Runners from across the Southeast will get a chance to test their leg muscles this spring by participating in the new Valley of the Lilies Half Marathon. The race will start from the center of campus at 7 a.m. Sunday, April 3, and take runners on a scenic 13.1-mile journey through the Cullowhee Valley and along the Tuckaseigee River before winding back to WCU. Sponsors are the School of Health Sciences, and Campus Recreation and Wellness. Proceeds will be used to support professional development opportunities for students.
The new race has its roots in WCU’s athletic training program, which has been sponsoring a 5-K on campus for five years, said Jay Scifers, former director of athletic training who is now director of the School of Health Sciences. The success of the 5-K led to the first Mountain Jug Run for Research in fall of 2008. Named after the annual football rivalry between WCU and Appalachian State University, the Run for Research sends athletic training students and faculty on a leg-powered relay spanning the 175 miles between Cullowhee and Boone to raise money for the National Athletic Trainers’ Association’s Research and Education Foundation, which awards research grants and academic scholarships in sports medicine.
The third Run for Research was held in late October, with each of the 15 runners covering 25 miles of the course in 5-mile segments, and two or three runners on the road at any given time. It was a huge accomplishment for the student runners, many of whom had never run more than a mile at a time before signing on for the challenge, Scifers said. The group trained for 10 weeks to get ready, meeting at 6 a.m. four mornings each week to complete training runs ranging from three to 12 miles. “To see the new runners complete the Run for Research and then continue running after the event and adopt a new lifestyle of wellness is very gratifying,” Scifers said. “In addition to teaching the students about the value of philanthropy, the event helps them learn about injury prevention, proper nutrition, hydration and management of environmental conditions in athletics.” The Run for Research has been so successful that WCU’s program won the NATA-REF’s Student Challenge Award the last two years for raising more money than any other athletic training program in the nation for the grant and scholarship program.
Keeping with that theme of encouraging new runners to get into the sport for fitness and wellness, organizers of the Valley of the Lilies Half Marathon are putting extra emphasis on encouraging new runners to take on the challenge of running 13.1 miles for the first time, said Ashley Long, assistant professor of athletic training. “A 12-week training program we developed is being offered free to all registered runners, and those who live in the local area have been taking advantage of organized group training runs,” she said.
For more information about the Valley of the Lilies Half Marathon and the free training program, go to halfmarathon.wcu.edu.