On the Monday night before fall classes began in 2015, over 3,700 students surrounded the NC State Memorial Belltower. At 11:59 p.m., the crowd poured past the starting line of a two-mile route zigzagging through North and Main Campuses leading to a Brickyard packed with games, food and free T-shirts. By participating in the aptly named Midnight Howl and Run, these nearly 4,000 students had begun the first incarnation of what has real potential for becoming a lasting campus tradition.
After the previous year’s success, Wellness and Recreation (WellRec) teamed up with NC State Dining in August 2016 to recreate the event, this time called the Moonlight Howl and Run, an additional nod to our lunar pack. The event has become a consistent kickoff to Wolfpack Welcome Week in the years since.
The Wolfpack holds strongly to its traditions — we have an entire app dedicated to sharing and maintaining our school customs, from painting the Free Expression Tunnel to becoming a finisher in the Krispy Kreme Challenge. Though young as far as traditions go, the Moonlight Howl and Run is well on its way to becoming a staple in the NC State student experience.
Traditionally, the run ends in a massive party with a live DJ, free snacks and games. Glow sticks distributed to pre-registered runners turn the crowd colorful and luminescent as they dance, play, eat and socialize. Camaraderie is in the air.
The collaboration between WellRec and Dining allows the run to serve several purposes, especially for incoming first-year and transfer students.
“I find [the Moonlight Howl and Run] to be a really important part of welcome week, having students come back onto campus, especially first-years who might be overwhelmed by the size of campus,” said Lauren Smith, director of nutrition and wellness with NC State Dining. “It's a really important event for students to learn [about] campus in probably the most fun way you can imagine.”
The run route has had many iterations over the years. After the initial two-mile path in 2015, it was streamlined to a 1.6 mile course leading past important spots on campus. In 2019, the route was changed to lead students to Stafford Commons outside Talley Student Union. This year’s run marks a return to the previous 1.6 mile Brickyard-bound route.
”We're trying to be intentional about the route because we want to highlight key areas,” said Lindsay Brookey, assistant director of fitness for WellRec. “We start at the Belltower, which is obviously an important landmark on campus, and then we run by [Carmichael Gym], and we run by Talley, some of those main points on campus, and then end up in the heart [of campus] at the Brickyard.”
A key characteristic of the event since the very beginning has been its status as a run/walk rather than a race.
“There's no timing or anything like that because we do want it to just be a place where students can come together with friends,” Brookey said. “Maybe those that are meeting for the first time will start to build a community at NC State. I think that fun aspect is really what we're looking for, not the intimidation of running [within] a certain time.”
In 2020, like many other welcome week events, the run went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Students logged on to the WellRec app to record their individual runs or walks through campus with the opportunity to win a free T-Shirt.
After 2020’s virtual Howl and Run, the event returned to in-person in 2021 but saw fewer participants and a limited celebration. That being said, as one of the first in-person campus-wide events to take place in nearly over a year, the event felt like an optimistic start to the school year.
“Last year it was a fun event,” Smith said. “It was great to see people coming together for the first time in so long. Many students attending probably hadn't had an experience like that in their time at NC State.”
As of now the Moonlight Howl and Run continues to propel the Wolfpack into each new school year, setting the stage for good health, fun and community to support students through the trials and challenges of college life.