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Gotta’ Run: Winter Flight is back, with changes

Salisbury and Rowan’s biggest race, the 38th Annual Winter Flight, is back with its 2021 version, with the race date set for Jan. 17. Normally the last Sunday in January, the date change isn’t the only thing that will be different. But first, we’ll cover the things that stay the same.

New Sarum Brewing is the title sponsor again and will continue for four more years. There are still the 8K (4.97 miles), 5K (3.1 miles) and a fun run (1/2 mile). All the race proceeds will go to Rowan Helping Ministries. Meredith Abramson’s very popular hoodie is back for all 8K, 5K and wheelchair participants. Ainsley’s Angels will again provide able-bodied runners to push physically challenged kids in wheelchairs to kick off the 8K/5K races.

The 8K will again be nationally certified through the United States Association of Track and Field (USATF). A dynamic sound system will be in place to enhance race announcements and Neal Wilkinson’s stirring pre-race national anthem while also providing pre-race and finish line music. The race will again be chip timed by Agape Timing of Concord.

Here are the differences. For the first time in 38 years, the race will not be held in Salisbury. All races will start and finish at the Millbridge Ruritans building across from Sloan Park. The race location is at 490 Sloan Road. Instead of city streets, the race will be run entirely in a rural, low-traffic environment with two rolling hills and lots of flat stretches. Locke and West Rowan fire departments will handle the safety on the courses with various volunteers, including many from Rowan Helping Ministries, supporting them. The western Rowan area around Sloan Park and Kerr Mill is one of the prettiest road race courses in the county. It’s dairy country and you’ll see way more cows than cars.

All races will follow Road Runners Club of America and North Carolina coronavirus guidelines. Masks are required when not racing and wave starts will be used. The event will not include an indoor gathering and all participants are encouraged to practice proper distancing.

Now for more of the usual good things that make this event one of the best in the Southeast. The 5K run/walk encourages walkers to participate and they can win age group awards. There remains a 90-minute course limit for the 8K. All race participants will have a chance to earn about 180 awards provided by the Trophy House.

We expect another highly competitive race with top local runners, Matthew and Jonathan Martin, in the lead pack. The twins finished 1-2 last year. On the women’s side, Rebecca Parker will again return to chase another win in the 5K. Multi-time winner Molly Nunn from Clemmons returns in the 8K. There are cash payouts for a new 8K course record which can be won by beating the Salisbury course best times. Other 8K cash payouts go to the first male and female to the mile and first Rowan County male and female finisher and first male and female overall finisher. This race usually draws participants from five or six states.

The men’s course record is a sizzling 23:07, set in 2015 by Kenyan Eliud Ngetich. Olympian and Carrboro resident Joan Nesbit set the long-standing women’s record of 26:48 in 1992. In its long history, the 8K has hosted many Olympic hopefuls.

Rowan Helping Ministries Executive Director Kyna Grubb said, “This year has been about protocols, partnerships, prayers and pivoting. Planning for Winter Flight and how our partners have re-imaged and overcome barriers to ensure a fun and safe run has all of these components. Winter Flight will provide much-needed funds to our agency and give our community a healthy, fun, and safe opportunity to participate in this longstanding tradition.”

Top sponsors at press time in addition to title sponsor New Sarum Brewing are the Millbridge Ruritans, the Trophy House, Dr. Robert Glassgow, David Post and Catawba College, even though the event will not begin and end on their campus as usual.

A packet pickup and late registration will be held from 1-5 p.m. on Saturday, Jan. 16, at Ralph Baker Shoes, 428 N. Main Street in Salisbury.

Online registration continues at runsignup.com and a printable race brochure with more information available at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org .

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