White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay: A not-so-brief history

This began as a Facebook post on my church’s page, but, as I got to writing a “brief overview,” I decided to give a bit more background on the “Christmas Half.” So pretend you’re browsing the Fellowship page on Facebook and you run across this:

WRChristmasHalfShirt2009It’s time to start talking up this year’s White River Christmas Half Marathon and Relay, a fundraiser to help Batesville-area families at Christmastime. Did you know this charitable event was started by two Fellowship members and local veterinarians, Matt and Sara Walker, and that Fellowship is the host site?

The entry fee is donation based, and folks give any amount they’re led to give. It’s a wonderful opportunity for runners and walkers to participate in a race that “gives back.” Some give a little; some give a lot. It’s the spirit of giving that makes it such a wonderful annual event.

We’ve raised several thousand dollars for families in just a few years, in partnership with the Northcentral Arkansas Development Council.

This year’s event – on Saturday, Dec. 6 – will be the 6th annual (sort of). We had to postpone, then flat-out cancel the 2013 race because of weather: the first time because of an ice storm and then, two weeks later, because of flooding. It was a tough call, but it was for the safety of all involved. Nevertheless, we helped families. After we canceled, we reached out to all the runners who had donated, and only one wanted the race “fee” back ($35). So these families we set out to help still received a nice Christmas with the several-hundred dollars we raised. In light of that, I think we can count the 5th annual as an actual thing, don’t you?

Here’s how the “helping families” part plays out:

A couple of months out, we contact Kathy Ruminer, a very nice lady with the NADC, to remind her to be on the lookout for the families that most need our help. She picks a few families (or individuals), and once we know how much money we’ve raised through donations (from race participants and sponsors), we decide how many folks we can help and how much each family will receive. Fellowship members Sara Walker and Becky Ellison usually do the shopping, and it gives them so much joy to shop for the kids and their parents!

Sara and Becky buy Christmas gifts for the kids, but we also give Walmart gift cards to the parents so that they can buy groceries.

WRChristmasHalfShirt2010Did you know that one year we had enough money to provide a refrigerator (with the help of Fellowship member and Home Depot manager Ken Paul)? Kathy loves to tell that story (and I love to hear it!): After the appliance was delivered, the lady of the house called Kathy and told her they had delivered the wrong refrigerator. This one was so fancy, it couldn’t have been the one meant for her! Kathy assured her that it was no mistake – this was, indeed her fridge. This gift was made possible by our little ol’ half-marathon!

The race has grown to about four dozen participants over the years, but “small” doesn’t mean bad. It’s a nice little community event – and if you’ve ever put on an event of any size, you know it takes planning, cooperation and lots of volunteers (and food). When I talk about cooperation, this isn’t just from Fellowship members. Community members, local running club members and other folks have helped out, or we couldn’t have done it.

Bruce and I didn’t live here or attend Fellowship until 2010, the year of the second Christmas Half. Rather than running the race, we volunteered as traffic monitors that year and the next. When I say traffic monitors, I’m talking about those folks who stand at the intersections along the race course and holler, “You’re doing great – turn left here! You’re almost finished. Looking awesome!” (Even if it’s not true.)

In 2011, they gave the option of running the half-marathon or an 8k (4.96 miles).

In 2012, the race almost didn’t happen. The Walkers had added a third child and a second veterinary clinic, so they had growing responsibilities that made race planning extremely difficult. Bruce and I, who hate to see a good thing end, got involved with helping them and took over the administrative parts (procuring sponsor money, ordering trophies, designing the T-shirts, finding a volunteer coordinator – all that behind-the-scenes stuff). By that year it had become a half-marathon plus a relay (two buddies team up, and each runs half of the half).

I think I need to pause here and explain “half-marathon” to non-runners: It’s 13.1 miles. Lucas (who is training for this year’s Half) mentioned in a recent sermon that it’s 13 miles, and I was tempted to shout out, “It’s thirteen-POINT-ONE miles!” You see, I’ve run a half-marathon, and that last 10th of a mile is mighty significant. I wanted credit for every single 10th of a mile I eked out. 🙂

WRChristmasHalfShirt2011Bruce and I have continued as co-directors because of the Walkers’ increasingly busy schedules. This year they’re serving as advisers but are not involved as directors. We thank them for entrusting the responsibility to us, and they will always be the founders of this very special event. If you don’t know Matt and Sara, introduce yourself some Sunday. They are two of the nicest, most generous people you’ll ever meet. And Sara makes me laugh, so she gets bonus points for that.

The volunteers, as I mentioned, make this race – any race, actually – what it is. For three years, Bruce has helped out with the local kids triathlon, which benefits the Ozark Foothills Literacy Project, and the project’s director, Nicole Stroud, has returned the favor by recruiting and directing a bunch of volunteers for the Christmas Half for two years.

I mentioned food earlier (it’s always on my mind).

Fellowship has always been a welcoming church, and the Christmas Half offers a great opportunity to demonstrate that. We try to nourish not only people’s souls but their bodies, and there’s no better time for a warm cup of hospitality than when a body has just run 13.1 miles in the cold, damp (sometimes wet, maybe windy) weather.

Before the race, we have bottled water, juice and a few doughnuts (all donated), and afterward we welcome people inside for treats both sweet and savory. Church members make cookies, Colton’s Steak House donates a 5-gallon bucket of yummy potato soup and – my favorite – Sara Walker makes a bunch of her awesome chili! I’ve watched runners come inside, see the spread and say things like, “Wow, you guys really know how to put on a race!” They remember that and tell their friends. The serving of lunch, not just snacks, makes it really special for them and for us.

WRChristmasHalfShirt2012
We have a few 2012 shirts available for $5.

Also, we have cool T-shirts, and we give nice trophies for all age divisions.

Bruce has designed the shirts the past couple of years, and I’ve talked him into letting me design this year’s (actually, I just took it over). Neither of us is an artsy-creative type, but I think the shirts have been great – not just ours but the Walkers’ shirts, too. I love the snowflake shirt! (As we speak, T-Shirt Express in Batesville is working on my idea for the design – I love the art of collaboration!)

Speaking of race shirts and the race that didn’t happen, we have lots of 2013 Christmas Half T-shirts available, from out-of-town folks who registered but didn’t come pick them up. They’re purple, long-sleeved and cute. We’re selling them for $5 each, and 100 percent of that money will go to this year’s needy families. C’mon, you know you want one! (Contact Suzy – info below.)

And last year, a local jewelry store (the owners are our running friends Jonathan and Ashley Freiert) donated really nice awards for first-, second- and third-place overall that we didn’t get to hand out. We will be able to use them this year, though (with new engraving), so you may want to register for the race right away. 🙂 And there is a rumor – I don’t know where it started – that we might have finishers medals, too. This means everyone would get a memento for finishing – not just the fast folks! (Hey, one of these days we’re going to be just like one of those big ol’ fancy race events.)

The race is less than a month away, and we’re recruiting volunteers, sponsors and runners. If you haven’t been involved in one of these events, come hang out with us. It’s a ton of fun. And just maybe, if you’re not late, you’ll get a big bowl of Sara’s famous, mouth-watering chili with all the fixin’s.

Dec. 6 – mark your calendars.

We have plenty of these shirts available for $5.
We have plenty of these shirts available for $5.

In the meantime, here’s how you can start praying:

  • Event planning and execution.
  • Pray that we’ll have enough volunteers and that we’ll be organized, helpful and welcoming.
  • The families that Kathy will choose for us. We don’t know their names yet, but our heavenly Father does. Pray for their hearts to be open to receiving and for our hearts to be open to giving.
  • Generous donors (pray about what amount you might give – you don’t have to race or volunteer to make a donation; and no amount is too small).
  • Becky and Sara as they choose the gifts for the families.
  • Safety and health for the race participants and volunteers.
  • Good racing weather (of course!).
  • While we’re praying, I can’t forget to ask for your prayers for the loved ones of Jacob Wells’ of Little Rock, who died Nov. 6 after collapsing at the Midsouth Marathon in Wynne on Nov. 1. He was 45 and had run more than 150 marathons. He founded the Three Bridges Marathon in Little Rock last year and was a big advocate of not only running but of non-profits and helping others. View just one of the many features about him here.

I’m so very grateful to Fellowship Bible Church for opening its doors to host this event, and I’m grateful to our friends in the Arkansas running community (and especially Batesville) for supporting this event each year.

To make a donation or volunteer for the White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay on Dec. 6, call or text me, Suzy Oakley, at (501) 425-5878 or email me at stoakley (at) swbell (dot) net. Or contact Bruce Oakley at (501) 554-5211 or boakley59 (at) hotmail (dot) com.

To register for the race online or download an entry form, click here. Early packet pickup will be from 4:30-6 p.m. Friday, Dec. 5.

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2 thoughts on “White River Christmas Half Marathon & Relay: A not-so-brief history

  • Monday, December 8, 2014 at 6:45 pm
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    Suzy, I love that you have pics of all of the race shirts posted here – that is so cool! I love to see race shirts from different years of the same race; it’s kind of fun to see how the designs have progressed. I will definitely put this on my calendar!

  • Monday, December 8, 2014 at 6:55 pm
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    That reminds me – now that we have the 2014 shirts, I should update the post! Thanks for visiting the blog – I really hope you can make it next year; I’m sure you will recognize several (sweaty) faces from the Arkansas running community. We even had a guy from St. Louis drive down for the Half this year – he said he was a member of the 50 states half-marathon club (I don’t know the exact name of it) and saw us on that group’s race calendar. And we had some people from a few other states come race with us. We are getting to be quite the cosmopolitan little town here Batesville! 🙂

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