Hardy runners pop cork on new year by hitting the trails

Competitors needed resolve to brave the frigid weather for the inaugural Resolution Run 10K on Saturday at Sesquicentennial State Park.

But these are folks who force themselves out of bed early for daily training runs or skip lunch to get in a quick workout. Temperatures around 40 degrees with a 10 mph breeze are a minor hindrance for them.

"The hard-core runners show up for this kind of thing no matter what the conditions are," said Ginger Belka, the Richland Northeast High School cross country coach who organized the run on Sesqui's sandy trails.

And true to her word, the new race drew 130 competitors, the vast majority doing the 6.2-mile run. The cold might have scared away a few potential participants in the 3.5-mile walk.

Many local runners take advantage of every local road race, and events such as Saturday's are turning some of them into trail-running fans. The Resolution Run this year joins existing races at Sesqui, Harbison State Forest and Saluda Shoals Park to form the five-race Carolina Trail Championship Series.

Drew Williams, 32, of Columbia, spent most of the fall in heavy training for the Kiawah Marathon, which he ran three weeks ago. He thought a 6.2-mile run on the trails would be ideal for his pavement-weary body. He wanted something different, and he got it.

"You don't realize how much energy it takes out of you," said Williams, who was making his first competitive trail run. "I was going about 45 seconds per mile slower. Every turn, your momentum gets absorbed."

Jay Story, 38, of Columbia, started running in September and had done mostly road races since then. He also enjoyed the twists and turns and managed to clear the many exposed roots.

"There were stretches of pine straw or sand, and a little mud," Story said. "The obstacles added to it."

That's what Belka had in mind eight years ago when she organized the oldest trail run in the area - the Run Wild 5K, staged each August at Sesqui.

"I know how much I like running with the cross country kids," Belka said. "I thought a trail race was a way to give adults the cross country experience."

The first Run Wild event drew about 100 participants, and now it routinely lures about 200 to the trails. Belka decided to add the winter race to help fill out the area's running calendar and raise money for Richland Northeast's cross country, track and lacrosse programs.

Orinthal Striggles of Columbia won the race with a time of 36 minutes, 32.76 seconds. Shawnna White was the top female finisher in 41:17.03.

As runners crossed the finish line, Belka played the mother hen role, urging them to hurry inside the park's retreat center and put on more clothes.

And while the cold didn't seem to phase the runners during the race, hot chocolate was the most popular post-race treat in the retreat center.