As the countdown to the 3rd annual Freedom's Run begins, Race Director Mark Cucuzzella and his team make some finishing touches and anticipate hosting thousands for the Oct. 1 races.
In what Cucuzzella calls "crunch time," the Freedom's Run race committee is still accepting volunteers to assist race weekend as well as runners to participate in the marathon, half marathon, 10K, 5K and kids' fun run.
"This whole kind of weekend we want to develop this festival feeling," Cucuzzella said.
That experience can be felt during the expo at Shepherd University's Wellness Center and the pasta dinner at the War Memorial Building the Friday night before the race, during the races and at the party afterwards at the Bavarian Inn, he said.
But, Cucuzzella said Freedom's Run will continue to go beyond the normal race weekend festivities.
Like in years past, monies raised by Freedom's Run will be donated to an area school. Cucuzzella said already $5,000 has been donated to South Jefferson Elementary School to put towards its trail; another $5,000 will be donated following the race. Cucuzzella added that $3,000 was also donated to T.A. Lowery Elementary School to reconstruct its greenhouse which was damaged in a blizzard years ago.
Also part of the race's funds went towards putting together a book, called "Park Perscriptions," with the C&O Canal National Historical Park. The book aims to cover state and local trails by difficulty around the region. Cucuzzella said while the book is complete, he is looking for means of printing the product.
"The ultimate downstream goal would be to develop a fundraising arm of Freedom's Run to do more, create more projects," he said.
Cucuzzella believes it is a strong mission like this and the grassroots beginnings that attract thousands to Freedom's Run, and has so since the beginning.
"Marathoning's almost become a leisure pastime," he said.
Cucuzzella said those that attend races these days have experienced large-city events that can seem chaotic. He believes some are just looking for something "spiritual in nature."
"They like the fact that it's hometown and all volunteer," Cucuzzella said.
But don't forget the winding courses through some of history's greatest milemarkers.
"They get a grand tour on their feet," Cucuzzella said. "It's better than getting a brochure."
Cucuzzella said the longest course, the 26.2-mile marathon, begins in Harpers Ferry National Historic Park, home of John Brown's fort and site of the Union raid during the Civil War, and loops through the C&O Canal and on to the hallowed ground of Antietam Battlefield. The course then ends in historic Shepherdstown, Cucuzzella said, and within hours runners have covered "layers of history."
These are the reasons people continue to return, and the Freedom's Run race committee is committed to gauging individuals' thoughts.
In three years, Cucuzzella has seen the race grow. The inaugural year brought in 1,600 runners, while last year's race hosted 2,700 from 42 states, the largest running event in the state.
"This year we should exceed that," Cucuzzella said. "We have close to 40 states already registered."
He added that at least five different countries will also be represented at this year's festivities.
Cucuzzella said that the committee has been planning for a year, and the race could not be as successful without the support from its sponsors, community members and volunteers. Presenting sponsors this year are West Virginia University Hospitals-East and WVU Health Sciences Center-Eastern Division.
For more information, to volunteer or to register for the races, visit www.freedomsrun.org.
"As a race director, one month out, my guarantee is to see a quality event," Cucuzzella said. "It's an all-encompassing role to pull all of the pieces of this event together. It's a whole team pulling this together."