Sweatin' In The Sandhills: Race Series Touches the Hearts and Sneakers of Local Runners
Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These are the tenets on which our country was founded.
The Sandhills Striders Club and the more than 2,600 runners who participated in the first annual Sandhills Race Series would also likely add — running.
“I started running when I was 60, though I’d been exercising for years,” says local runner Roger Coffey. “I thought I’d had enough running for a lifetime in my Army days, but I guess not. Once I competed in my first Turkey Trot seven years ago, I was hooked.”
“I’ve been around running my whole life,” adds local runner Donna Raye. “I’ve completed 10 marathons, a couple of ultra marathons and I’ve participated in the local running club since it started in 2007. When my then-fiancé, John Robinson, and I planned our Dec. 3rd wedding, there was no question that we would not miss the Reindeer Run!
“One of the [Sandhills Striders] club members introduced us; our second date was a run at 5:30 a.m., so running is a big part of our relationship.”
Thirty-two years ago, Southern Pines started a small community run to benefit the Parks and Rec department as part of AutumnFest. Thirty years ago, the FirstHealth Center for Health and Fitness started a Turkey Trot to benefit scholarships.
And so it went, race by race, added for the benefit of local charities and loved by local runners. Most recently, Mira’s Run was started just two years ago to raise funds in support of a local chapter of the Mira Foundation, USA, an organization that provides guide dogs for sight impaired children.
“We have such a huge interest in local running events,” says Sallie Beth Johnson, who back in July, along with fellow running enthusiasts, formed a committee to look at how they could not only promote running in the area, but do so in an organized way.
It was important that each event have a unique time of year and a unique cause so that it would not compete for the enthusiasm of local runners.
With the formation of the Sandhills Race Series (SRS), the committee succeeded in not only these goals but also in cost sharing of supplies, materials and official timing, all while maintaining the individuality and increasing the exposure of each running event.
Each race in the first fall series saw a big increase in participants from previous years, with the Reindeer Run, benefiting the Sandhills Boys and Girls Club, being the largest at 1,900 runners, “a huge explosion of runners!” exclaims Johnson.
“We want this to continue to grow and be a prevalent part of sporting events in Moore County,” says Jodi Heimrich, part of the SRS kick-off committee and race director for the Turkey Trot. “The series really promotes running in the community and because of this we are seeing a huge bump in registration numbers with a lot more opportunity for future growth.”
The series is divided into fall and spring events, four events each, and there is hope that in future years the series will grow to a total of 12 events.
Runners are awarded either participation or performance points, or both, and it is the accumulation of points that makes the difference in winning a prize at the end of the series.
“When you register for a running event you have a goal, you’ve put your money on it and you’ve got to get in shape for it,” says Coffey, who won first place overall in his 60-69 age group and in turn won a six-month membership to the FirstHealth Center for Health and Fitness. “I try to do well in my age group and I run about a 10-minute mile, though I’d like to get closer to nine minutes. There are guys my age out there who can run circles around me, but participation is the key in this series!”
People participate in charitable running events for all sorts of reasons: to get a T-shirt, to strive to beat a personal best and to give back to the charities for which the races benefit.
“We raised about $37,000 in proceeds for the causes,” says Johnson.
Most of those proceeds come from sponsorships as most of the entry fees runners pay go toward the administration of the race and the T-shirts.
Of course, no runner reaches any finish line without training. For many who compete in the SRS, training takes place in part with the Sandhills Striders running club.
“Tuesday, we have group speed work on a local track,” says Raye. Wednesdays they meet in Pinehurst in front of Dugan’s, and “Saturdays we do a long run and we do hill work in Southern Pines.”
The camaraderie keeps the members training together, particularly on colder and dark evenings when staying indoors in front of a fireplace might otherwise beckon.
Others, such as Moore County Schools Superintendent Susan Purser, join formal training programs such as the FirstHealth’s Five Weeks to 5K. She along with local school principals and administrative staff joined this program with the goal of running the 5K Turkey Trot.
“Last year, I walked the 10K and this year I wanted to run,” she says. “Jodi [Heimrich] laid out our program and said we’d be able to do it but I just never thought I could. I thought I’ll just do my best and be happy with that. But, my daughter was here with my grandbaby in a jogger and they participated with me. It was wonderful, a real inspiration!
“Everyone in our training group made working out a regular practice and have pledged to each other to continue doing it. The support system makes all the difference.”
If you’ve caught the running bug, it may be time to start training for the spring SRS. The first event is the ShamRock n’ Roll on March 5.
Remember, in this series, consistency of participation is equally important to speed, and slow and steady can win the race.
But even more important than winning a prize is achieving your accomplishment of going the distance.
“I’d be out there anyway, even if there weren’t prizes,” says Roger Coffey. “But that prize is like the icing on the cake!”
For more information on the Sandhills Race Series, visit www.sandhillsraceseries.com. For more information on the Sandhills Striders, visit www.sandhillsstriders.org.
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