Sunday, November 2, 2008

Thanks to the Runners.

Yesterday's Road to OZ marked the end of another year of races produced by Great Plains Running Company. This was the second year for Karen and I as RD's and for GPRC's seven events. Road to OZ capped off a year that saw over 1,000 participants cross our finish lines, a 55% increase over our inaugural season in '07. Although a ton of work, 2008 was a blessing to us both, as time and time again we were inspired and amazed by the accomplishments of local runners and the generosity of our volunteers. We have been truly humbled by the enthusiastic response we have received from all those involved, and I can honestly say it is an honor for us to be part of these events and to have the opportunity to meet so many great people. We look forward to even greater things in 2009. Here is a quick recap of the past year.

Things really got going in May with our first two events of the year. It was obvious with our first event of the Rock Creek Trail Series that it was going to be a busy year at Lake Perry with many new faces turning out for the 5K/10K. We had five married couples and four father and son combos. Many of these folks had never run on trails before and were instantly hooked. Some loved it so much they went right on by the final turn and just kept on running. When all was said and done however, experience reigned supreme as 54 year old Dan Kuhlman edged out 53 year old Keith Dowell by a second to win the 10K. We also had a number of runners who had never even run a Marathon before, go ahead and sign up for October's 50K. You gotta love it!

One week later it was time for Springburn and the Saucony/Red Robin Kid's Run.
After a very slow start to registration, things exploded and Springburn turn turned out to be our biggest event of the year with nearly 160 running the 12K/5K and over 250 kids showing up on Friday night, whew! While both races saw a number of talented runners, perhaps the biggest news of all was 14 year old Jacob Morgan (now a Washburn Rural Freshman) winning the tough 5K in 18:46. Once again Springburn proved that if you give people a challenge that will stretch them and then make it fun, runners will show up. It is the same reason 360 or so runners showed up in mid January on a 8 degree morning to run the Topeka to Auburn half Marathon and that is why I believe Springburn has been so well received. It's tough, but "doable" (if that's a word). Once again Red Robin was a great host and Saucony a great sponsor, and the addition of Topeka Young Life as beneficiary brought in a number of new runners. In recognition of the construction taking place on the old Menninger property, we will make every effort to maintain a healthy relationship with St Francis and hope to avoid any re-routing in 2009. We also look forward to partner with the YMCA's Strong Kids program to make our kid's runs better then ever, while raising support for the Y's program that tackles Childhood obesity.

Muddy weekends in June and September greeted the next two events in the Rock Creek Trail Series. June is time for Ticks and September brings out the Spiders, what fun we have. Next year the third event will be moved to a little later in the day as we introduce Rock Creek Trail Midnight Madness with tentative distances of 5, 10 and 20 miles.

Mid September is time for those final long runs in preparation for fall marathons and such. In an effort to support runners in that process and to say "thanks" for another year of business GPRC presented the second annual FREE for All, and it really is...FREE! We shuttled a full bus of runners out to Dover then looked for the most difficult way for them to get back and set up a few (6) water stops along the way. Once they returned to the store either by foot or by big green van, Quiznos catered a feast for the tired bunch that were ready for anything October Races might throw their way.

October 25th marked the series finale for Rock Creek with a 5K, Half Marathon and a 5oK. After a LOT of rain early in the week we were finally able to get our leaf blowers out there to get the 18 miles of trail ready for the three distances. Kudos to Lyle Reidy and the Folks at the Kansas Trails Council for building a Trail system that handles water as good as any I've seen. By race day the trails were just about perfect and the weather was beautiful. In total, just shy of 150 runners showed up on Saturday. The 5K was full of several new faces and a slew of younger runners. Maybe that's where all the Monster went? The Half Marathon and 50K were both awesome. Both races had elite runners set new course records and several seasoned runners jostling for position and PR's up front. Trail Nerd Caleb Chatfield set a new course record of 4:14:45 in the 50K and local news anchor and Nerdo Mud Babe Sophia Spencer won the women's race. But the other thing both races had were all the cool, personal stories of runners succeeding at something they had worked towards all year. Something they could never have imagined doing a year ago. Something very few others will ever understand. To see people like Greg and Rachele Pruett, Roy Wohl, Christa Murphy, GPRC's own, Jenn McAnarney and countless others finish their first 50K is a great feeling and makes all the hard work worth while.

Last but not least is Road to OZ. A race that I still think has the most potential of them all, but admittedly may scare some people away. Our goal is simple,embrace the Wizard of OZ as part of our heritage (hey, you gotta work with what you got). So we invite runners to dress like Dorothy (or any other OZ character) run through the Kansas countryside and if you're fast enough you just might win a piece of the yellow brick road. After the adults are done, the kids get to run in the Munchkin run. What could be better. Well this year we had a lot more runners and few more Dorothys along with some Flying Monkey's, Scarecrows, Lions, Tin Men and witches, both Good and Wicked. We also had some really fast runners who led the way. Todd Allen broke his own course record in a time of 24:13 and Tristan Collins became the "Fastest Dorothy" in a time of 25:22. All in all this was a fun way to end the year and next year when we push this race back a week so high school cross country runners can participate I think this race will get even bigger, and certainly crazier.

Now all that's left is to wash the water coolers and re stock the first aid kits and we'll be done with 2008 and although it's been a long year and I'm thankful for the break, I'll admit however I spent much of my morning making notes on how to improve what we offer runners in 2009.

I am thankful for this opportunity to give back to the sport I love, and to support those who are dedicated to it. I have learned a great deal this year about myself as well as others, and thank those who have shared their journey with me throughout this past year. I look forward to all that God has in store for 2009, but for now I am happy for a few more Saturday mornings at home and more time with our kids, the unsung heroes of the GPRC races.

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