Giving all of his heart, starting with Hart

Learn more about our co-race director, Bob Baney, and the ventures that led here

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Bob Baney is pictured here leading the pack of runners at the inaugural Big Lex 4 Miler at Keeneland in May.

Bob Baney’s race directing and timing business – RaceRise – started with a lot of “Hart” and even more heart. The path he took to becoming arguably Central Kentucky’s best known “race guy” in brightly colored shirts began with personal pursuits in the world of endurance sports. Now he is firmly entrenched in helping others through the sport he loves. He’s also co-race director of the KY History Half Marathon.

The Pittsburgh native earned a degree in civil engineering from Penn State, where he also played on the lacrosse team (though he had never heard of the sport before going to college). Ultimately, however, he took a career path with Phi Gamma Delta, traveling around the country and doing a stint for a few years at its headquarters in Lexington. He then worked with corporations, specializing in soft skills like leadership development, human resources, organizational leadership and other ventures that lend themselves perfectly to organizing dozens of races a year.

Eventually he landed once more in Kentucky, where he continued his longstanding involvement in endurance events as a competitor.

“Lexington keeps drawing me back,” he reflected, adding that he was even the president of the Bluegrass Triathlon Club for about four years. “I started to see there weren’t enough triathlons around here, and thought it would be neat if we could put on some better events. The original genius behind getting into this business was purely because we needed more and better triathlons around here.”

His first foray into the race timing and directing world was with a company he started with partners, called 3Way Racing (which still operates locally). The first triathlon they set up was a half iron distance in Louisville, including an Ohio River swim and 56 miles of cycling through Oldham County.

“We did it as a lead-up to IRONMAN Louisville. It worked out, but we did it just the one year,” Baney recalled. “It was a lot. We eventually transitioned to doing shorter road races and really worked on fine tuning our system.”

Since then, he’s started a new company called RaceRise with co-owner and business partner Scott Bassett. RaceRise is a brand that focuses on giving back to Kentucky-based charities through race events.

Swimming with alligators

Baney himself has done two full iron races (140.6 miles of swim, bike and run), including IRONMAN Louisville and a race in Florida called the Great Floridian.

“We were in the transition area setting out our bikes in the morning and these two guys start talking about alligators,” Baney said. “They actually chummed the lake on the other side so the gators went over to the other side from where we were swimming. When I got in the water, it was a deep, almost blackish-purplish color … you couldn’t see a thing. My heart was racing the whole time. I probably had my fastest swim time ever.”

His athletic endeavors also include an impressive resumé of road races during his serious running days of the late 1980s and early 1990s, he said. In that time he did three full marathons and qualified for the Boston Marathon once, although he never ran it. 

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Baney says visualization is a key part of his race directing process.

Now, he says, his favorite race distance is the half marathon because it is just challenging enough, but not too punishing for runners. And as a race director, there are not quite so many logistical and personnel nightmares to deal with. He said he loves figuring out the entire process of the race – down to water stops, volunteer coordination and course maps. 

“I roll it around in my mind and visualize it,” he said. “And the half marathon distance gives that challenge without the stress of a full.”

Where it all began

But that all began with something much shorter. Baney estimates he’s had his hand in about 350 races from 2013 to 2019 (so far), but when discussing that background he still gives pause to the event that started it all: Run With All Your Hart in Russell Springs, Ky. It was the first official race of 3Way Racing.

It began in June 2013 – when a soon-to-be mother of four, Sarah Roberts Hart, was raped and murdered while on a training run with her sister. Baney was moved to do something to help Hart’s family. It was a defining moment.

“I reached out to the church that was listed for the funeral down in Russell Springs and talked to the receptionist,” he recalled. “They passed along a message to the pastor. I was just starting out in this new race business and wanted to donate my services. It was only about an hour later I got a call back from the pastor, who was also the father of Sarah. We talked for 90 minutes on the phone. He told me, ‘If you feel that God’s calling you do to this for my daughter, then we’ll get people lined up for you.’ They knew everyone. We had a meeting down there a week later and it moved forward.”

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The Run With All Your Hart course map.

On June 25, Baney opened a Facebook page for the event, and on July 4 invited some of those fans and participants to be a part of the iconic Bluegrass 10,000 festivities in Lexington.

“They spoke at the end of the race,” Baney recalled. “All of the news stations picked it up, and it really snowballed.”

Baney went over things in Russell Springs and told organizers they’d need someplace to park about 200 cars for the race participants. A course map of 4.01 miles was planned – one for each of Sarah’s children. He routed the course and was floored when the map revealed a “darn near perfect heart.” 

“The thing just started going crazy,” he said. “We had 4,000 likes on the Facebook page. We had a woman from Tennessee call and say they had a group who wanted to support it. We set up a virtual runner type of thing – I had never heard of it before. We ended up with 690 virtual runners! At the end, we had every state represented except New Hampshire, and seven foreign countries including military groups in Iraq. They were running in the desert. And the little town of Russell Springs, which had about 3,800 people in it, had 3,900 runners show up. It was crazy!”

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A massive ceremony was held before the race, where nearly 4,000 runners all raised up their hands together.

The event raised $110,000 for a new scholarship fund for pharmacy students – Hart’s profession. For three years in a row they did the race, and got the Sarah Roberts Hart Foundation kicked into high gear. And got 3Way Racing rolling.

“That was the race that kind of put me on the map a little bit,” Baney said. “It was all just giving it away. We got everything donated, and the goodness of people really showed. What it really fueled in me was, ‘How can what I do be more about helping others than supporting me and my life?’ And I love to have a direct hand in helping and understanding where the money is going.”

Now Baney, Bassett and their team are busier than ever with RaceRise, with a hand in numerous races and charities, ranging from those that help retired racehorses to former addicts looking to rebuild their lives.

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Presenting ceremonial checks before race start is a hallmark of RaceRise events, like at the DV8K Life Changing Run last year. 

Telling Kentucky’s story

In the case of the KY History Half Marathon, Baney puts his heart behind the cause of telling the history of his adopted home state. All of the race proceeds benefit the Kentucky Historical Society and the programming it provides for all ages and all stripes. Just like Baney, the state has a rich story to tell – one that this race will help relate for generations to come.

Not surprisingly, Baney said he loves the race so much because of the people behind it – “an important organization for our state in preserving the wonderful history that’s part of the fabric of Kentucky.”

“I think especially the stuff they do for kids, and taking history and sharing it with the next generation, is so important,” he added, noting that it’s probably the only race in this region that runs through an extremely historic cemetery. “It runs through a very historical downtown district, around the state capitol, up a huge hill, by some monumental figure gravestones, a true historical bourbon distillery, the river … You get a little bit of everything.”

It’s also a sliver of what he loves about Kentucky running, including the people, and the natural beauty and rich blend of urban and scenic areas.

The KY History Half Marathon offers something for everyone, including a half marathon, 10K and 5K distances.

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Come race through history – and make your own – in September! 
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