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Wednesday, 16 August 2006 00:00

The Moonlight shines again: Maggie lights up with Moonlight Race

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Checking email has gotten a lot more exciting for Wendy Johnson lately.

As the organizer for the 28th Annual Maggie Valley Moonlight Race this year, Johnson sees a message show up in her in-box every time a runner registers on-line. It’s averaging about 15 a day, and Johnson revels in opening each one to see where the runners are coming from.

Meanwhile, mailed-in registration forms have been rolling into the Maggie Valley Visitor’s Bureau (Maggie Valley’s Chamber of Commerce).

“The chamber had 45 entry forms come in the mail in one day,” Johnson said. “That’s just huge.”

The annual 8K Moonlight Race, held along the main drag through Maggie Valley, is shaping up to pull in nearly 1,000 participants this year — double last year’s numbers. The Moonlight Race attracted 3,000 runners at its peak but has seen declining participation over the past decade, hitting a low of only 500 participants last year.

This year, the Maggie Valley Visitors Bureau, which hosts the race, hired Johnson to organize and promote the event. Johnson, who lives in Maggie Valley part-time, has a race promotion company called Motion Sports Management.

On a summer vacation to the Carolina coast, Johnson and her husband stopped at running stores throughout the Research Triangle area dropping off stacks of entry forms.

“We’ve been living eating and breathing it,” Johnson said of the race.

The Maggie Valley Moonlight Race once attracted Olympic-class runners, largely due to the promise of large cash prizes. This year, instead of dedicating dollars to a hefty purse, money is going to the festivities.

Even so, Johnson was still able to lure some elite runners, including Joe Driscoll and Zika Palmer from ZAP Fitness, an elite runner club in Blowing Rock. Driscoll, who is originally from Portland, Ore., was a three-time NCAA All-American distance runner who finished sixth in the 10,000 meters at the U.S. Outdoor Track and Field Championships and has a personal record of 13:46 in the 5,000 meters. Palmer, the 30-year-old president and founder of ZAP Fitness, was a runner-up at the 2005 U.S. Marathon Championships and regularly coaches adult runners from 5K to marathon levels.

The 8K race has also been retooled to include a new course and an additional 5K race/walk as well as kids’ races (for ages 10 and under) and a one-mile fun run/walk.

Every year before the 8K main event, spectators line the sidewalks in lawn chairs to cheer on the hordes of athletes that hail from all over the Southeast. And if the new-and-improved race course and two-day expo aren’t enough, runners will also receive plenty of freebies.

“We’re having free beer for the runners, a free post-race pasta dinner and a live band,” Johnson said. “Our whole goal for the race is to make it fun again and make it a destination event.”

The post-race party, which is open to everyone for just $5, will include beer, drinks, food, and live music. Race volunteers will get a free T-shirt, a free ticket to the post-race party, and a raffle ticket for entry in various prizes. Food will be catered by local restaurants J. Arthur’s and Smackers.

“We want people to come watch and then join the post-race party,” Johnson said. “I want everyone in the community to know something is in it for them.”

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