Team captain Tad Carter says his crew will bring about 40 people to Saturday’s 7:30 a.m. race, up from its winning number of 22 a year ago, and they’re bringing flair.
“We’re having family members that aren’t participating coming out and cheering us on and maybe have a few posters out there in the crowd,” Carter said. “We actually have some products, some wristbands from the Wounded Warrior Project, that talk about some of the Army values — courage and commitment and honor.
“We’ve got enough that each team member is going to be wearing one of those wristbands on their wrists, and we plan to throw them out through the route to the crowd that’s lined up along the street.”
Once again winning prize money to contribute to the Wounded Warrior Project is the Depot Dashers’ main goal, but there’s added incentive for teams to add flair this year. Woodstock organizers have added a spirit competition, with a trophy as the prize.
Woodstock race director Dennis Dunn also plans to revive team competition designed to reward more than just numbers and spirit. The top-three-placing male, female and coed teams will receive trophies and five medals to distribute among their scoring runners.
Saturday’s 32nd Woodstock will serve as the Road Runners Club of America’s national championship for the 5K distance for the third time in four years, a fact that has helped it set a pre-registration record of 1,325 runners.
The national-championship designation and prize money have helped goose the elite field, which has helped the race draw more than 1,000 runners every year since 2010, but Dunn attributes a chunk of that growth to a surge in local participation.
Team competition, now in its fifth year in various forms, has boosted local participation, Dunn said, and beefed up team competition played a role in Woodstock’s new registration record.
“It’s been very popular,” Dunn said. “If Depot Dashers got 40 people to run, fantastic. There are other groups that brought 25, 30, 35 people. That may account for 200 of the runners involved in that team competition.”
Woodstock is a charity event, benefitting United Cerebral Palsy and Special Olympics. Starting in 2011, race organizers offered groups the incentive to win $500 for their own causes.
Depot Dashers, a coed team composed mostly of active or former military personnel and family members, earmarked its winning prize money for the Wounded Warrior Project in 2011.
“The team competition is kind of a combination of what we did up until about two years ago and last year,” Dunn said. “We found that the group challenge of incorporating other groups in the community, that we wanted to give back to their charities.
“If it’s important enough for them to be out there for Woodstock, it’s important to us, as well, and that was very popular last year.”
The charity angle added incentive.
“Last year, when they were talking about the largest group number and being able to give money to a charity, it became more important to strive to get more people,” Carter said. “Just the trophy itself is important for pride, and you can display it, but there’s more of a personal thing to it to be part of the community and the Woodstock run but, also, to extend it out to the wounded warriors who provide us our freedom.”
Dunn said organizers also wanted to reward teams that run for fun, which is why they added the spirit competition this year.
“They can dress up the way that they want to,” Dunn said. “It could be five people, but, if they impress the judge on that, they will win the award.”
Dunn declined to name the judge, but adding the spirit competition and reviving competitive awards for top-finishing teams were efforts to further incentivize an already popular element of a fast-growing race.
Last year’s team champion is taking it seriously.
“We’re looking at doing our best to have the largest, the fastest and the most spirited (team),” said Carter, who served in the Army for five years and works in security at the Anniston Army Depot. “If you win one, that’s great. If you win none, you still were there for a great cause.”
Carter began organizing efforts early.
“I saw the flyer back in March and started recruiting people for the team then,” he said. “About April time frame, we started meeting on Saturday mornings and running the Woodstock route to get ready.
“We’ve run every Saturday, except for maybe one or two, from April until last weekend.”
The team is doing more than conditioning to win the fastest-team challenge. They’re also planning for the spirit challenge.
“We’re meeting as a group and walking to the starting line as a group and doing certain things here and there to get ourselves noticed,” Carter said.
The weeks-long process of recruiting, training and strategizing adds to the team-challenge experience.
“It’s like a morale booster for workplaces, to me,” Carter said.
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.