May 18, 2011

Doug Hawley: 'Big Harry' trail a big hit with runners

— An apparent home run was struck Tuesday night in the first Big Harry Cross Country Run that started and ended at Lakeshore Park in Dalton. A surprisingly large gathering of 72 people, with ages ranging from preschool to senior citizens, participated in the 5K exhibition.

“I thought that it’d be less than 50,” said Doug Renz, who coordinated the event after helping create the trail in cooperation with Dalton Parks and Recreation Department. “To schedule something this quickly and have this many people is amazing. I’m really pleased.”

It is Renz’s dream for the 3.1-mile course to became a cross country fixture — for high schools primarily but other ages as well.

“This absolutely will be a great high school course,” said Preston Pound, a 2010 Dalton High graduate who participated in cross country and track. “I liked the layout. You didn’t have to circle around a lot. You had the various mixtures of grass, pavement, dirt and gravel.”

Adam Dodson, 27 and a Northwest Whitfield High graduate, finished first overall in 18 minutes and 52 seconds.

“It reminded me a lot of high school,” Dodson said. “There were lots of twisters, turns and cresses. I thought my first mile was too fast. It just got tougher after that. It’s more suited for the young whippersnappers like the high schoolers.”

In the middle stages of the course, participants also got a tour of Al Rollins Park.

“It’s a great course for cross country,” said 25-year-old Beth Laird, a Dalton High grad who paced the females in 23:22. “It’s comparable to any cross country course that I’ve run. I like the way that it started in the park at the track. Being in the parks and the neighborhood make you feel safe.”

Dalton’s Nancy Rutledge of Dalton tried the course with her dog Kosmo, a retriever. She contrasted it with the 4.15-mile route of Walnut Avenue, Tibbs Road and College Drive colloquially referred to as “the Loop.”

“We ran some and walked some,” Rutledge said. “It’s certainly different than doing the Loop. It was totally different but enjoyable.”

Robin Coffey, a friend, and her German shepherd, Max, also accompanied Rutledge and Kosmo.

“(Dalton High cross country coach Karen Galyon) has gone over the course with me,” Renz said. “She really likes it. Most of the people here today seemed to like it. However, we will know more after studying the surveys which they filled out afterwards.”

From what I observed on my slow running venture of the course, many future home runs appear ahead. This activity is in memory of the late Harry Renz, the beloved father of Doug and others in the Renz family.

“Harry was there as a volunteer at every track meet when I was track coach,” former Dalton High coach and athletic director Ronnie McClurg said. “He did a little bit of everything. His kids were involved in athletics. Even before his kids were in school and even after they left, he was still volunteering. He must have done it for 15 years. He was a special guy. He loved the kids.”

Interestingly, Lakeshore Park provided the scene for the first Dalton area road race in mid-June of 1975. It was known as the Carpet Capital ‘4.2’ because of its 4.2-mile distance.

Dalton Parks and Recreation Department, which sponsored that event (and also played a big part Monday), asked me to serve as director and lay out a course which would go hand-in-hand with dedication ceremonies for the new track and ball fields. East Lakeshore Drive served as a brutal hill TWICE on the two-loop course.

In the days of only a few road races, Wayne Roach of Atlanta — a champion of the celebrated July 4 Peachtree Road Race — was the winner. McClurg served as official starter and timer in that area debut.

Harry Renz, to nobody’s surprise, was a key volunteer worker.

Doug Hawley, who finished third overall in that first area road race, has been a competitive distance runner for more than 50 years. Write to him at