By all accounts, the events were successful. The races exceeded the hype, and previous registration records were broken. More than 1,040 runners registered for the two events, hailing from 84 cities in Alabama, 16 states and three nations. Four Alabama state records were set, and more than 110 kids ages 2 to 14 competed in the Kidstock.
The Anniston Runners Club's signature event, the Woodstock 5K, has enjoyed 29 years of competition the first Saturday in August on the challenging, historic Woodstock neighborhood course. In the last four years, the race has seen a dramatic increase in numbers, from 79 runners in 2005 to a huge bump up over a thousand this year.
Why have we experienced this success? There are many factors contributing to this boom. Despite the current economic climate, running, still a relatively inexpensive endeavor, and road races have seen boosts in interest. Likewise, our club has seen a huge jump in membership, from 49 members in 2005 to more than 640 to date, and the increase continues on a weekly basis as people sign up to become more physically fit.
For Woodstock, I can point to a number of factors. Due to an energetic, persistent and progressive Woodstock Race Committee, we have won three consecutive bids to host Road Runners Club of America championships: 2007 Alabama state championship, 2008 Southern Region championship, and 2009 national championship. These designations have helped elevate our race, create excitement and increase outside participation from other states. But basically, this is still our local event.
No matter how adept at putting on an event our committee may be, we could not do it without local support and funding. Our area's leaders, businesses, sponsors, students, administrators and club members have recognized the importance of promoting this race; they have a vested interest in its success.
Woodstock is a positive happening for our area, and this year, above all years, the community embraced this race and claimed ownership of the event. While we had a large number of entries from out-of-town and out-of-state runners, I believe the continued grassroots support of Woodstock is proven in the numbers: 54 percent of the runners hailed from Calhoun County.
We have been thrilled to draw top-level athletes from across the country and runners from outside of Calhoun County. Nobody can dispute visitors are good for our economy as they spend their dollars to stay in our hotels, visit our attractions and eat at our restaurants, but the benefit of dispelling negative perceptions of our area is almost impossible to gauge. However, our post-race survey's comments indicate an overwhelmingly positive impression of Calhoun County and its people.
Long after the cups are swept up, the start/finish line scaffolding is dismantled and the sound of runners' feet pounding the pavement is a distant memory, the effects of Woodstock 2009 will be enjoyed. It was fun. It was good.
More important than the records broken are the barriers broken and mindsets rethought. This year's Woodstock is history, but Aug. 1, 2009, is a day to be remembered because it marked a moment in time when an area event transcended local politics and city borders.
Consider the above picture. Guy Sellers, 91, from Oxford, is paced to the Woodstock finish line by his new running partner, Mariesha Williams, a senior at Anniston High School and a linebacker on the football team. This photo captures the essence of Woodstock 2009: Oxford and Anniston partnering for success. (Note: Sellers set an Alabama state record for his age with his time of 52:42:40.)
Woodstock 2009 was a glimpse at what can happen when we work together for a common goal. Woodstock is a unifier. Woodstock 2010 will be just fine. Mark your calendar for Saturday, Aug. 7, 2010: 30 years of Woodstock — Peace, love and running.
From the bottom of my running shoes — thank you, Calhoun County.
Brooke Nelson, race director of the Anniston Runners Club's Woodstock 5K, lives in Munford. E-mail: email@example.com.