Even in a community where 5Ks pop up like wildflowers, keeping one alive over the span of years is a feat in itself.
For all the passion for running in the Triangle, it’s difficult to start a race, and just as difficult keeping it going. Some fade and some bloom.
Many organizers of newer local road races would dream of drawing a few hundred runners to their starting lines. The Got Grit 5K event in Hillsborough draws that many fans, supporters, and camera-wielding parents alone, never mind the additional numbers who actually lace’em up and toe the line.
Reaping the interest generated by its cause — scholarships for Orange County School students — Got Grit has become an integral part of the Hillsborough running culture.
“We have a couple running clubs here from Cameron Park and Hillsborough Elementary Schools, and those teachers (and coaches) lead those kids and really get them pumped up,” said Tom Carr, a retired Orange Public Schools counselor, president of the Got Grit organization and co-race director with longtime friend and Orange High School Cross-Country coach Russell Westbrook.
“The numbers have held pretty close (over the years),” Carr added. “They’ve usually been between 350 and 400 runners. It’s been promoted on all of the racing websites, but around 75 percent are Hillsborough folks.”
Comprised of a 5K beginning from Orange High School’s north parking lot and ending on the school’s track, the event also includes a One-mile Fun Run and a Toddler Trot dash. Runners in the 5K competed for over 100 trophies. All participants in the mile received medals, and all toddler runners received ribbons.
“They earn them,” Carr said, smiling.
According to www.gotgrit.org, Carr’s Got Grit initiative promotes the belief that hard work, determination, perseverance, self-discipline, and social skills are better predictors of success than standardized test scores or grade point averages. The program celebrates four key components: getting along with others (“G”); responsibility (“R”) for maintaining health, learning, family, and community; integrity (“I”); and tenacity (“T”).
A published author of 14 books, Carr’s “Got Grit” is a guide for teachers, parents, coaches, youth group leaders, and other adults to instill this qualities in young people.
“Tom (Carr) and I have been best friends for 17 years,” Westbrook said. “He loves giving back to kids and has a passion for running as well. We’ve been to races and seen them done well, but also seen races which weren’t done very well, and we also wanted to really do this 5K right. We were sitting together over coffee ... and we just decided: ‘Hey, let’s do this.’”
“Tom founded the Got Grit organization when he was a counselor at Cameron Park Elementary School,” Westbrook explained. “He did the program with our kids, and then it grew into a program where all of the Orange County schools’ counselors (submit) nominations, and Tom would … select (kids) for the Grit Hall of Fame. Tom gives scholarship money back, and this race raises money for that.”
“Our funds come from this race and royalties from my books,” Carr said. “That pays for the awards and scholarships.”
“I charge such a low race registration price, I probably made only around $1,500 on this last year,” Carr added. “To be honest, if I can make $1,000, I’m happy.
“We give out $2,000 or $3,000 in scholarships each year though, because I also use royalties from my books. There are about 25 or 30 kids in the Grit Hall of Fame each year, and they get some money, and there’s also some other discretionary scholarships I give out. If you look at all the things we do, I’d say that $3,000 is the minimum that we give back to the kids.”
Others, including Orange High Cross-Country parents used the occasion to raise funds through onsite sales as well.
“We had 150 popsicles donated from Luna Pops,” Andrea Fleming said. “We’d like to raise $400 ... all for the Orange High School cross-country team.”
Also supporting the cause were event sponsors: June-Neri Financial, Fleet Feet Sports, Weaver Street Market, the Hillsborough Running Club, Maria Finnegan Fitness, Dr. Eric Davis, the Saratoga Grill, Big Rock Sports, Thorlo Socks, and Snap Fitness.
Displaying their own brand of fitness were 5K award winners, including the overall 5K winner, Orange High senior Robert Russell (17:27.71), who braved the early heat and humidity to edge Mark Eades (17:37.46) and Durham’s Casey Thompson(18:14.83).
“It started heating up pretty early, but there was some nice shade too,” Russell said. “You hit the track at the end and the sun’s everywhere. And there were some slight hills, but nothing major.”
Among the women, it was Orange High runner Claire Barger (20:56.46) in first, with Maggie Springer (21:18.46) in second place, and Adalyne Fleming (21:47.21) rounding out the top three.
Barger said she’d planned ahead for the morning’s muggy conditions.
“I drink a lot of water every day,” she said. “It wasn’t until right at the very end that I started feeling the heat.”
James Pendergraph (21:30.36), age 62, finished first among the men 40-and-over, while Erika Wise (22:17.71) earned gold among the women 40-and-over.
While Hillsborough supplied most of the event’s turnout, a few represented neighboring communities.
Nick Agusta, running along with mother Kathy and other family members, ran fresh off his Chapel Hill High lacrosse season.
“I ran alright – I haven’t really been running that much,” he said. “I was right around 23:00. It’s been a couple weeks since lacrosse.”
“The majority (of the course) was shaded, which was extremely helpful because there wasn’t much of a breeze,” Chapel Hill resident Amy Royals said. “There were four hills, and only one was in the sun. Overall, it wasn’t a hard race to run, but it might have been cooler earlier.”
Carr and Westbrook had no plans to change the race’s format in coming years.
“My goal is 500 runners, and I don’t think I want to grow much bigger than that,” Carr said. “We want to keep that small-town feeling.”
That said, a parents-only race on Saturday might have doubled the field of runners — and tripled the number of “selfies.”
2015 Got Grit Hall of Fame Inductees
Levi Anderson, Jeffrey Ayala, Claire Barger, Teagan Bevacqua, Hunter Burch, Brooklyn Byrd, Kaylen Campbell, Chandler Compton, Ryan Dwyer, Gonzalo Garcia Cantoral, Dillon Heffernan, Samantha Honaker, Jaden Hurdle, Jeremy Jump, Alexis Long, Milosh McAdoo, Chris Mejia-Santos, Nate Miller, Adam Moser, Lexi Moyer, Jackson Panning, Rachel Peel, Luke Phillips, Whitt Phillips, Marilyn Reyes, Ashley Rodriguez-Ruiz, Michaela Shriner, Kelly Sobnosky, Ethan Strowd, Madison Swain, Isabelle Tilley, Kacia Vines, Kassidy Woodson, Kyle Zylowski, Natalie Zelaya.
(From the GotGrit.org website)