Saturday’s 33rd Woodstock will mark the fourth time in five years and third in a row that the race has carried the Road Runners Club of America’s national championship designation for the 5-kilometer distance. It’s also the last time Woodstock is scheduled to hold that designation, which moves to a race in Tuscon, Ariz., in 2014.
No matter how much the RRCA likes to spread championship designations, Woodstock organizers have grown rather fond of having them. They want that national-championship designation back as soon as possible.
“For us, it’s just a pride factor,” first-year race director Haley Gregg said. “We’re so proud to be hosting the RRCA championship race.
“It’s become very competitive, the last few years, of bidding this designation, so, for us, we want to go out with a bang and have a great year.”
Indicators point to another strong year for Woodstock.
Registration stood at 1,040 runners Monday afternoon, according to Dennis Dunn, who served as race director in 2011 and 2012 and stayed on as registration chairman this year. With normal race week registration, he projects between 1,300 and 1,400 runners by starting gun Saturday at 7:30 a.m.
That’s down slightly from 2012’s spike of 1,561 but in line with participation in the race’s seven-year growth surge.
This year’s field has already drawn a record 24 teams for the team challenge, with $1,000 going to the chosen cause of the team with the most participants. That’s up from 18 teams a year ago.
Run For God, which won with 36 members in 2012, will return. So will Warriors, formerly known Depot Dashers, a team that runs to raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project.
“I really think that’s where the growth of Woodstock is,” Dunn said. “Local involvement and these teams, raising money for different charities, are bringing the groups out and involving people that might not normally consider running.”
Among elite runners registered is reigning overall winner Patrick Cheptoek, who won the $500 prize for breaking the course record with a time of 14 minutes and 13 seconds in 2012. Second-place finisher Emmanuel Bor, who finished second behind Cheptoek, also returns.
Risper Gesabwa, who bussed to Anniston and set the women’s course record of 16:06 a year ago, is not yet registered, but her camp has been in contact with Dunn. Second-place finisher Carmen Hussar also has not yet registered, but third-place finisher Justyna Mundy will be in the field. So will fourth-place finisher Lydia Kosgei.
Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, the 2010 and 2011 top female finisher who had to miss the 2012 Woodstock to run the 10,000-meter event for Team USA in the Olympics, has moved to Flagstaff, Ariz. She is not expected to be in Anniston for Saturday’s race.
This year’s field will be greeted by recently added road signs marking the now-historic Woodstock course, which starts and finishes on Woodstock Ave., in front of Anniston High School.
There will a beefed-up festival, including a post-race Woodstock Revival Concert. The concert will feature local bands like the Gypsy Begonias, McPherson Struts, Doublewide Soul and Jim Parks covering songs performed by Janis Joplin, The Who, Santana, Jimi Hendrix, Grateful Dead at the 1969 Woodstock concert.
Gregg also instituted virtual race bags as an inducement for runners this year, and she got a Jacksonville State University group involved in designing a new Woodstock logo.
It’s all part of the latest chapter for a community race that grew from less than 100 runners to 15 times that number in less than a decade.
The race has also enjoyed seven consecutive years with some kind of RRCA designation, whether it be state, Southern Region or national championship for the 5K distance. Alabama RRCA representative Ron Macksoud is expected to attend Saturday, and Gregg hopes this year’s Woodstock makes the organization want to bring its championships back soon.
“We’ve got it in the RRCA’s memory of, you know, ‘Woodstock, they’ve got it going on. They know how to put on a race’,” Gregg said. “When we put in bids for future years, we hope that impact stays with them, and they’ll come back to us eventually.”
Gregg said plans are underway to bid for the RRCA’s Southern Region championship in 2014.
As for losing the national-championship designation beyond this year, it wasn’t like Woodstock organizers blew it. Gregg spoke to RRCA executive director Jean Knaack, who said the organization wants to “share the love” with other races in other states.
“She made the statement of, ‘I can’t believe you guys have had it the past three years. That says a lot, right there, because we try to move these things around’,” Gregg said.
Still, Woodstock organizers hope that what moves around comes around --- again.
“We’re definitely going to try again,” she said. “We’ve loved having that designation. It means a lot to us, so, hopefully, we’ll get it back.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.