The 2019 Dogwood Azalea Festival 5K Race in Charleston, MO is one of my favorite races of the year. The race starts and finishes adjacent to the craft fair and food booths which add to the festive mood of the race. As a local festival steeped in tradition, the Dogwood Azalea Festival showcases the yards and gardens of homes in the historic area of Charleston. Setting a date when the bushes and trees will be blooming, but doesn’t conflict with Easter is a true challenge for organizers. This year’s cool spring had the azaleas not quite ready, but the dogwoods were in their full glory.
The flat course attracts seasoned runners ready to turn in fast times. They share the road with weekend warriors, mothers with strollers and children of all ages. It really is a great family atmosphere where people of all abilities can get some exercise while enjoying the scenic route through town. While Sunday at 2:00 PM is not my normal race time, a little preparation makes it work.
Being a local tradition makes the race more appealing to me as it seems that each year I know more people running or supporting the race. The race organizers do a great job, registration people are super friendly, and chip timing by Missouri Running Company provides accurate results quickly. Nice T-shirts and awards add to the appeal, but the people give this race an annual spot on my race calendar.
The spring timing makes weather a total crap-shoot with this year being a bit crappier than normal. The morning rains and muddy conditions had driven several of the festival vendors from their booths. While the low 40s are not horrible temperatures, the added wind and dampness kept some fair-weather runners at home. Still an even 100 runners finished the 5K race. Matthew Pfau was the overall male winner with a time of 16:39 and Chelsea Smith was the first female finisher at 17:59.
I was pleased with my time of 23:44 which made me the eighteenth finisher overall. I followed my friend John for the entire distance, never really getting close enough to call it a race. He kept a strong pace throughout and finished 18 seconds ahead of me. He and I had raced a month earlier in Sikeston along with my friend Tori who was the fastest female finisher in Sikeston.
Tori and I have run this race several times. She and my daughter played sports together in high school. John and I serve on the board of a local non-profit. Cody and Nathan are two brothers that I see at this race every year. We have played on the same rec league basketball team for at least five winters. Rocky is a local businessman who runs the race annually. His son ran the 800 on the same track team when my daughter was a thrower. I love the interconnectivity of small communities.
Speaking of lovin’ small communities, I stumbled across a facebook post while searching for race results. Shot-by-Sheila posted “The race passes in front of our house, so I photographed the runners as they passed by. I do not personally know one single person in this race, so if you see someone you know in the pictures please tag them.” Sheila Leroux Stevens shared some great shots, 359 of them to be exact. Sheila was kind enough to give me permission to use her photos. They really show the beauty of the course and the diversity of participants. She spent her afternoon snapping pictures and then uploading them to share with people she doesn’t even know. Thank you so much Sheila, for using your time and talents to memorialize the event for so many people.
Sheila captured a truly ‘meme worthy’ moment while I was passing a young runner near the halfway point of the race. His face is a combination of disgust and disbelief. I was oblivious to his reaction until I saw Sheila’s pictures. To the young man’s credit he kept running his pace and finished about a minute and a half behind me. When I was his age, I probably would have given up and walked back to the festival for a corn dog.
Several young people completed the race. Some with families, some with friends, others just out there running three miles through their home town. The Dogwood Azalea Festival 5K Run in Charleston, MO is a great active event shared by people of all abilities.