REDDING, Conn. – In just its second year, the Ola! Foods Redding Road Race has become a must-run. Even race director John McCleary is surprised at the race’s popularity.
“I’m kind of a dreamer, but I never thought it would be as good as it has turned out,’’ McCleary said. “The response from the running community has been tremendous. We’re trying to give back to a local charity and show runners a little piece of where you live. In just 18 months I have met hundreds and hundreds of people I now call friends.”
The race, sponsored by Norwalk-based Ola! Foods, features a half-marathon of 13.1 miles, a 7-mile road race and a kids’ race. Race proceeds benefit the New Pond Farm Education Center. It starts at 8 a.m. Last year, the race had nearly 500 runners. This year, McCleary capped registration at 800.
Registration sold out in eight days. Runners from six countries, 20 states and 92 Connecticut towns will be participating.
“I’ve run about 30 marathons and a lot of other races,’’ McCleary said. “I wanted to have a race in my hometown, and have a race that could be one of the premier races in the area. We really spoil our runners. We have 10 gifts for each of them, great raffle prizes and the best finishers medals you’ll ever see. They spoiled us by selling out the race so quickly, so we spoil them back.”
The half-marathon course is not easy. “Redding is hilly to begin with,’’ he said. “We made it as flat as you can in Redding. There’s not one big one, but there’s a lot of them. If you’re in good shape, you’ll be fine. If not, the course will eat you up.”
McCleary even added an extra 5K (3.1 miles) for runners looking for a warmup run before the half-marathon.
The race supports New Pond Farm, an environmental education center that also features a small working farm. “They’re in my community, their programs are wonderful and it’s a Redding treasure,’’ he said.
Some races never seem to get off the ground and can have a short life. McCleary’s race is the opposite. It has caught the attention of the running community, and there’s no turning back now.
“Before we started it, my wife asked me what if only 25 runners show up,’’ McCleary said. “I really didn’t know. It’s simple economics, and the law of supply and demand. Right now the half-marathon is what people are gravitating to. I picked my race for a weekend where there are no other distance races near it.
"I think with any race if you do a good job of marketing and come up with a niche, it can be successful. It’s so hard to be successful in a 5K now because there are just so many of them.”
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