“This is great,” said Jerry McBride, of Pratts, as he stood in the grass at Fairpark, cooling down after Saturday’s race. “I’ve run several Gum Trees since my first in 1984, and I like this route better. The course was good, and it’s wonderful to finish here in this great spot.”
Previous races had ended – and started – downtown on Front Street. This year, the race started on Main Street and ended on Commerce. Runners crossing the finish line then passed under Fairpark’s archway to enthusiastic applause from a supportive crowd.
With Fairpark’s abundant space to spread out in, volunteers set up tents and offered runners water, snacks and shade. Children ran through the splash pad and headed for the playground. A band – Pay Per Blues, made up of some local high school students – played while families and friends relaxed on the grass and racers compared notes.
“I love ending up here and being able to relax and visit with folks,” said Lynn O’Neal, of Dorsey, running her second GumTree. “The crowds were great along the course. You could really hear them cheering.”
Sam Ivy, 17, and Brayden Timmons, 16, agreed. The friends and running buddies, both from Pontotoc, sat on a park bench to catch their breath after the race.
“I like the new course,” said Ivy, running his second Gum Tree. “but the best part is having more spectators along the route and here at the end. That makes it fun.”
OH, ‘THAT HILL’
Timmons, in his first Gum Tree, was equally pleased – except for one thing.
“It was fun,” he said, grimacing, “until I got to that hill.”
“That hill” – the Franklin Street bridge over the railroad tracks that’s around the fifth mile of the race – surprised some racers but didn’t bother wheelchair winner Jay Poindexter, of Michie, Tenn.
“This new course has a few more hills, but I’m pleased,” he said. Second-place female winner Justnya Mudy, who lives in Rome, Ga., expected a flat course for her first Gum Tree.
“But there were a few hills,” she said, smiling after the race, “especially that one toward the end with the dip.”
Caden Crippin, 12, of Tupelo, ran the 2k – his first race ever.
“He’s been running at school and coming home and telling us his times, so we thought he should try a race,” said his father, Wray Crippin.
“This is a great family event. We cheered for him, and his sister, Kylie, was the official photographer,” said Caden’s mother, Pam Crippen.
“I feel like I did good,” Caden said. “I think I’ll come back next year.”