Half marathon reflects growth of Anniston Runners Club
by Laura Camper
Runners participate in the Anniston Runners Club Half Naked Half Marathon at the McClellan Medical Mall Saturday morning. (Anniston Star photo by Trent Penny)
At 8 a.m. Saturday, while many people were still sleeping or enjoying their breakfast, nearly 150 people made their way to the McClellan Medical Mall to run the Half Naked Half Marathon.

On a chilly but sunny morning the turnout was just about average for the race, said Nancy Grace, a volunteer helping at the event.

Just about 9 a.m., as runners reached the end of the first 6.5-mile loop of the course and made their way to a table bearing water, Gatorade and orange slices, they were greeted with encouragement by the members of the Anniston Runners Club.

Some of the runners called it quits at this juncture — the 10K point when one measures the course in meters. Others ran on to repeat the loop and go one tenth of a mile farther to achieve the correct half-marathon distance. Tantalizingly, the finish line was near Café McClellan, where runners encountered the scents of bacon, eggs and biscuits — their reward for running the race.

That’s why she came, joked Leigh Marsh, as she ate her breakfast after running the 10K. Marsh, from Pell City, has been a member of the club since 2007. She joined to meet people, she said.

“I’m a social runner,” Marsh said. “I’m not a fast runner.”

She came to run with all her friends, Marsh said.

Events benefit community

The half marathon is one of five running events the Anniston Runners Club organizes each year. It used to be a training run and annual renewal breakfast for members, said Dennis Dunn, a past president of the club who has been a member since 1999. Around eight years ago, the event became more organized and is now a USA Track and Field-certified half marathon and breakfast fundraiser for the club, he said.

The club donates money earned at its running events to several organizations around town. Last year, it donated a total of $17,000 to United Cerebral Palsy, Arc of Calhoun and Cleburne County, Anniston High School, Golden Springs Baptist Church and the YMCA, Dunn said.

When Dunn joined the Anniston Runners Club it had about 50 members, he said. This year, 700 people have already renewed their membership for 2013, he said as he sorted through a spreadsheet of names. Some 1,100 names are listed on the spreadsheet, he said.

Dunn said the growth of the club is reflective of what’s happening all over the country. Running is cheap. It’s good for you. And it’s a social activity. It’s attracting more and more people, he said.

The club provides the additional benefits of discounted entry fees for some races and you get to meet a lot of other runners from the area, Dunn said.

The Anniston Runners Club began in 1980, said Nancy Grace, who joined when the club was just three months old.

It was just a group of guys who ran together, she said. They decided to create the club and start a race in Anniston, Grace said. That event was quickly replaced by one called A Midsummer Morn’s 5,000, which was tied to the annual presence of the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. That race was sponsored by The Anniston Star and directed by the runners club, she said. When the festival relocated to Montgomery in the mid-1980s, the club took over the race, Grace said, and changed the name to the Woodstock 5K to reflect the street on which it began.

The club grows and adapts

Brooke Nelson, a 14-year-member of the club, said membership in the club has ebbed and flowed over the years. Then, about eight years ago, an energetic board decided to try to make the club grow; at the time it didn’t offer much besides the annual Woodstock 5K in August.

The board added quarterly informational meetings to talk about things like nutrition, avoiding injuries and choosing the right running shoes. The meetings also gave members a chance to get to know each other better in a social setting, she said.

The board started adding events such as the Plucked Turkey Half Marathon on Thanksgiving morning, the Half Naked Half Marathon, and trail runs including the Mount Cheaha 50K and the Pinhoti 100K.

As the club grew, the board also started hearing from members about different needs within the community and responded by creating divisions within the club. It now offers a Women’s Division, Youth Division, Trail Running Division, Triathlon Division and most recently Rookie Runners for new runners and We All Run for middle and high school students.

It’s one way the club has dealt with the growing pains it has experienced, said Steven Miles, president of the club.

“We’re finding it hard to offer a one-size-fits-all program,” Miles said.

The biggest issue facing the club is the wide area it now covers. Formerly Anniston-centered, it now has members from Calhoun, Cleburne, Etowah, Talladega, Clay and Cherokee counties. The club is trying to adapt.

“We’ve expanded our training runs into different areas,” Miles said. “We are moving our socials to different areas.”

But still, it has made sense for some to break away. The Gadsden runners, for instance, recently created their own club. Those 130 runners now have dual membership in both groups, Miles said.

Nelson said the club also is taking a step to help solidify one of the commitments it has made to Anniston. She is currently working with the Anniston Historical Preservation Commission to have the Woodstock 5K course designated  as a historic course, Nelson said. This year will be the 33rd Woodstock 5K and last year there were about 1,500 participants, she said. Nelson hopes to have permanent markers for the course noting the designation.

“It elevates a race to have those local markers on it,” Nelson said.

It also pays homage to those who live along the route and support the runners by handing out water or turning on their lawn sprinklers during the hot-weather event, she said.

Haley Gregg, the race director for Woodstock this year, said this year the race will have its own logo, as well. She is working with Jacksonville State University’s graphic design classes to create one, Gregg said.

“I’m excited,” she said. “It’s going to be an awesome yet challenging year.”

Staff writer Laura Camper: 256-235-3545. On Twitter @LCamper_Star.
© 2013