JOHN L. PITTS: Gum Tree field shaping up for Saturday

TUPELO – There’s a first time for everything, and Sunday morning marked the first time I tried to do a phone interview with a guy playing a round of golf.
Andy Hughes, race director of Saturday’s BancorpSouth Gum Tree 10K, was dodging the rain at the Tupelo Country Club.
It was a good chance for him to relax a little before a busy week.
“I’ve been involved with the race, either running in it or helping, since 1994,” said Hughes, a Tupelo attorney who’s held the title of race director (or, in some cases, co-director) since 2001.
As the rain fell – and fell and fell – on Saturday, I was thinking about Hughes and the hundred-plus volunteers who work so hard to make the race a success.
“It takes a whole community to put this race on,” Hughes said. “We’re always thinking about things that we could do differently, then in January we start the serious planning.”
And there’s a lot that has to be accounted for, from T-shirts to drinking cups to portable … well, you know.
One thing that can’t be accounted for in advance, of course, is the weather.
My computer tells me there’s a 40 percent chance of rain on Saturday.
“If it’s raining, that’s fine,” Hughes said. “We keep a close eye on the weather.”
Some years, there’s a lot to see. The day before last year’s race, a tornado hit the Furniture Market.
“It did hurt our registrations a little,” Hughes said. “People were less interested in coming in from out of town after hearing the news.”
Last year, the 10K and its affiliated 2K fun run attracted a field of about 1,000. Through Friday, the registration of runners was “a little ahead of schedule,” he said.
“We would prefer people to sign up early, it really makes race day run more smoothly, but half the field is going to sign up on race day,” he said. “There will be maybe 800 people in the 10K and the 2K just keeps getting bigger and bigger. The kids have gone crazy for that.”
(The field will also include 74-year-old Tom Kennedy of Columbus, who’s run in every Gum Tree race but the first one. This will be his 31st, and we’ll have a story about him later in the week.)
While the walkup traffic will continue all this week – Hughes is keen on folks getting over to the Tupelo Convention and Visitors Bureau office to pre-register – the field of elite runners is already pretty much set.
“I think it’s going to be a good out-of-town crowd,” Hughes said. “We’ll draw runners from about a 100-mile radius, but elite runners will come from further. We’ll have about a dozen of those, including some Russian women and some Kenyan men and women.”
One of Andy’s playing partners hollered. It was time for his next shot.
And I needed to go, too. I’ve got to get my fingers warmed up for typing all those Russian and Kenyan names on Saturday.
John L. Pitts (john.pitts@djournal.com) is sports editor of the Daily Journal. He’s more of a walker than a runner.

NEMS Daily Journal