Really, enjoy life.
“We want people to understand that, just because you’re a Christian, doesn’t mean that you’re limited to what you can do, as long as you do it in the name of God,” team manager Melissa Brittain said. “You’re allowed to have your hobbies.
“Just don’t put it before God.”
Today’s 33rd annual Woodstock will feature a record 24 teams, all hoping to bring enough members to win the $1,000 prize for their causes. Five of those teams have religious affiliation.
As of Friday night, 109 of 240 team-affiliated runners registered (45 percent) come from religious-affiliated teams, according to Woodstock registration chair Dennis Dunn.
The teams include Golden Springs Baptist Church and Alabama Baptist Children’s Home Runners.
There’s also Anniston’s New Life Christian Cathedral, which will bring a dozen runners and about 20 volunteers for the second consecutive year. Volunteers from the men’s, women’s and youth ministries will spread out over seven blocks, giving out water, cheering on runners or doing whatever is needed.
“We like to be a part of it and give back to the community and just spread the spirit of love and unity,” team captain Lonzo Lynch said. “We just feel blessed to be a part of this.”
In 2012, another group running under the Run For God banner won the team competition with 36 members, nine more than second-place team Depot Dashers (now called Warriors), who run for the Wounded Warrior Project.
This year’s Run For God group has close to the same number registered as last year’s group of the same name.
“They have registrations just flowing in,” race director Haley Gregg said. “I’ve just seen that name come by so many times.”
The group has members spread over multiple churches but is based out of New Prospect Baptist Church No. 2 in Cherokee County.
“Being this our second year, we’ve done several 5Ks,” pastor Greg Locklear said. “We’ve had big groups that go with us, and it’s just a great way to encourage everybody, and we’ve got ‘Run For God’ on our shirts.
“We get a lot of comments and people asking us questions of what that’s about.”
The group is its cause, in that it uses winnings to fund its runs and assist two teenage members. Run registration typically costs $25 to $30 a person, and Brittain acknowledged the group has nearly depleted its funds.
Their runs are about witnessing for a message, and the message can be as individual as the group.
“Our goal is to go to as many races as we can and to actually reach people,” Brittain said.
The stickman shirts are meant to draw attention.
“When the guy actually wrote the program, he made this little guy different on our shirts so that maybe other people would ask, ‘What’s your story?’” Brittain said. “That way, you could tell your story about what God has done in your life.”
Mitchell Hollis, a builder and runner from Dalton, Ga., authored the Run For God program. In a promotional video on runforgod.com, he said the inspiration came after a deacon in his church warned him against allowing his passion for running to become his god.
“Quite honestly, it offended me, at first,” Hollis said in the video. “Because here I was talking about a sport that I loved to a deacon in my church, and he was trying to, what I thought at the time, meddle in my faith.
“Over the next few days, what he said just eat at me, and I look back on it now, and I know it was the Lord convicting me. Either I was going to have to give this sport up that I loved, or I was going to have to give it to God.”
Hollis had stickman shirts made, hoping to be shaken from his comfort zone by people asking his story. He said he started to become more comfortable telling it.
He developed a 12-week, couch-to-5K program, which he said is based on faith and endurance and has a slogan: “Live it, love it, teach it.”
The program caught on, with Run For God groups popping up at various locales. The group that will run in Anniston today formed just more than a year ago.
Brittain’s group was naturally drawn to Woodstock, a race that has grown from a small, community run to major Northeast Alabama event over the past seven years. The Woodstock has carried the Road Runners Club of America’s national-championship designation for the 5K distance four of the past five years, and the 2012 run drew a record 1,561 runners.
“We saw the team challenge, and we thought, ‘Hey, we’re going to run anyway’,” Brittain said. “Let’s try to actually win.”
In deciding which runs to choose, Brittain’s group will look at charitable beneficiaries. Woodstock benefits the East Central Alabama United Cerebral Palsy Center and Special Olympics.
“We’re doing two things at once,” Brittain said. “We’re getting our story across, as running for God, but also, we’re giving to that proceed (through the group’s registration fees), as well.”
Locklear said the group had so much fun running and cheering for each other on their first run that they got hooked. When they huddle for pre-race prayers in their stickman shirts, they get attention.
“Folks say, ‘Who is that group over there?’” he said. “We usually have an impact, wherever we go.”
Sports columnist Joe Medley: 256-235-3576, email@example.com. On Twitter @jmedley_star.