“It’s just a hill, get over it!” hollered Liesel “Lethal” Keller, encouraging her friends as she ran backward up the gentle slope of a grassy playing field at Bickle-Schmidt Sports Complex on Saturday.
But no pressure. Keller and her friends were part of the Hays Recreation Center’s first ever Underachiever Half-Mile Fun Run, a course with beer and donut stations and absolutely no expectations.
Five people who paid the $10 registration fee didn’t even show up, which got the event off to a late start.
“But, you now, this is for underachievers,” explained Haley Nixon, a Rec Center program director.
Racers wore running gear, but added hoodies and hats against Saturday morning’s breeze, which made it feel chilly on an otherwise sunny day with mid-50s temperatures. Rec Center Program Director Gail Wickham stood alongside a table pre-loaded with styrofoam cups of beer and hot chocolate to explain the pre-race instructions: Four stations, each one .1 mile apart from the others, where racers either chug a beer or eat a donut hole before moving on.
“You walk, run, jump, hop, skip or crawl — whatever you want to — to get to the next station,” Wickham said.
Preparing for the lineup, Wickham shouted over a gusty breeze to be heard by the crowd. “Do we have some who are going to be real serious runners?” she asked. The group exploded with laughter.
Keller and Donna Fleharty, Hays, were there with their running club, a group that was formed originally at the Hays Rec Center by Wickham and Nixon.
The Underachiever Fun Run was appealing, Fleharty said, “because we heard there’d be beer.”
“I’m what you call a turtle,” she said. “Slow and steady wins the race.”
So far in her race career, Fleharty has run seven half-marathons, which is 13 miles, and a lot of 5Ks, which is 3.1 miles.
On Saturday, Fleharty credited Kaylene Gabel, Hays, as the glue that holds their running group together. A girls’ high school tennis coach at Victoria, Gabel said she doesn’t get out to run with her friends as often as she’d like because she’s busy at school.
“I always keep the group connected, I come up with fun ways to run,” Gabel said. “That’s probably the coach in me.”
After two cups of beer, about 4 ounces each, and one donut hole, Gabel’s third beer still sloshed in its cup and she indicated her pace was slowing.
“I don’t usually run with anything in my stomach, much less two beers and donuts,” she said.
Saturday morning, before the Underachiever Fun Run, Brandy Ridgway already had run a half-marathon with a friend.
“This is her cool down,” said Fleharty. Ridgway is training to run a half marathon Nov. 3 in the Little Apple Marathon at Tuttle Creek State Park.
“If it wasn’t for the group, I wouldn’t be running the distances I am now,” Ridgway said. She joined the group after literally running into them one morning after she’d slept in and missed her fitness class. “I ran into them last summer and they sucked me in,” she said.
The women run two to five miles every Friday at 5:45 a.m. from March through October.
“They’re the ones who told me I could do it,” she said. “They helped me realize my ability.”
At race’s end Saturday, with the beer and donuts consumed, Kristy Schlaefli and her friends all gathered for an after-race photo. Was it worth it to come out at 10 a.m. for the Underachiever Fun Run?
“Oh hell yeah,” laughed Jennifer Casper. And the best part, said Casper, was “just getting the group back together and running.”
With 71 people turning out, and sponsorship by A&A Coors Inc. and Daylight Donuts, both of Hays, Wickham called the event a success and said folks should mark their calendars for the second annual Underachiever Fun Run in October 2019.
“It was well over what I thought we’d get, I was expecting about 25 people,” Wickham said of the turnout. And not to worry, next year’s run also will be a half mile, although Hays Rec might add an event for overachievers.
Meanwhile, Keller and her friends were enthusiastic about the Dollar Tree plastic medals they each received from Wickam at race’s end.
“It was a relief to finally only have to race that far,” said Keller, who is accustomed to running 10Ks, which are long-distance 6.2 mile races. “The struggle is not real on this one.”