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Local label Merge Records celebrates 25 years with road race

Christina Rentz , publicist for Merge Records, said that after this many years in the business, they started thinking about things in a different way.

“You start thinking about your health more than maybe you did when you were only doing this five or 10 years, when it was still about drinking and staying up all night,” Rentz said. “We haven’t been afraid to make fun of that a little bit.”

Runners and music lovers will gather on Saturday for the 25-kilometer race — about 15.5 miles. The race will start in Chapel Hill, where Merge Records got its start, and end at its current location in Durham. The race will be raising donations for the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina and Habitat for Humanity of Durham and Orange County.

Merge Records has been putting on shows and introducing the community to new bands since 1989, but now it’s treading a whole new terrain.

“We do our festival every year, but this is something totally different,” Rentz said.

The idea for the race came after Rentz and some of her fellow coworkers ran the Tar Heel 10 Miler last year and realized that the distance from the Cat’s Cradle to their home office in Durham was the same as a half marathon.

Rentz said that after they figured out that no one had ever done a point-to-point race from Chapel Hill to Durham, the idea started developing.

“We thought it would be a cool concept to go along with the anniversary,” Rentz said. “It started as, ‘We should run that, it’s symbolic,’ and somehow that turned into, ‘Let’s really have a race.’”

Kim Page , owner of Bull City Running , said Merge Records approached her with the idea and knew she had experience organizing road races.

“It’s an extension of what we’re trying to create as a community running store, it’s really fun for us to be able to extend those partnerships in sort of new and fun ways,” Page said.

Following the race, an after party will be held at Motorco Music Hall in Durham, where the street will be closed and surrounding businesses will open early to support the runners. Other businesses like Whole Foods and White Street Brewing Co. will be providing food and drinks to runners.

Rentz said she thought rock ’n’ roll shows at the Cat’s Cradle weren’t really family friendly, so they wanted to do something that would welcome people of all ages to celebrate music. The event will include Durham’s Bouncing Bulldogs jump rope team and Cosmic Punk , a Girl’s Rock NC graduate band.

“This is a way to introduce ourselves to people in the community who may not know who we are,” Rentz said. “It’s a different audience, and it’s an interesting way to expand our range.”

The race will also introduce some music lovers to running who have never done anything like it before. Page said she thinks a lot of people will be stretching their running experience for this event, but that Bull City Running has been offering a training plan to help runners along the way.

Mike Caulo , publicity assistant for Merge Records, said he has never run a road race before and this will be his first. He said he has been training for the race since November.

“This seemed like a very unrealistic goal at the time but something I could train towards,” Caulo said. “If I can do this, I think that anyone else really can.”

Caulo said that because he is new to the Triangle, the music and community aspects of the race attracted him to it.

Rentz said that they have almost 800 runners signed up right now, including runners from all over the world.

The musical aspect of the race is what makes the 25K a unique experience for runners. Rentz said the race will have more DJ stations than the average race, with five DJs spread out along the race from local college radio stations WXYC 89.3, WKNC 88.1 and WXDU 88.7. The race will also be sprinkled with a tidbit of Merge history on every 5-kilometer marker.

“It’s really crucial for me to have the right music to keep things going,” Caulo said. “Sometimes I will be running and start to drag a little and changing the music or having the right song come on can really propel me to finish the rest of the run and keep me going.”

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The post-race celebration will also feature Merge bands: Vertical Scratchers from Los Angeles and local Raleigh band, The Love Language.

“The Triangle area is pretty saturated with road races, so I think the thing that makes this unique is combining the music element,” Page said. “If you’re going to be raising money for charity, you also need to really be focused on creating an experience for people that they’re going to remember.”

Rentz said this is something that no one would expect them to do.

“It will be fun to actually physically celebrate the history of Merge.”