the “best post-race party” in Texas.  

Over the past 20+ years, I have put my heart and soul into this event.  Last year, I was approached by the non-profit organization, Marathon Kids, with the opportunity to hand stewardship of the event to them.  I passed them the baton. The resources and scale that Marathon Kids brings will allow the relays to remain a uniquely Austin-led event for years to come. 

The mission statement for Marathon Kids is “Through running, we show kids they can achieve more than they thought possible and put them on the path to healthier lives.”  This was true for a young boy searching for direction in the late 70s and I truly hope that the legacy and future success of this event will inspire and motivate thousands of girls and boys to fall in love with running and the lifetime of positive benefits that it endows.

Thank you to everyone who has participated in the Zilker Relays.  I am grateful for the many wonderful memories, and I look forward to joining everyone on the line as a participant and supporter of this event for many years to come.  Under the leadership of Marathon Kids, new memories will be built and lots of fun stories will be written, as more and more children discover the joy of running and we continue to show why Austin is one of the best running communities in the world.

Grab your friends, lace up your shoes, and register for the 20th Running of the Zilker Relays!

See you on the roads – Paul Perrone


Registration for the Zilker Relays is open!

Assemble your relay dream team and register today!