“You have to keep dodging everybody,” the Anniston police sergeant said, laughing. “You can’t run a straight line. You run a lot more than 3.1 miles when you’re running around people and people are running around you.”
Woodstock’s growth has been dramatic in the past decade, and those who have witnessed it the most will be recognized after Saturday’s 32nd running. Race organizers dug into records and decided to recognize runners who will make at least their 10th consecutive Woodstock run.
Race Director Dennis Dunn said reliable records go back as far as 11 years, and 10 makes a nice, round figure. In going through registration and finish information over that span, he found seven runners for whom Saturday’s Woodstock will be at least their 10th in a row.
The group includes Dotson, Carollynne Blakney, Ellen Cannon, Jerry Bynum, Yo Setser, Jeff Tucker and Wayne Heckler. All but Tucker and Heckler live in Calhoun County. Tucker lives in Pell City and Heckler in Madison.
Records show that Cannon, Bynum, Setser and Heckler have run in at least each of the past 11 Woodstocks.
Most of the seven 10-year people have run in more Woodstocks than organizers have reliable records to prove.
They have witnessed quite an era of growth for the Woodstock 5K. As recent as 2005, the race had 75 finishers, but Dunn said this year’s race has already broken a pre-registrationrecord. As of Wednesday night, 1,325 runners were registered for Saturday’s Woodstock and Kidstock runs, up from 1,230 in 2010.
The 2010 Woodstock/Kidstock holds the record for most combined finishers at 1,260, and Saturday’s 7:30 a.m. race stands to break that record.
Dunn said organizers had ordered 1,500 race shirts, and he’s already running out of some sizes. Good problems to have, say those who remember the Woodstock before all of this growth.
“The best part is just seeing it grow in the last few years,” Bynum said. “So many good runs died over the years, and some of the newer people who have taken over have built it up.”
Organizers have helped to grow the race by aggressively seeking and receiving special designations from the Road Runners Club of America.
The RRCA designated Woodstock the 2007 state championship for the 5K distance. Every year since, the race has served as either the Southern Region or national championship.
Woodstock will be the RRCA’s national 5K championship this year and has been three of the past four years. It will be the national championship in 2013.
That helped to draw a bigger field of elite runners. They don’t get more elite than current Olympian Janet Cherobon-Bawcom, the top female finisher and women’s course record breaker this past two years. She will run the 10,000-meter race for Team USA on Friday in London.
However, elite runners don’t fully account for Woodstock’s growth surge. Adding team competitions and grass-roots Anniston Runners Club programs like the Couch to 5K have helped.
“The main boost this year is the involvement of the local people in the community coming out and taking that step to be a part of a community event,” he said. “Whether it’s the Runners for God or the New Life Church or whether it’s the Depot Dashers, those are huge parts of the registration that we’ll have.
“For a lot of those people, it will be their first 5K.”
Those who have run at least the past 10 Woodstocks knew the race when it was much different.
Tucker, now 47, first ran it in 1983, after he graduated from Pell City High School. The race was called a Midsummer Morn’s 5,000.
“One thing that really stands out to me about the run back in 1983 was a lot of soldiers,” Tucker said. “Fort McClellan ran in their units, and they ran in formation, and that was a really cool thing to see back then.”
The Alabama Shakespeare Festival moved to Montgomery, and the Anniston Runners Club took the race over from The Anniston Star in the mid-1980s. That’s when it got its new name, the Woodstock 5K.
It stayed largely a local race for decades, with finishers dropping from 113 in 2002 to 75 in 2005. That’s when the club got aggressive about growing the event.
“We are really blessed in this area, runners are, to have the Anniston Runners Club,” said Tucker, who made his Woodstock return in 2002, running after a 19-year absence filled with working and coaching sports for his sons. “Those guys and girls, I’m telling you, they made running fun again for people.
“When they took over that race, it really started to boom again.”
Woodstock finishers more than doubled in 2006, to 181, then again with 408 runners in 2007, the year the race became the RRCA’s state 5K championship.
It surged past 1,000 in 2010, and those who have run the race through its growth surge say they can feel the difference.
“It’s funny, because I placed in my age group back in the day, but the race got bigger, and it’s too big and too fast for me,” Tucker said with a chuckle. “But it’s still really a lot of fun.
“That’s probably one of my favorite races. I run anywhere from probably 25-30 races a year, and Woodstock is always right there at the top of my list of runs to do.”
Bynum, 58, a psychologist who lives in Jacksonville, said he has run nearly every Woodstock since 1990. He notices “a lot more energy” in recent Woodstocks.
“It’s not just from the runners but the community,” he said.
“Seeing all of the high school kids (athletes, cheerleaders and band members from Anniston High) and just people that are not running who come out to support it is huge.
“I run most all of the local races, and you see the same people, but, at Woodstock, you see people you know that it’s new to them. They’re excited, and it kind of rekindles some of that energy you had when you first started running.”
Blakney also serves as one of the race’s organizers, gathering door prizes from area businesses. She’s also an unofficial promoter, taking Woodstock registration forms with her when she runs almost weekly in races elsewhere.
“I tell people it’s a great race,” she said. “You’ve got over however-many dollars’ worth of door prizes. Of course, that’s what I’ll be featuring.”
Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.