E.A. Sports Today

Red means go at Woodstock 5K

New color shirts, high-quality finisher’s medals, fitness focus of Faulkner’s first Woodstock

Neeli Faulkner, the race director of the Woodstock 5K, talks with 2015 Anniston Runners Club president Robert Powers prior to last year's race awards ceremony.

Neeli Faulkner, the race director of the Woodstock 5K, talks with 2015 Anniston Runners Club president Robert Powers prior to last year’s race awards ceremony.

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

The runners and spectators in next weekend’s Woodstock 5K can expect to see a lot of red around the course – and that’s not a bad thing.

In one of the more fun elements of Neeli Faulkner’s first year as race director, the runners answering the starting gun in the oldest road race in the Southeast will receive a T-shirt in a color that’s never been used before – heather red.

“Initially I wanted to do red, white or blue,” Faulkner said. “I’ll be honest, I thought about black. I’m a big Georgia Bulldog fan and the Georgia blackout was a big thing. Then I thought, a black shirt in August, are you crazy?

“The Opportunity Center prints the shirts and (center administrator) Steven Miles is a former president of the Runners Club. He said why don’t we do red … I don’t think we’ve ever had a red one before. Yellow, green or blue were the last three. I saw a sample shirt and it turned out really well.”

The race is 7:30 a.m. Aug. 6 – the day after the opening ceremonies of the Rio Olympics (the Kidstock 1K starts at 8:30). There were plans to introduce an obstacle relay in this year’s race, but there were complications and the idea was put on hold. As of Tuesday, about 900 runners had registered for the race, about the same pace as this time last year when it drew a record field.

If the color of the T-shirt was the biggest decision Faulkner was to face in her tenure, it will be a smooth race.

Of course, things aren’t always that simple. There are sponsors to cultivate, volunteers to recruit and coordinate and sites and services to secure. Faulkner anticipated her experience as volunteer chairman prepared her to succeed director Haley Gregg’s three-year reign that included the fastest and largest races in Woodstock history, but she quickly discovered it’s a demanding job.

“Since I was involved last year I thought when I took the reins it was just going to be easy-peasy, (but) there were so many things I did not realize Haley did when I came on board,” she said. “Haley tried to warn me. I was so excited. It’s been a challenge, but it’s been fun, too. … Overall, it’s going better than I anticipated.”

In addition to the red tees, among the other premiums being offered to the runners are a high-quality commemorative finisher’s medal available for purchase that’s expected to be popular and the return of a physical goodie bag.

“There were some small things that changed, but overall we tried to keep with the tradition of the race, especially with it being my first year,” Faulkner said. “I noticed the difference from previous years, but (the runners) are probably not going to.”

Elite runners will return to the field, but not to the degree of years past when they dominated the top 10. The elites have been offered a promotional package to participate this year and “some” have taken advantage of it, Faulkner said. Most are coming from Birmingham.

“You want elite runners to come because you want them to encourage other people to run,” Faulkner said. “My goal is to encourage people who don’t normally run to come run; my focus is on that. I want to get people who don’t run and realize the benefits of running and joining a club like Anniston Runners Club.”

To that end, race organizers have invited two runners with stories of inspiration and hope for a healthy lifestyle. Asia Ford is a Kentucky woman who became part of the national unity conversation in March 2015 when pictures of her being helped completing a Louisville 10K by a city police lieutenant went viral. Race officials also have invited a runner who goes by the instagram handle The_Walking_Joey and has lost more than 200 of the 250 pounds he’s attempting to drop this year through exercise.

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