By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Gum Tree 10K race director Andy Hughes is working closely with USA Track amp& Field officials to assure that the race’s 6.2-mile course is properly sanctioned before the May 8 footrace in Tupelo.
“I believe it will be certified by next Saturday,” he said. “The USATF has been extra helpful. Former Gum Tree race director Johnny Dye is also working with me on this.”
A question of the course’s certification came to light earlier this week as the result of a squabble between the run and the GumTree Festival over the use of one downtown block of Jefferson Street.
“This wasn’t even an issue until this week, but I’m glad this came up,” Hughes said. “Now that we know this, we are being saved a lot of grief. We’re going to get this straightened out.”
The elite runners who annually attend the Gum Tree want to compete on a certified course.
“I qualified for the Boston Marathon with my time running the Tupelo Marathon, which is certified,” Hughes said. “I would have been mortified if a runner didn’t qualify for another race because of this.”
The GumTree Festival plans call for vendors to be on the Jefferson Street, which is part of the race course. Tina Lutz, the festival director, asked Hughes to alter the course to avoid safety issues for the 700-plus runners expected to compete.
“The corridor for the runners will not be the width of the street,” she said earlier this week. “Our concern is the bottleneck of 700 runners running over wires and hoses. We feel like that would be a hazard for the runners.”
In the previous 38 years of the festival, vendors were set up on the Lee County Courthouse lawn and not on Jefferson Street. However, the festival’s move to the streets surrounding the courthouse this year was prompted by the county’s request to help prevent damage to the lawn.
Hughes refused to change the run’s course, citing the presumed certification from the USATF, and the fact that “it’s the Gum Tree course.”
“Nobody has been able to tell me what happened (why the certification lapsed),” Hughes said. “The USATF can’t even find the original paperwork from when the course was certified in 1986.”
Hughes added that he had not yet heard from city officials on whether the run’s course will have to be altered because of the festival.