Aug. 7—A few minutes after 7:30 a.m. Saturday, hundreds of runners took off from the starting line of the Woodstock 5K — for the first time in two years.
About 15 1/2 minutes later, Ethan Mines was the first to cross the finish line.
“I knew I was at the turning point when I couldn’t hear footsteps behind me any more,” Mines said.
More than 700 runners showed up for this year’s race, historically one of the biggest late-summer events on Anniston’s calendar. That is, except for last year, when the coronavirus pandemic canceled the event.
This year, both runners and organizers seemed eager to put the sound of the pandemic’s footsteps behind them.
“It’s good to be back,” said Janet McGhee, a longtime Woodstock runner from Talladega.
McGhee started running in the mid-1980s as a way to ease the stress from being a mother of three and a college student at the same time. The Woodstock 5K has been part of her running life ever since. Five years ago, she and her husband, Greg, said their vows under a tree near the finish line at that year’s race.
That’s typical of the way Woodstock is woven into Anniston’s local civic life. The race is named for Woodstock Avenue, where the run begins and ends, and locals have embraced all the pop-culture offshoots the name inspires, donning tie-dye shirts or putting out Snoopy lawn ornaments along the course of the race, which winds through Anniston’s oldest neighborhoods.
“Look at the diversity in this crowd,” said Anniston city manager Steven Folks. “This is what unifying a city is all about.”
He watched from the sidelines this year, but Folks has been in the race before. As a drill instructor at Fort McClellan, Folks used to bring soldiers out to run in the race. The base is now closed, but Folks said he believes the race draws more runners now than it did then.
Before the pandemic, the race typically drew more than 1,000 runners. This year, organizers limited participation to 800 runners as a social distancing measure. Anniston Runners Club president Gina Mangum said that as of start time, nearly all 800 slots were filled.
Mangum said the event has a value that extends beyond the people who run in it.
“It’s a good way for runners and non-runners alike to celebrate community,” she said.
Capitol & statewide reporter Tim Lockette: 256-294-4193. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.