The running communities of Asheville, North Carolina and Greenville, South Carolina have shared a long and continuous relationship with one another throughout the years. Since the 1970s, when the Asheville and Greenville Track Clubs were formed, several generations of running enthusiasts have crisscrossed the state line to participate in the many race events scheduled each year. Ashevillians have come down to Furman University each summer to take part in the Greenville Track Club’s All-Comer Track Meets and to seek flatter running terrain (flatter by Western North Carolina standards anyway). At the same time, runners from Greenville and the South Carolina Upstate have shot up to escape the brutal summer heat and take pleasure in the many road and trail races in and around Asheville.
While the two cities tend to be very dissimilar in political representation (Asheville’s reputation as a “hippie” hotbed with Greenville traditionally being on the more conservative side), the differences end there. The two cities reveal a similar population makeup and a close proximity to another (60 miles via US-25) making it an ideal situation for its inhabitants to enjoy what both of these regions have to offer. And one feature that unites these Carolinian cities is their rich histories in the sport of running.
Look at the race results virtually any one of the fourteen Greenville Track Club-sponsored running events held each year and you will surely come across dozens of participants who hail from Asheville or Buncombe County. When the racing schedule experiences a brief lull in Greenville during the dog days of mid-summer, some Upstate runners will look for races in the Asheville area or to hit up some of the top-notch trail systems (like DuPont State Forest or the North Carolina Arboretum just south of Asheville).
For thirty-four years, the Bele Chere 5K has evolved into of the largest and most cherished road races in North Carolina. It is the longest running 5K in Asheville and has been part of the Bele Chere Festival lineup each July since 1980. While thousands of visitors flock to the festival each summer, this year’s edition (to be held on Saturday, July 27) could mark the final running of not only the 5K, but the entire three day festival itself. Nothing official has been announced, but rumors abound that the festival will be no more as the Asheville City Council grapples with a budget shortage to continue financing the $450,000 festival.
While many festival goers are taking a “wait-and-see” approach on the future of the event, Kelly Allen, a volunteer race coordinator is hoping to strike an optimistic chord in the days leading up to the race.
“We are hoping people will blow it out and turn out in droves and show the city how much we love this event. I want to see bling and beads, men wearing fairy skirts, superfun,” Allen said. “I find it so hard to believe the city would let it go. I understand, financially, it’s about choices, but hopefully another group will step up and take it on.”
The cash purse is the most lucrative in the race’s history. $2500 total in cash prizes including $300 for top male/female and $200 for top local male/female. Greenville Track Club Elite athlete, Wallace Campbell, has been a familiar face on the award’s podium in recent years. Campbell was the overall winner in both 2010 and 2012 while finishing as the runner-up in 2008 and 2009, respectively.
Event organizers have also been pushing hard to promote the event and get the race to full capacity (2,000 participants).
As of Thursday, nearly 1,200 participants had registered online.
The race course has also been modified for this year’s 5K, meaning runners will get a slight break on the steep hills found in downtown Asheville. The course will start near College and Spruce Streets near City Hall, take runners on a counterclockwise loop of the downtown and finish back near the City Hall (view map: http://bele-chere5k.com/race-course/)
Wayne Stanko, race director of the Bele Chere 5K since 1983, hopes the race will continue in the coming years, perhaps in some new reincarnation.
“What I’m hoping for the festival, is when New Belgium moves in, they will sponsor the festival and possibly move it to the River Arts District,” Stanko said. “I hate to see it leave.”
Online registration is open through today at http://www.imathlete.com/events/EventDetails.aspx?fEID=16248
Late registration and packet pickup will be available at Stephens Lee Recreation Center (30 George Washington Carver Ave, Asheville, NC 28801) from 4-7p.m. on Friday, July 26.
Race day registration will also be available from 6-7a.m. on Saturday.
The Bele Chere 5K begins at 7:30a.m.
Check out the Bele Chere 5K Facebook page for updates https://www.facebook.com/BeleChere5k?fref=ts and visit the race webpage for more information http://bele-chere5k.com/
News Radio 570 WWNC-AM pod cast of the Bele Chere Festival:
Festival website: http://www.belecherefestival.com/