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City is big winner of half marathon event

Similar to any competitive race, Saturday’s Mayberry Half Marathon, 10K and 5K in Mount Airy produced an array of winners — but the community at large arguably took home the biggest prize.

“This event is huge for our sports tourism efforts here in Mount Airy,” city Parks and Recreation Director Darren Lewis said Saturday morning while standing near the starting line for the trio of races on North Main Street downtown.

Minutes later, nearly 300 runners would hit the pavement in earnest for the half marathon (13.1-mile) portion of the event, as those in the 10K (6.2 miles) and 5K (3.1 miles) races awaited their turn under a staggered format.

Despite temperatures in the upper 30s greeting the start of the first race at 8 a.m., more than 800 runners participated altogether, whose presence not only benefited local parks and recreation but the city as a whole, Lewis said.

That was an especially welcome development for two facets of the local economy which have suffered during the pandemic, dining and lodging establishments. This was aggravated by the fact that the Mayberry event was not held in 2020 because of COVID-19 restrictions.

“All the restaurants were extremely busy,” Lewis, who also is serving as interim city manager, said of the extra Friday night traffic generated by the influx of participants for the Mayberry Half Marathon, 10K and 5K.

They came from near and far — “twenty different states right now,” he said as registration continued.

The impact also was realized with the hotel sector, including Hampton Inn on Rockford Street, Lewis added in relaying reports from Lenise Lynch, the general manager there.

“She said they were about sold out,” he related.

With standard entry fees for runners ranging from $25 to $60 depending on one’s age and the event involved, the Mayberry Half Marathon, 10K and 5K generated well more than $20,000, with proceeds typically used for local parks and recreation programs.

Nearby competitors excel

Along with the economic victory for the community, Saturday’s gathering provided a chance for local athletes to distinguish themselves.

Although competitors came from many states, the top male and female finishers for the half marathon were folks close to home.

Eli Roberson, 29, of Stuart, Virginia was the overall winner of the 13.1-mile event with a time of one hour, 20 minutes and 48 seconds — a pace of 6:10 per mile.

“Well, we started out fairly conservative,” Roberson said of negotiating the course often described as flat and fast which started downtown, headed to Riverside Park and then continued along the city greenway system before looping back to the park.

“I thought I had a comfortable lead,” he said of the distance between himself and second-place finisher Chuck Inman, another Virginia runner from Chesapeake.

But Roberson realized Inman was closing in “and really had to push it,” he said of going into a final kick to finish 11 seconds ahead of Inman.

It was Roberson’s first Mayberry half marathon.

Megan Ballentine, 41, of Mount Airy, competing in her first-ever half marathon, proved to be the top female finisher Saturday with a time of one hour, 37 minutes and 55 seconds.

That was good for 23rd place overall.

Marshall Love, 17, of Concord, won the 10K race at a time of 35 minutes, 55 seconds.

Maleah Pinyan, 33, of Salisbury, was tops among females and fourth overall at 39 minutes, 7 seconds.

The 5K winner was another local resident, Kevin Pack, 25, of Dobson, whose time was 17 minutes, 32 seconds.

Sharon White, 58, from Lenoir City, Tennessee, was the top female finisher at 23:57 and 22nd overall.

“Deputy” takes part

Perhaps the most notable example involving the merger of sports and tourism on display Saturday was the attire Vanessa Martin of Charleston, West Virginia, chose for running the half marathon.

Martin came dressed in a deputy’s uniform that could have been worn by Barney Fife on “The Andy Griffith Show” — with her ensemble also including a gun holster, badge and hat.

While the ongoing popularity of the television series starring the local native is often what draws many people to town, Martin chose to mix that with her participation in the half marathon.

“It’s Andy Griffith — it’s the Mayberry race, baby,” the longtime fan of the show said in explaining her choice of running apparel. “This is the first time I’ve done this race.”

And Lewis indicated that someone wearing a deputy’s uniform also was a first for the run.

However, Martin, 48, who works for the Konica copier company, was not on hand Saturday just to provide comic relief — she is a seasoned runner with a long list of half marathons on her resume.

“This is my third one in five weeks,” she said of Saturday’s event.

Successful return

Saturday’s Mayberry Half Marathon, 10K and 5K drew almost as many total runners as the last, 12th-annual event in 2019, 822, which stands as the all-time record turnout.

Lewis said challenges were posed in resurrecting the race after its cancellation in 2020.

He explained that extra marketing was employed for this year’s event, which also faced an obstacle due to other races normally held in the spring being cancelled in early 2021 as the pandemic persisted.

“So everybody rescheduled their dates to this fall,” Lewis said of the competition the Mayberry Half Marathon, 10K and 5K faced from other areas.

Yet once again, a happy outcome was realized in “Mayberry.”

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