Chapel Hill: Sports

Sustainability 6K (and some perks) lure runners into the woods

Heading toward a first-place finish, UNC Club runner Daniel Peters, left, takes an early lead in the Sustainability 5K on Saturday.
Heading toward a first-place finish, UNC Club runner Daniel Peters, left, takes an early lead in the Sustainability 5K on Saturday. Photo by Randy Young

Grizzly bears, ground squirrels, and woodchucks hibernate in the winter. Unbeknownst to some, however, there is a North American species that typically hibernates each summer.

With the exception of ‘ultra-runners’ who traipse across snow-capped Rocky Mountain peaks for up to 100 miles at a time, less-ambitious runners traditionally rest in warmer months, especially here in the South’s heat and humidity. Race calendars are sparsely populated in summersrunning shoes lie by doorsteps, and runners retreat to the confines of their cool, dark “caves,” while they sleep through Tour de France highlights or plot out an autumn race agenda.

It takes a lot to stir such creatures, but the Race for Sustainability 6K continues to “perk up” the most stubborn runners, thanks to a wide menu of incentives.

With the promise of prizes, free oil changes and a sumptuous breakfast, the third annual staging of the mid-summer race at the heart of a steamy summer continued to gain steam with a 50 percent increase in participation this past Saturday relative to 2013.

“It’s in the middle of the summer, and at first, people weren’t listening,” said Dick Forbis of Cardinal Timing Services. “It’s taken a couple a years to grow, but if you feed them ...shrimp and grits for breakfast, they will come.”

Forbis said one of the biggest factors in the race’s growth has been the collaborations formed by Mike Jones, race founder and director, fiction novelist, and owner of Revolution: Bio-based Lubricants.

“He has great a partnership with Chapel Hill Tire, and that’s helped to incentivize people to come out for the free oil change,” Forbis said. “Tell me a race where you get shrimp and grits, a free oil change and a great run on the trails.”

The race, which seeks to celebrate local businesses’ and organizations’ efforts to adopt and promote sustainable practices, was prefaced by a ‘yoga for runners’ session, led by Mike Jones’ wife, Carrboro Yoga instructor Lucia Jones. Perk number two was the race itself: the opportunity for a friendly run through the pastoral Carolina North Forests in steamy-but-cool conditions.

Taking particular advantage of the conditions was overall male winner Daniel Peters (26:05.2), a UNC junior and a runner with the UNC Club Team.

“I run these trails, but never as often as I’d like,” Peters said. “It was a little steamy out there, a little exhausting, and there was a lot of starting and stopping with all the winding switchbacks. About halfway through the race I could look back and there was enough of a gap that I could relax a little bit though.”

The overall female winner was 1996 Olympian and Chapel Hill High School cross-country coach Joan Nesbit Mabe (30:22.4), who left with her husband and overall second-place finisher Dave Mabe to escort her team to a cross-country camp in Boone the following day.

“This is sort of my home course though — my trails — so this is very familiar,” Nesbit Mabe said. “It was very sticky, but there was a great spirit out here.”

The beauty of the forest setting wasn’t lost on the race’s youngest finisher either.

“I liked running in the woods a lot,” Nora Daley, 8, said. “You’re not bored, because there’s always something to see.”

All registrants also received a voucher for a free environmentally friendly oil change, good for up to $70 at any Chapel Hill Tire Car Care Centers located on Franklin Street, in downtown Carrboro, at Cole Park Plaza, and in Durham’s Woodcroft community.

“You get a free oil change, which was worth twice the price of race registration,” Jones pointed out.

Runners also had the chance to “Beat Big Oil.” (Anyone who finished ahead of the designated “Big Oil” runner – Phil Greene of Chapel Hill Tire Car Care – won a special prize, courtesy of Fleet Feet.

“Mike Jones was ‘Big Oil’ last year, and nobody could beat him, so they asked me,” Greene said. “It was actually a big weight on my shoulders. You want to run and beat everyone, but you just have to sort of pace yourself out there.”

“Yeah, people complained about me being ‘Big Oil’ last year because only nine people beat me,” Jones said, laughing. “This year, Phil Greene was more toward the middle of the pack.”

“Some runners gave me grief as they went by,” Greene said, “but by the third mile, I started picking some people off, and they were yelling, ‘Oh no, not Big Oil.’”

Fleet Feet marketing director George Linney was on hand to give out prizes to the 48 runners who finished ahead of Greene.

“Michael and Lucia Jones are tremendous supporters of Fleet Feet,” Linney said, “and our relationship with Carolina North Forest and the university has been fantastic, so anytime there’s an event out here in the forest, we want to be a part of it: we’re just thankful to be out here.”

Guaranteed to rouse the sleepiest hibernators from their summer slumber was the on-site brunch from the Southern Comfort Cafe and Catering, featuring shrimp and grits, feathered eggs, fresh fruit, Danish pastries, and more.

“It’s great to see everybody line up for the shrimp and grits,” Southern Comfort chef and owner Paul Covington said. “It’s just a great turnout.”

Jones contended that the biggest difference between his initial race in 2012 and the burgeoning turnout this past weekend was word-of-mouth.

“It’s a much bigger field — at least 50 percent bigger than last year,” he said. “Little things still go wrong, but we’re getting more and more practiced at this.”

With all proceeds going to the Carolina North Forest Management’s efforts to maintain the Forest and to NC GreenPower’s efforts to improve the environment,” Forest manager Greg Kopsch couldn’t have been happier.

“This has become a real Triangle-wide event, I think,” he said. “There are a lot of new names out here. What’s been great is to watch this go from a one-man operation to such a collaborative effort, and that’s been really good for the race.”

By race’s end, Jones was already looking ahead to the fourth annual Race for Sustainability in 2015.

“I think next year we’re going to order things earlier,” Jones said. “We were going around cleaning out stores at the last minute.”

In the immediate future, however Jones and most of Saturday’s runners will likely return to the cool comfort of their lairs and hibernate for at least a few more weeks.