E.A. Sports Today

Farewell to feet

[corner-ad id=2]Gregg’s three-year run as Woodstock race director ends with record field, many good memories

Neeli Faulkner, the presumptive next race director of the Woodstock 5K, talks with Anniston Runners Club president Robert Powers prior to Saturday's awards ceremony. Faulkner is expected to succeed Haley Gregg (cover), whose three-year term ended with Saturday's race.

Neeli Faulkner, the presumptive next race director of the Woodstock 5K, talks with Anniston Runners Club president Robert Powers prior to Saturday’s awards ceremony. Faulkner is expected to succeed Haley Gregg (cover), whose three-year term ended with Saturday’s race.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The end of this year’s Woodstock 5K marked the end of an era for the historic race.

It brought the curtain down on Haley Gregg’s three-year term as race director. The term may have been relatively short, but it was the most eventful.

During her time in the big chair, she oversaw the fastest and the largest races in the 35-year history of the event.

While she reflected on her term after the race, a visitor approached and asked if were true she wasn’t going to be in charge anymore. Sadly, she had to say it was.

“I love the Woodstock 5K with all my heart, truly,” she said. “I feel like it’s in my blood at this point. I’m going to miss it. It’s just a time in my life where I need to focus on other things.

“I look forward to coming back each and every year and helping any way that I can in a smaller capacity, and running in it myself. As far as the whole event itself this year I am extremely pleased. I cannot believe that we broke that attendance record.

“That was my goal when I first started. I wanted (former race director) Dennis Dunn’s record and I texted him yesterday and all I put was ‘Broken.’ … I hope that record gets broken but it was really cool to be a part of it.”

In her last race as director, the Woodstock drew 1,590 runners. A large part of the swell was the team element, which she championed during her watch by providing a discount entry fee for team participants.

The initiative was so well received, organizers have now divided it into two categories — corporate and private. It’s difficult for private groups to compete against the community’s corporate giants, but Black Girls Run/Kicking Asphalt made a run at the Anniston Megawatts of Alabama Power’s 172 entries with their own 114.

“I think that was the reason why we broke (the attendance record),” Gregg said. “It adds an element of fun and, of course, you’ve got that cash prize (for largest group); if you want to run for a cause or a charity you’ve got that as your inspiration. I just feel it brings another element to it.”

While Gregg said she will miss directing, the one thing she won’t miss is the stress of directing.

While no successor has been named officially, the torch is expected to pass to Neeli Faulkner, this year’s co-director and volunteer coordinator.

Gregg praised Faulkner’s organizational skills, a quality that serves her well with the City of Anniston Planning and Development Services and will come in handy with a multi-layered event like Woodstock.

Faulkner knows what she’s following and has been making mental notes throughout her apprenticeship to help make the transition as smooth as possible.

“No pressure, right?” she said. “We set a record for most ever. Yeah, no pressure; just make sure it’s really awesome next year in your first year.”

That process begins almost immediately.

“I talked to a couple of the chairs right after the race and they were like we need to get together before planning next year,” Faulkner said. “That’s perfectly fine just as long as were all on the same page, which mostly everybody was. There’s just major communicating between now and the race next year.”

Of course, Gregg won’t be a stranger. She plans to run in the race and will be around to do whatever she can to help.

“I just feel proud to be part of the history of Woodstock,” she said. “I know Brooke Nelson has the longest in terms of how many years she race directed. I know I can’t go for that record.”

That’s OK. She’ll settle for the two she has – fastest and largest.

NEW VOICE: Runners headed to the starting line and spectators lining the route heard a new voice coming over the loud speakers during the race.

TV-24 weatherman Chris Wright was back behind the emcee’s mic at the finish line in place of WVOK radio personality Steve Stevens. It was his first time back in nearly eight years, but he felt as comfortable as ever.

“I love this,” he said, “because you’re surrounded by people who have energy and are actually doing something.”

The break actually gave him a chance to run in his only Woodstock in 2010. The best he can remember he ran it in around 30:30.

He wouldn’t speculate if Saturday’s assignment was going to turn into a more permanent gig. “I’m here today,” he said.

LENDING A HAND: Race organizers presented charitable contributions totaling $10,000 to three of its benefactors during the awards ceremony. They gave $4,000 to both East Central Alabama United Cerebral Palsy and ARC/Special Olympics, and $2,000 to Anniston High School.

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