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FHC-supported Sandhills Race Series gives ‘group power’ to events

| Date Posted: 2/14/2011

Reindeer Fun Run

A record 1,950 runners – and 150 dogs – turned out for Southern Pines’ fourth annual Reindeer Fun Run just before Christmas 2010. Organizers of the event, a fundraiser for the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sandhills, attribute the impressive participation to the race’s recent affiliation with the Sandhills Race Series.

PINEHURST – In a good year, the Southern Pines Autumnfest 5K routinely attracted about 125 runners. Last October, twice that number showed up for the event’s 32nd running. During the same month, the second annual Miles for Mira 5K fun run and dog walk also doubled its participation.

A few weeks later, organizers of the 30th annual Turkey Trot in Pinehurst had expected participation to dive with the conclusion of a MooreFit wellness competition that had attracted record numbers to the 2009 race. Instead, the event experienced a 15 to 20 percent increase – just weeks before a record 1,950 runners – and 150 dogs – turned out for Southern Pines’ fourth annual pre-Christmas Reindeer Fun Run.

Organizers of the four races attribute the increase in participation to their new affiliation with the Sandhills Race Series (SRS), an organization that encourages participation, recognizes performance and provides support to the groups coordinating the events. According to running enthusiast and SRS founder Sallie Beth Johnson, race directors decided to unite after recognizing the previously untapped power of group organization.

“With the goal of attracting more people to run or walk in a charity event, race directors have a lot in common,” Johnson says. “They have a lot of similar tasks to coordinate in order to provide a safe experience and raise funds for their charitable cause. Managing a race can be a labor-intensive process with unexpected costs. By working together, we hope our group power will lead to better promotion, coordination and cost-savings for local events.”

FirstHealth Centers for Health & Fitness was a major sponsor for the SRS kickoff, a fall lineup comprised of the Oct. 2 Autumnfest 5K, the Oct. 30 Miles for Mira, the Nov. 20 Turkey Trot and the Dec. 4 Reindeer Fun Run.

An upcoming spring series, also sponsored by Centers for Health & Fitness, begins March 5 with the ShamRock ’N Roll, a 10K, 5K and one-mile fun run in Whispering Pines. The series continues on April 9 with the Run for the Ribbons 5K trail run and 1K family fun run in Raeford, the Disabled American Veterans 5K run and walk on May 21 in Carthage, and the MANNA in Motion 10K and 5K trail run and one-mile fun run in Southern Pines on June 4.

“We were interested in supporting the Sandhills Race Series, because it supports a healthy and active lifestyle,” says John Caliri, director of the Firsthealth Centers for Health & Fitness. “More specifically, it encourages and rewards those who are living a healthy and active lifestyle. The fact that SRS has standards for race selection, is a 100-percent volunteer organization and is focused on developing long-term strategies to support local races mirrors FirstHealth’s commitment to the community.”

The SRS provides extra motivation with a point system based heavily on participation, and races offer points for both participation and performance. For the fall 2010 series, FirstHealth awarded one-year fitness center memberships to the overall female and male point winners, while 54 Champions’ Club age-group winners received one-, three- or six-month memberships and performance wear T-shirts.

Individuals participating in all four Fall Series races received bonus SRS winter training gear.

With the creation of the SRS, program partners (individual race directors and members of the Sandhills Striders running club) have begun to promote races with a variety of communication tools including a consolidated race calendar and a website (sandhillsraceseries.com) that includes registration information and course maps.

Amazingly, an early study of event calendars and race registrations didn’t reveal a lot of race overlap, according to David Petsolt, co-founder of the Reindeer Fun Run and the Sandhills Race Series. “There wasn’t much,” he says. “Each race was drawing from a different part of the running community, which let us know there was a definite advantage in cross-promotion. There were significant races that other race directors didn’t even know about.”

The group is interested in developing new races as well as promoting existing events. “Because this is the Sandhills Race Series, we aspire to include endurance events throughout Moore County and surrounding areas,” says Johnson. “We’re interested in adding races that fulfill our mission of promoting fun, fitness and community causes. From the lake loop at Southern Pines Reservoir Park to the steeplechase track at Carolina Horse Park, our races will showcase places to be active in our region.”

Petsolt agrees that expansion is in the group’s future. “We will most assuredly be expanding,” he says. “We had a lot of interest from races that want to be a part of the series. We just want to make sure that each race meets certain criteria, and we want to improve the experience for the runners.”

About 2,600 runners – from 6 to 81 – took part in the four Fall Race Series events.

“That, I love,” Johnson says.”

While the overall SRS goal is to increase race participation, another goal involves increased recognition – and funding – for the community or charitable groups that the races support. Proceeds from the ShamRock ‘N Roll go to Sandhills Farm Life Elementary School, for example, while Miles for Mira benefits the Mira Foundation USA, which provides guide dogs and services to visually impaired children.

After the 2010 Reindeer Fun Run, race organizers were able to send a $23,000 check to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Sandhills.

“At the end of the day, every one of these races is donating its money to a good cause,” says Petsolt. “Working as a group and being able to provide more money to each of these charities is really rewarding.”

A free information session for groups interested in joining the Sandhills Race Series or for anyone interested in learning more about coordinating a charity running event will be held Friday, Feb. 25, from noon to 2 p.m. at the FirstHealth Center for Health & Fitness-Pinehurst. Contact Sallie Beth Johnson at sbjohnson@firsthealth.org or (910) 255-2652 to RSVP. To register for a Spring Series event, visit www.sandhillsraceseries.com.

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