Chapel Hill News

Race features cold hands but warm hearts for the St. Paul AME 5K

With Allen Baddour (bib 6) in the middle of the front row, runners begin the St. Paul AME 5K race at the McDougle Middle School track on Saturday, March 5, 2016.
With Allen Baddour (bib 6) in the middle of the front row, runners begin the St. Paul AME 5K race at the McDougle Middle School track on Saturday, March 5, 2016.

As winter nips at the heels of spring, how did organizers of the fourth annual St. Paul AME 5K race convince hundreds of people that a 32-degree day is perfect race weather?

They simply turned the thermostat down for the first three annual races.

“The first year it was like 20 degrees, and the second year it was 22,” Carrboro Mayor and race participant Lydia Lavelle said Saturday. “This is about the first year it’s even been this close to 40 degrees.”

“Today was very nice weather,” Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour said, shortly after finishing first in the 5K race. “I remember some years when it was 10 or 15 degrees.”

“Everyone was saying, ‘Oh no, it’s going to be around 32 degrees this year,’” race director Anissa McLendon said. “As long as it’s not a cold rain and wind. Our second year, there was an influx of cold air and wind, and, ‘Oh my goodness.’”

A bit of global warming and some growing momentum have helped build the St. Paul AME 5K into one of the more popular annual races in the area. With a start and finish line at McDougle Middle School, the 5K’s ancillary events featured prizes, a family friendly atmosphere and games for kids.

McLendon said that pre-registration alone tallied 90 more sign-ups than the total participation from 2015.

Most of the proceeds from the 5K benefit St. Paul Village, a multi-use and multi-generational development that will provide amenities and resources to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community, as well as fulfill the St. Paul African Methodist Episcopal Church’s need for expanded worship and fellowship spaces.

And Hollywood’s recent Academy Awards ceremony red carpet had nothing on the “Who’s Who” of locals on hand for Saturday’s race, including Judge Baddour and Mayor Lavelle.

“It’s a wonderful community event,” Lavelle said. “It’s just great to get out and see our community members – just seeing a lot of people who do a lot of great things. Plus, St. Paul is such an integral member of our community; they reach out to us all through the year.”

“We have several members from our Board of Aldermen here,” Lavelle added, citing Damon Seils, Bethany Chaney and Randee Haven-O’Donnell. “And I all participated along with a number of other elected officials.”

Also on hand was former University of North Carolina football standout Walter Sturdivant, who returned to Chapel Hill in 2004 and managed WCHL radio. Sturdivant served as emcee for the event.

“One day they asked me to come help with this, and I think it’s because they had no budget and I’m what you get,” Sturdivant said, laughing, “But I also consider Reverend (St. Paul pastor Thomas) Nixon and a lot of the people who go to St. Paul to be good friends.”

Sturdivant was quick to point out another reluctant dignitary in the crowd: former UNC All-American basketball point guard Phil Ford, who took part in the 5K although it was the morning of the Carolina-Duke basketball game.

“It’s not the first time I’ve done this. I’ve done it maybe three years,” Ford said. “I plan on being here every year.”

The race director’s mother, Mae McLendon, said procuring donations for race awards and prizes has become an easy task with such community support.

“We just go into places we frequent a lot and tell them about this, and they’re like, “Oh, sure.” she said. “Carrabbas came out with their grill and did a fundraiser at our church ... and Fleet Feet has been with us since the beginning; they also did a great fundraiser this year.”

The majority of the funds raised by the event will go to development of St. Paul Village, “a multi-use and multi-generational development that will provide amenities and resources to the Chapel Hill-Carrboro community as well as fulfill the church’s need for expanded worship and fellowship spaces,” St. Paul’s website stated. “It will be located on 20.4 acres at the corner of Rogers Road and Purefoy Drive, a historically African-American neighborhood that dates back to the mid-1800s.

“The proposed site plan, to be built in phases, includes a new worship sanctuary and fellowship hall; mixed-use senior and affordable housing; childcare, youth, and senior centers; recreational facilities; a wellness center; a health clinic; an historical museum; and a memorial garden.”

“Each year, we also go and (identify) two more causes for our fundraising,” Mae McLendon said. “In our first year, it was the Inter-Faith Council and Habitat for Humanity, because we’re partners with them. We’ve also done the Freedom House, TABLE, EmPowerment. ... This year it’s the Bouncing Bulldogs and the Rape Crisis Center.”

Claiming the top prize among runners was overall winner Baddour (15:56.56), followed by Carrboro’s Nathaniel Foster (16:52.30) and 14-year old Tim Frei (19:40.55).

“I just tried to run the best pace I could the whole time,” Baddour said.

“I started out with (Allen Baddour) maybe 50 feet ahead of me,” Foster said. “He maintained the pace, and I just slowed down. It’s a nice course though, with a couple of hills just to remind you that there are hard things in life.”

Sophie Worthy, 18, was first among the women in 24:06.30, with 10-year old Hannah Greene (27:36.06) earning the silver medal, and Margie Nichols, 63, taking the bronze (28:32.30).

“It was a lot of fun, with great weather, and there were a lot of great people out there,” Worthy said. “I was trying to run the pace of the (Tar Heel) 10-miler I’ll be running; I wasn’t even really racing.”

“It’s a great cause,” Worthy added. “My family came out here too, and my church – Chapel of the Cross – supports (St. Paul). So I was just having some fun.”

And unlike most race directors, Anissa McLendon ran in her own race (32:09.30), finishing 35th overall and 12th among women.

“I won’t ask someone to do something if I’m not willing to do it,” she said, proudly. “That’s just how I am.”

Next up for Baddour will be the Tobacco Road Marathon this coming weekend.

“Yeah, so I probably shouldn’t have been out here running this,” he said, chuckling.

And while Worthy will be training for the Tar Heel 10-miler, next up for Anissa McLendon was to be some well-deserved sleep and then planning for an even-larger race next year.

“Our motto for next year?” she said, “‘500 (runners) – Bam!’”

Top finishers

Overall, men

Allen Baddour, age 44, (15:56.56)

Nathaniel Foster, 28, (16:52.30)

Tim Frei, 14, (19:40.55)

Overall, women

Sophie Worthy, 18, (24:06.30)

Hannah Greene, 10, (27:36.06)

Margie Nichols, 63, (28:32.30)