By John L. Pitts
TUPELO – The weather couldn’t get the best of Saturday’s Gum Tree 10K, but not for a lack of trying.
It was raining so hard in downtown Tupelo at 7:20 a.m. that it was hard to imagine that a race starting in little more than an hour.
That 30 percent rain that had been in the weekend forecast on Thursday soared past 60 percent as race day drew closer. It was, as race hour approached, a 100 percent mess.
But the delay in starting the race was remarkably slight. It continued to rain on and off, but the two self-propelled wheelchair racers headed out at 8:38 a.m. and the gun to start the 10K fired promptly at 8:44.
As soon as the main body of racers cleared the start line, the rain had quit.
But the rain returned a couple of times with a vengeance, and lightning could be seen in the distance several times – scary for runners in the open.
It cleared up again by the time the first finishers arrived, then the bottom dropped out one more time for good measure a little while later.
Yet, by 10 a.m., with plenty of runners still on the course, the first rays of sunlight had begun to creep from behind the clouds over downtown.
“It was a weird morning,” race director Andy Hughes said without a hint of understatement. “Under the circumstances, I think things went well.”
Hughes said he thought the race was on track for perhaps “900 or more” racers if the weather had been good when folks got up Saturday morning. As it was, the 10K had almost 600 finishers.
“We had more than 600 people signed up for the 10K through Friday and we always get 250 to 350 on Saturday morning,” Hughes said. “We probably did have 100 sign up this time and maybe 100 who had signed up who didn’t show up.”
Veteran runner Brian Pope , from Oxford, said he was happy he didn’t have to fight the kind of humidity that often marks Gum Tree races:
“There’s always a tradeoff, but humidity wasn’t a problem today. Of course, you’re sloshing around out there and your shoes are getting heavy, which slows everybody down.”
n Hughes said the start of the race was delayed until no lightning had been seen in the distance for a while, “then about 10 minutes after it started, it began to lightning everywhere.
“Once a race starts, though, the only way to get everybody back is to let them run back.”
n Women’s winner Janet Cherobon said she was delighted with the crowd’s support.
“The cheering was marvelous here. I cannot believe it,” she said after the race. “I was just going through the neighborhoods, and there were people just cheering all of us, and I was amazed by that.”
Does she get that much support at most races?
“Some races, yes. But in these conditions, I didn’t think anybody would be out there.”
Gum Tree bits
n Tom Kennedy of Columbus, who has run in every Gum Tree face but the first, finished fourth in his 70-over age group and 533rd overall. He’s aiming for 500 career races and Saturday’s was No. 489. … Former Mississippi State runner Meggan Franks won her 25-29 age group. She was the women’s runner-up last year and finished 31st overall this time out. … A lot of runners were star-struck by a trio of Russian women in the field, including a former two-time Boston Marathon winner. Hughes said all three told him they would like to return next year. The three swept the female masters division and all finished in the top 30 overall.