Runners compete in a previous City of Champions Race in downtown Gadsden. Photo courtesy of Gadsden Runners Club.
By Katie Bohannon, News Editor
Gadsden’s iconic landmarks and scenic spaces pose as the backdrop for a favorite annual run throughout town – the City of Champions Half Marathon 10k & 5k race. Saturday, November 20 marks 2021 calendars as the race’s arrival, with host Gadsden Runners Club inviting the community to experience the magic of their hometown for a worthy cause.
Bright and early at Back Forty Beer Company downtown, runners will gather to stretch, sprint and strive toward an eventful and enjoyable day benefitting the United Way of Etowah County. The half marathon begins at 7 a.m., with the 10k and 5k trailing behind at 7:30 a.m.
“The Gadsden Runners Club felt like this was something that Gadsden needed in order to show off our city’s hospitality and the beauty of running across the Coosa River, beside the river at Coosa Landing and through our historic downtown district,” said Gadsden Runners Club treasurer Susan Womack, who noted the idea of offering a half marathon race in Gadsden sparked at a board meeting in 2017.
As Gadsden’s first and only road half marathon, runners from all across the globe flock to the City of Champions Race, with participants from Germany and Denmark joining in stride and visitors as far as Washington state traveling to Alabama for the event. Rather than runners leaving their hometown to find further race distances, the City of Champions Race provides residents the chance to achieve their personal goals in the heart of Gadsden, while helping others in the process.
Since its inception, the City of Champions Race has generated over $30,000 in donations to the United Way of Etowah County. Collectively through community support and generous sponsors, the race evokes positive change throughout Etowah County, giving to an invaluable resource for countless residents. Womack commended all sponsors and participants, noting that the 2021 title sponsor is Gadsden Regional Medical Center. Alongside its contributions to United Way, the club donated a grand American flag to the Gadsden Fire Department to display at various events, which the department hangs on its ladder truck. Runners can anticipate witnessing the flag at this year’s race.
The friendly atmosphere the Gadsden Runners creates through its events emerges as a reflection of its tight-knit group, who Womack considers family. The club’s kind and encouraging nature, enriched by cheering one another on, proves a major reason why she and her husband, Eric (now club president) initially joined.
Womack reflected on races from years past, laughing at the unforgettable memories she forged while running in the rain. As the half marathon runners waded through water around the Gadsden Mall, she and her friend sprinted across the train tracks nearing Back Forty, racing for the finish line.
The event’s iconic Donut Mile returns this year – a flack back from the first ever City of Champions Race – with Krispy Kreme handing out donuts to runners who pass by the Coosa Landing mark. Four aid stations will be set up at differing points throughout the course, with Tailwind nutrition, water and gels. The first 200 registrants will receive a custom race bag, with half marathon participants earning medals and individual awards via age group along with 10k and 5k age group runners. This year even offered a virtual option for those wishing to run a half marathon any time between October 1 and November 20.
Womack shared that this race in particular caters to everyone, with runners on all levels enjoying the freedom to participate at their own pace. Womack shared that she walked the race in the past, and this year will tackle the route with her three-year-old granddaughter (who may or may not agree to a stroller). Those who do not wish to run themselves are encouraged to attend and support their family members and friends crossing the finish line.
“Whether you’re running it or not, it’s a fun event for everyone to enjoy,” said Womack. “With so much that’s gone on this past year, it’s a way for people to get out and enjoy being outside in a very safe way. To watch the people who are coming across, of all ages, paces and walks of life, is great and so much fun.”