RIDGECREST, N.C. (BP)–The air was crisp in the Blue Ridge Mountains as about 100 runners gathered behind the starting line of the Downhill@Dawn half marathon.
New and experienced runners began their race against the stopwatch at the LifeWay (N.C.) Ridgecrest Conference Center, journeying along quiet streets, beside flowing water, down gravel pathways and through a quaint one-stoplight community on their 13.1-mile trek to the finish line at First Baptist Church in Old Fort, N.C.
LifeWay Christian Resources, ChristianRunners.org and the Nashville Striders, who handled most of the race’s administrative work, cosponsored the trek.
While the race weekend focused mostly on activities for people who love running, the gathering also had a spiritual dimension, including a short devotional time after a pre-race pasta buffet Friday night and a prayer at the starting line Saturday morning.
Paul Pickett, a participant from Pine Hurst, N.C., appreciated the Christian environment. “Other races aren’t bad, but it’s nice to be able to come to a race and talk about God…,” he said. “And this course is absolutely beautiful.”
Pickett had heart surgery as a child and wasn’t able to exercise much growing up. He began running a few years ago and Downhill@Dawn was his third half marathon.
“I run because I’m thankful,” Pickett said. “It’s hard and it takes discipline, but if you make up your mind to do it and get into a routine, it get’s easier.”
For Tony Farmer, a pastor from Deerfield Beach, Fla., Downhill@Dawn was his third half marathon as well. Inspired by his former youth pastor Fred Garmon, who has run for years with two other running buddies, Farmer began running last year out of concern for his health.
“I have a 17-year-old at home and when I turned 40 years old, I knew I had to do something about my health,” Farmer said. “So I started running, and so far I have lost more than 65 pounds.”
Garmon, who also ran in the June 6 Downhill@Dawn, works for a humanitarian organization in Southeast Asia and considers running to have significant spiritual benefits. “Running is a time to just get out and pray and meditate … and with no cell phone,” he said, grinning.
Joseph Watson, from Ridgecrest, was the first to cross the finish line. Although he is a new runner and Downhill@Dawn was his first half marathon, he was in front of the pack most of the race.
“I can’t believe I came in first,” Watson said. “I kept looking around while I was running and wondered where the people were.”
Lynda De Paulis from Hermitage, Tenn., among Downhill@Dawn’s veteran runners, celebrated her birthday on the day of the race.
“I’ve been running for over 32 years,” De Paulis said. “So far this year I’ve run a half marathon every month.” Her birthday present was a second-place finish in the race bracket “females, 50 years old and up.”
Plans are underway for the third annual Downhill@Dawn half marathon to be held next June at Ridgecrest.
Jenny Wingard works in the Internet technologies area of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention. For more information on the Downhill@Dawn race, visit LifeWay.com/halfmarathon.