WCU runners to take on 175-mile relay

Two weeks before the football teams from Western Carolina University and Appalachian State University tangle in their traditional rivalry game, students and faculty members from WCU’s athletic training program will embark on another Western North Carolina sporting tradition – the fifth annual Mountain Jug Run for Research – on Friday and Saturday, Oct. 12-13.

Named in honor of the football matchup known as “The Battle for the Old Mountain Jug,” the Run for Research will take the WCU athletic training group on a 175-mile course that begins at the ASU football stadium in Boone and ends at WCU’s E.J. Whitmire Stadium in Cullowhee. The course will be run as a continuous relay, with each of the 19 runners completing five legs in five-mile increments and with two or three runners on the road at any given time, said James Scifers, director of WCU’s School of Health Sciences, professor of athletic training, and originator of the Run for Research in 2008.

The relay is organized to raise funds for the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Research and Education Foundation, which awards research grants and academic scholarships in the field of sports medicine.

The WCU runners will begin the relay at 5 a.m. on Oct. 12, guided by the glow of their headlamps as they follow an eight-mile route to get on the Blue Ridge Parkway. They’ll run up and down the parkway’s massive elevation changes for 152 miles before exiting off the scenic road at Balsam and completing the final 15 miles back to WCU. The group should reach E.J. Whitmire Stadium around 11 a.m. Oct. 13 after all the participants run the final mile, from Catamount Gap to the stadium, together, Scifers said.

The students and faculty members who are participating have collectively logged more than 3,000 miles in training runs over the past seven weeks, meeting four times each week to complete runs ranging from two to 10 miles. Nine of the 12 freshmen and sophomores in the group are beginner runners, Scifers said.

Completing the Run for Research entails running close to a marathon over a 30-hour period, a significant physical challenge even with breaks of about four hours between legs, but participants often don’t realize the accumulated fatigue that can set in, which combines with sleep deprivation, irregular eating habits and the effects of riding in a cramped van for long periods to make it an even bigger challenge, Scifers said. “To ride in a van that long, you really have to like each other,” he said.

The running contingent this year includes Scifers and two other faculty members – Rob Dingle and Jill Manners – plus juniors Kelly Hoots, Aaron Marshall, John Marshall and Sarah McNamara; sophomores Daniel Carr, Carolina Chambers, Sarah Gilleland, Andrew Godinez, Meka Hoover, Elena Keretses, Brittany Price, Megan Mastro, Corey Smith and George Stiak; and freshmen Jennifer Longo and Christy Poole. Aaron Marshall and McNamara will be running in their third Run for Research, while the rest of the students are first-timers.

All 181 students in WCU’s athletic training program have been seeking donations in honor of the running group’s efforts. The students are trying to raise $20 each to add to the pot that will be sent to the NATA foundation, Scifers said.

WCU students and faculty members have raised a total of almost $12,000 for the foundation over the past four years through the Run for Research. It has been primarily a result of their fundraising through the relay that WCU’s athletic training program has captured the NATA’s Student Challenge Award each of the past four years. The award is given annually to the athletic training program that raises the most money to support the research and scholarship efforts of the foundation. Plus, one of the students running this year, Aaron Marshall, was honored as the top individual fundraiser in the nation at a summer NATA conference.

The group hopes to raise more than $4,000 this year. Donations are still being accepted and may be made in the form of checks, made payable to the NATA-REF, and sent to Jill Manners, WCU Health and Human Sciences Building, Office 362, 4121 Little Savannah Road, Cullowhee, N.C. 28723. All donations to the foundation are tax-deductible.

The group’s progress during this year’s Mountain Jug Run for Research can be followed at the blog http://mountainjugrun.blogspot.com.

The first two runners get a big send-off at WCU’s E.J. Whitmire Stadium during the start of the 2011 Mountain Jug Run for Research.