“This sign marks the finish line of the Woodstock 5K,” begins its opening line, “one of the oldest continuous footraces in the Southeast.”
In other words, we are Woodstock.
It’s the kind of statement associated with sports teams distinguished by sustained success, and the Woodstock has that feel after seven consecutive years of growth and championship designations from the Road Runners Club of America.
It gives organizers something to say, now that the 33-year-old race faces an uncertain championship future.
“In my opinion, us not having the national championship race next year, it’s cool that we can go from that to saying, ‘The Historic Woodstock 5K’,” race director Haley Gregg said. “To me, there’s something really special about that, just like there’s something special about having the national-championship designation.
“So, we go from one special thing to another.”
Saturday’s running marked the final time Woodstock is scheduled to host an RRCA championship. About 1,300 runners took to the streets of the Rocky Hollow neighborhood to decide the national running organization’s 5K championship for the third year in a row and fourth time in five years.
That designation, as well as state and Southern Region championship designations, helped Woodstock grow from a local run with fewer than 100 runners to more than a relevant race with more than thousand annually in a seven-year span.
Those designations helped Woodstock draw progressively stronger fields of elite runners like aspiring Olympian Patrick Cheptoek, who won Saturday and broke the course record for the second year in a row.
A human being covered the hilly, historic Woodstock course in 14 minutes and five seconds. That’s a 4.5-minute-mile pace on an August morning in the South.
That’s not running. That’s flying.
The race has drawn athletes like 2010 and 2011 women’s winner Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, who missed the 2012 Woodstock to compete in the 10,000-meter run for Team USA in the Olympics.
They come for prize money, including the $500 bonus for breaking the course record. Gregg said that bonus and other prize money will continue to be there.
“We’ll still have the $1,000 team prize and the cash money to the overall winners, definitely,” she said.
Still, elite athletes are attracted to prestige, which also has a way of stoking local enthusiasm. Now that the RRCA has decided to spread the national-championship love among other races around the country, questions arise for Woodstock.
Even if organizers successfully bid for the 2014 Southern Region championship, will the race see a significant drop in its elite field? Will there be falloff in local enthusiasm, which fuels participation from runners and volunteers?
Will Woodstock feel differently in 2014 after a period of such growth in participation and relevance?
Time will tell, but feedback Saturday will encourage to Gregg, her team and the larger community that has come to care about Woodstock.
Dennis Dunn, the 2011 and 2012 race director who served as registration chair this year, relayed word from women’s runner-up Justyna Mudy that she’s thinking beyond next year. She told him she wants to make it 10 consecutive Woodstocks, which would mean eight more in a row for her.
Cheptoek, who said he spent much of Friday night “dreaming” of defending his title and breaking his own record, betrayed a sense of ownership about Woodstock.
“This race means a lot to me,” he said. “I definitely will come back next year.
“I like this race. I like the organizers. I like the people here. It’s just one of the races that I feel is a part of my mentality.”
Then there’s word that the RRCA hasn’t lost its loving feeling for Woodstock. George Rehmet, the RRCA’s rep at five of six championship events this year, voiced his support for the national championship coming back to Woodstock.
“It has the qualities that the RRCA is looking for,” he said after Saturday’s awards ceremony. “I see community support. I see uniqueness of the event, the attention to details like the water bottles, the fans, the food, the metals saying ‘RRCA national champion’ and then the charities like Cerebral Palsy and Anniston High School, as well, and also the community support, how much the community gets behind it.
“Also, it’s a great course. I mean, it’s a little hilly, but it’s wide, and it’s for everybody.”
Rehmet is the RRCA’s representative for coastal California and serves as director for the Napa Valley Marathon, which held a national championship designation from 1998-2009. A three-year, spread-the-wealth hiatus followed, but the Napa Valley race got the designation back.
On March 3, it served as the RRCA’s national marathon championship for the 13th time in 16 years.
Rehmet said bidding for championships has gotten more competitive, with races like Woodstock “raising the bar.” How many races typically bid for the 5K title?
“I think for 5K, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was like, maybe, a dozen,” Rehmet said.
The RRCA doesn’t close its mind. It watches how races progress around the country, but Rehmet sees no reason to believe the Woodstock’s title days are done. He said the national-championship designation could be back in Anniston as early as 2015.
“I would not be surprised if the Woodstock 5K definitely comes back again as the national championship,” he said.
In the meantime, freshly erected historic markers line the course, reminding local people what they’ve built.
“First held in 1980,” the finish-line sign continues, “the race takes place on the first Saturday in August each year and rollercoasters through the historic neighborhoods around Anniston High School.”
In other words, we are Woodstock.
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @jmedley_star.