Coming soon: A running race that — believe it or not — will (briefly) shut down I-277

This is what I-277 often looks like on a normal day. But on Sept. 1, the inner loop will briefly be closed to cars and open only to runners .
This is what I-277 often looks like on a normal day. But on Sept. 1, the inner loop will briefly be closed to cars and open only to runners . jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

If you’ve ever been in or around uptown Charlotte during rush hour, you’ve probably heard or uttered this phrase at some point in your life: I-277 is a parking lot.

Well, for roughly an hour early on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 1, the inner loop of 277 will be 100 percent free of vehicular traffic and instead — if all goes according to the grand plan devised by Brian and Chelsea Mister — it will be swarming with thousands of runners.

This week, the Charlotte couple officially announced the inaugural Around the Crown 10K, the first running event in the city’s modern history to offer a course that includes a significant portion of a North Carolina interstate. (The N.C. Department of Transportation did allow a running event on I-485 in north Charlotte in 2014, but it was held prior to that section of the highway being opened.)

After starting at Romare Bearden Park near the Charlotte Knights’ BB&T Ballpark, participants will run about a mile before entering onto the highway via the ramp at the intersections of Church and Hill streets. They’ll then hook around and make the counter-clockwise trek on I-277 for three miles (which would be going against traffic, if cars were on it), before making another sharp left to get off at Exit 3B near the McColl Center for Art + Innovation. The remainder of the 6.2-mile course will cover surface streets.

The official start time of the race is 7:04 a.m. — yes, in honor of our primary area code — and all lanes of the interstate will re-open after 8 a.m.

“I think my wife and I are still saying, ‘Geez, did we actually make this happen? Like, did this really get approved?’” says Brian Mister, who is serving as the race director. “It almost seems like it was too easy. It seems like it’s still a joke in our heads a little bit, that this is fully approved and we’re moving forward.”

Mister, 30, works a day job as retail marketing director for the Run For Your Life running store chain in Charlotte. His wife Chelsea, 32, is a digital designer for Fort Mill, S.C.-based marketing company Red Ventures.

The idea was born four years ago, he says, when — while stuck in gridlocked traffic on I-277 after leaving a concert at what was then known as N.C. Music Factory (it’s now AvidXChange Music Factory) — Brian joked that they could probably run home faster than they could drive.

They continued to occasionally just joke about it for a long time, but decided to get serious a couple of years ago.

Recalls Mister: “I went to them (the local division of N.C. DOT) and just said, ‘Hey, I want to shut down 277 for a race, and I would like it to happen in the fall. What do you guys think?, he asked.

Much to his surprise, N.C. DOT was game.

“The biggest concern for us is how is this going to impact motorists,” says Jen Thompson, a spokesperson for N.C. DOT. “Even though it’s a holiday weekend, we knew that there would still be some folks out there early in the morning. So we wanted to make sure that the course map and the plans to mitigate traffic and to keep it safe for the participants were going to be acceptable. ...

“This is going to be unique, using 277 as part of the course. It’s just going to require some additional attention. But it’s a great idea.”

The Sunday smack in the middle of Labor Day weekend was the first date that N.C. DOT suggested to the Misters, who feel they couldn’t have been luckier in that respect.

“Doing the research, we found that all the large-scale races across the country typically happen on some kind of holiday weekend,” Brian Mister says, “whether it’s Memorial Day or Fourth of July.”

He’s referring to 10Ks like the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race, which takes place annually on July 4, and the Dick’s Sporting Goods BolderBOLDER, which takes place every Memorial Day. They both draw more than 50,000 runners per year, making them the two most popular 10Ks in the U.S.

While Mister isn’t trying suggest that the Around the Crown 10K deserves to be in the same category, he does have lofty aspirations for the race.

“‘A landmark event’ I think is what we’ve been aiming at, as far as the verbiage we want to use. We have a first-year goal of 5,000 people, and we’ll see where it goes from there.”

(Numbers like that would instantly vault the race into the upper echelon of Charlotte running events, a space currently occupied by the Novant Health Charlotte Marathon, the BB&T Corporate Cup 5K & Half Marathon, Charlotte RaceFest and the Charlotte Southpark Turkey Trot.)

Mister says 260 people signed up in the first two days of registration being open, which — for a first-year race that’s nearly seven months away — is quite a good start.

One of those early birds? Jen Thompson.

“I’m hurt right now,” says the N.C. DOT spokesperson, a four-time half-marathon finisher who is dealing with “a little tibial tendon flare-up.” “But I signed up yesterday because I’m like, ‘Twenty-five dollars? I’m doing it.’”

That’s right: For a limited time, registration for the Around the Crown is just $25.

10K road races usually cost about twice that much, or more.

Details are here.

Théoden Janes has spent 12 years covering entertainment and pop culture for the Observer. He also thrives on telling emotive long-form stories about extraordinary Charlotteans and — as a veteran of 20-plus marathons and two Ironman triathlons — occasionally writes about endurance and other sports.