By Marty Kirkland
Lauren Sain was already planning to run a half marathon in a city halfway across the country when she saw an advertisement for one in her own backyard.
On Saturday morning, Sain will find out how far her training has taken her in preparation for the first Dalton Half Marathon, which will also serve as her first attempt at a distance race beyond a 5K.
“I started with small distances,” said the 25-year-old Sain, a teacher at Park Creek Elementary who began running four years ago to keep in shape and then found it a comforting ritual after her father, James Taylor, died.
“I grew up on Dug Gap Road and so I started out doing that, because it’s three miles if you do the whole thing. Gradually, one day I think I decided to go a little bit further and went down Walnut Avenue a little bit, then turned around and came home. Well that turned into doing eight miles — it was that kind of thing.”
Sain has participated in staples on the area’s calendar of 5K races such as the Bill Gregory Healthcare Classic and Silver Bell Sprint, but was looking forward to competing in this past January’s Houston Half Marathon with her brother-in-law who lives in Texas.
However, that race field was full before she was able to register, and so she had turned her attention to tackling the 13.1-mile distance next year.
Those plans changed this past summer when an announcement was made that Dalton would join the cities on the United States Running Association’s Half Marathon Series circuit.
“I saw one of the billboards,” Sain said. “And I said, ‘I’m going to do that.’”
She won’t be alone. As of Wednesday, race director David Sanders said the event had passed the 800-runner total when figuring in those who will run in the half marathon as well as its accompanying 5K and one-mile “fun run.” That’s above organizers’ initial goal of 600, and he believes the number will be past 900 when race day arrives.
Area runners participating in the “Run for God” program have helped drive the 5K registration, Sanders said, but he expects more than 300 to toe the line for the half marathon.
“As our run gets some word of mouth, I think we’ll do even better next year,” Sanders said. “We’ll try to do better every year and we’d like to see this a 1,000-person race just for the half marathon.”
There have been challenges to setting up the first Dalton Half Marathon, said Sanders, a past president of the Carpet Capital Running Club who currently serves as a member of its board. But he’s pleased with the way the route turned out, staying relatively flat, and said runner should expect a well-organized race that will also be safe.
“I can’t say enough about the Dalton Police Department,” Sanders said. “They have been just exceptionally, exceptionally helpful. They’ve gone overboard to make sure this is a safe race.”
That’s one of the things Dalton’s Preston Denson — a veteran of half marathons in Mississippi, Nashville, Tenn., and just up the road in Chickamauga — expects for a race to meet his approval. Worrying about traffic isn’t something he wants to do as he ticks off the miles, even when they are logged on familiar streets.
But having a hometown half marathon means a lot to Denson.
“I think it’s great for the city and Whitfield County,” said the 26-year-old civil engineer, who has also run in marathons and ultra marathons. “It’s really good to make people aware of what this area’s like. When I was going to school at Ole Miss, a lot of smaller towns down there would get together and hold races, but most of the past marathons and half marathons I’ve been in were usually in bigger cities.
“So I think it’s great for smaller communities to start getting their feet wet and doing this. You’re talking about bringing people into town that have maybe never been to Dalton and might not come otherwise.”
That’s one reason Dalton resident Holly Kimsey made sure to support the race in its launch. The 44-year-old banker has been running for six years, doing well in local 5Ks and even competing in the New York City Marathon last November, but she finds excitement in the chance to test herself in the same place she trains.
She’s hoping others from outside the area enjoy it, too.
“I’m excited to see how many people come to Dalton, because we normally go to Chattanooga and Atlanta,” Kimsey said. “I’m anxious to see what runners come here, because you kind of see the same groups of people when you go to those races.”
Jacki Hasty, a drama and speech teacher at Southeast Whitfield High, has been running since 2005 but will also be new to the half marathon distance. Like Sain, her training hasn’t involved actually going 13.1 miles, but that’s of little concern since many training programs don’t require it.
However, she knows there will be pain involved with completing the race and will count on mental preparation to help her as much as physical when those testing moments arrive.
“I think every bit of it is mental, honestly,” said Hasty, 29. “Because you can talk yourself out of it. A lot of times when I’m running, I’ll ask myself two questions. No. 1, ‘Are you hurting? And then, if so, ‘Where are you hurting?’
“It’s easy to say you’re hurting. If you can pinpoint where you’re hurting, it’s OK to stop. But nine times out of 10, you can’t pinpoint it. And I have asthma, so I’ve been super impressed that I haven’t had to use my inhaler once.”
Hasty and Sain have set pace-related goals, with both hoping to keep moving throughout the race without needing to walk. They’re anxious about finally crossing the 10-mile threshold — something Denson and Kimsey say won’t be a problem if they’re already at that distance — but excited as well.
Being in Dalton should help alleviate some worries, though.
“When I got online and looked at the map of the course, it’s pretty much Walnut Avenue, which I run a lot, Tibbs Road, I’ve done that a lot,” Sain said. “I grew up in Dalton, so I naturally know all the side streets. It actually makes it seem like it’s going to be less than 13.1 miles.”
The half marathon will begin at 8 a.m. downtown, with the 5K following at 8:15 and the one-mile race at 9:45. Awards will be presented at 10 a.m. and a finish line party is slated for 11 a.m. Live music will provide runners entertainment on the course, and Sanders hopes to see plenty of spectators along the route as well.
“We want people to come out and cheer everybody on,” he said.
Registration is still open for all three races and will continue through Friday — until 4 p.m. online at daltonhm.com or until 7 p.m. at the Northwest Georgia Trade and Convention Center. All participating runners must pick up their registration packets between 11 a.m. and 7 p.m. at the trade center, because no race-day registration will be permitted, and Sanders encourages participants to attend the event’s Pasta Party from 5 to 7 p.m. at the trade center.
Both Dalton native Saul Raisin, a former professional cyclist who has since pursued distance running, and Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ Chris Anderson will speak during the party, while a health and fitness expo will also be held at the trade center. Admission to the pasta party is $8 and those who plan to attend should RSVP at daltonhm.com.
Denson has one last piece of advice for the first-timers: Don’t be afraid to keep running on Saturday.
“Honestly, if you can run seven miles, you can run 13,” he said. “Especially on race day, because your adrenaline gets going and it’s a little bit easier to run when you have people cheering you on. It’s a little different than a training run at 6 in the morning by yourself.”