Wake County

Hundreds run in Raleigh for flip-flop fame

Eleven-year-old Alexa Tretola was stoked for weeks about playing her part in Saturday’s Flip Flop Run at the Oakwood Cemetery.

“I just want to be famous for doing something awesome,” she said about an hour before the run began.

For Alexa, and for many of the hundreds of runners who endured the withering heat to participate – all of them wearing thong sandals, hence the name Flip Flop Run – the awesome factor was the allure of setting a record for the largest run of its type. Ever. Anywhere.

The gold standard was set nine years ago in Vienna, Austria, when 352 people flip-flopped their way to glory, according to Guinness World Records.

At least, that was the gold standard. Although it has yet to be verified by Guinness, Saturday’s run blew past that record with 616 participants.

Thank goodness, because each of them wore T-shirts optimistically proclaiming “World’s Largest Flip Flop Run.” The T-shirts also sported this slogan: “Running in a thong never felt so good!”

To be clear, it was a “fun run.” That means it wasn’t timed, nor was there a winner. (Or, if you’re a glass-half-full type, everyone was a winner.)

And forget about the no-guts-no-glory maxim, because this wasn’t especially arduous. It was a 1K run – or roughly six-tenths of a mile.

How do you run in flip flops? “Carefully,” said Melissa Smith, 30, of San Francisco, who was in town with her fiancee to scout out wedding venues in Wilmington – and to participate in the run.

Nevertheless, most participants – including Smith – didn’t bother practicing ahead of time.

“We’re not doing it for time,” said Smith, who typically runs 10 to 15 miles a week. “It’s just for fun.”

The Flip Flop Run was borne out of frustration.

For three consecutive years the nOg Run Club – so-called because members meet for a run every Monday evening at Tir Na Nog Irish Pub in downtown Raleigh – set their sights on setting the high-water mark for kilt-wearing runners.

For three consecutive years, they failed. The last time out they attracted 1,550 runners wearing kilts. Impressive, but not enough to best the 1,764 participants who showed up in the Canadian city of Perth on June 23, 2012.

“We were looking for a record where we didn’t need quite so many people,” said Elizabeth Pagano, the club’s president.

The inspiration for the run, Pagano said, grew out of a conversation with a friend, Mark Saad, who happens to be CEO of Feelgoodz, a Raleigh-based maker of flip flops and other footwear. Feelgoodz ended up co-sponsoring the run along with the running club.

Saturday’s event wasn’t all about setting a new Guinness World Record. The proceeds from the event, which charged participants $15 and up, will go to charity.

“Last year, we donated more than $750,000 to different charities,” Pagano said. “We do more than just run.”

In truth, Saturday’s participants mostly jogged, which was all they could manage given how clogged the race route was. Some youngsters and oldsters even walked, which was permissible under the rules.

Although the organizers of Saturday’s event have no doubt they set the world record, that still must be verified by the arbiters at Guinness World Records – none of whom were in attendance.

“You have to pay $8,000 plus travel expenses to have Guinness there,” Pagano said. “We’re not going to pay that.”

Instead, 8 people stationed around the course videorecorded the event.

And, at Guinness’ insistence, the run was color-coded. Every runner had to wear an official event shirt. No more than 50 people could wear the same color, and runners were grouped by color to make it easy to verify the count.

Even before Saturday’s run got underway, Pagano was talking about a sequel.

“We’re hoping that this is the first year, that next year we’ll be even bigger,” she said.