A high school marching band played, spectators formed lines along a city street and a pastor said a prayer for the runners gathering behind the starting line of the Woodstock 5K on Saturday in Anniston.
The grounds surrounding the course, which starts and ends on Woodstock Avenue in front of Anniston High School, took on a festival-like atmosphere. Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Sweet Home Alabama played over loudspeakers. Colorfully-clad runners, some teams in matching shirts, readied for the run, and people began staking out spots near the finish line.
“This is something for Anniston to be very proud of,” Alex Marrow, a Birmingham-based running coach, said standing near the finish line after the race. “This is like coming in for a half-marathon.”
Runners from the Anniston area and from locations around the state cited the festive atmosphere as one of the reasons they return to the Woodstock race each year.
Many, like Greg Mann, an Auburn-Opelika-based running coach, cited the competitive element of the Woodstock race as a draw.
Mann operates Greg’s East Alabama Runners, a summer running club for competitive youth runners. He didn’t participate in the race, but said he brings his team back to it each year.
“I want them to have a good time, but see what faster runners do,” Mann said.
Marrow’s club, Resolute Running, serves a similar purpose for adults, but his club includes both new and seasoned runners. Their members were not the only people running in teams with matching garb; several corporations and at least one church ran together in matching attire.
NABI Bus engineer Laszlo Juhasz ran with coworkers. He lives locally and runs regularly, but said he participates in the Woodstock 5K, in part, because it motivates him.
“I like the atmosphere,” Juhasz said. “When I do it in a large group like this, I push myself a little more.”
Plenty of people raced without a group, and spectators lined the streets to cheer on many of the individual racers. Whit Welch came out to support his wife, Christie, and lined the course with his son, Sam, 4, daughter, Lucy, 1, and father-in-law David McCormack.
They brought with them a purple poster board sign designed to cheer Whit Welch’s wife on.
Alicia Gooden came out to support her friend, Renea Reese, a Saks-area mother of three who ran the race for the first time last year with her husband cheering her on.
Reese’s husband has since died from a heart condition, Gooden said, and she stood at the finish line early on a Saturday to cheer her friend on so she wouldn’t be alone.
“She has the greatest spirit,” Gooden said, standing alongside her own daughter.
“I wanted to be sure she saw a few familiar faces.”
Within an hour of the race’s start, the 5K was winding down as the last of the participants crossed the finish line in the cool morning air.
Video from the start of the race: