LEBANON — The sixth annual Runaway Pumpkin Half Marathon & 8K was nearly called off due to violent weather. In fact, it wasn't until 5 a.m., after an all-night vigil monitoring conditions, that organizers gave the green light for the event, which took place at Cheadle Lake Park.

"We got lucky with this weather," said Joel Moersch, development director with ABC House, the child abuse intervention center serving Linn and Benton counties. (The event ended early, however, due to worsening conditions.)

The run generates funds for the center; last year it grossed $84,000. Given the nature of the center's mission, Moersch explained pressing on with the run was something very important to organizers.

"We wanted it to reflect the spirit of and the mission, that these kids never give up," he said. 

The runners — more than 700 of them — lined up in heats, waiting their turn at the tape, a light breeze and rain just wet enough to keep them bundled, under gun-metal gray skies. Some waited in warming tents, or around an open fire. All were undeterred by the incoming storm, and each got the 5 a.m. text or email, letting them know the race was on.

"You're helping heal a child today," read the signs that dotted the event. Executive Director Jenny Gilmore-Robinson said they were "rooting to gross $80,000" at this year's event. Those funds come from not just entry fees, but also from merchandise sales and commercial sponsorship: the Lowe's distribution center is a major donor, said Gilmore-Robinson.

And while the run is one of two fund raising events (the other being the annual Celebrate Hope dinner), Gilmore-Robinson said she likes this one, because it introduces new people to the cause.

"This is how we make friends," she said, explaining how such an event attracts avid runners as well as people invested in ABC House, so it's a great way to bring in new supporters.

New this year is the 8K race, which organizers say brought in another 250 participants. Some of those 8Kers gathered around the fire before their start, joking about the last minute call to hold the event.

"Kasi was going to show up in a bikini if it was raining," said a member of the 11-person team, Dental Divas, from Gentle Dental in Albany. She was referring to her teammate, Kasi Byle. To this, a decidedly male team mate with a less-than athletic figure remarked, "Nobody called me about wearing a bikini!"

All but one team member, Shawna Yunke, are first-time runners, And while spirits were high with the team, their strategy was to walk the five-mile course with their coffees in hand. And even though the weather was cooperating, the typhoon that was only just then beginning to lash the Oregon Coast prompted organizers to advise all teams to be off the course by 1:30, just to be safe.

Meanwhile, representing Benton County, Corvallis resident Christa Irwin, a dental assistant with Valley Endodontics, with the six-person team Your Pace or Mine, waited near the start with her crew. She indicated her team has a similar strategy to that of the Dental Divas when it comes to pacing.

Of course, in the spirit of the thing, just showing up in the face of such threatening weather is heroic enough. No need to overdo it.

Contact reporter Neil Zawicki at 541-812-6099 or neil.zawicki@lee.net


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