Freeze column: Winter Flight is the Granddaddy of them all

  • Posted: Monday, January 21, 2013 1:33 a.m.

For the whole time that I have been a runner, I’ve known that Salisbury’s Winter Flight 8K is one of the best races anywhere.

The race first burst onto the scene in 1981, then skipped ’82 and ’83, before being reborn in 1984. That 1984 version was directed by Larry Pinkston, well known locally as one of the members of the Mid-Life Crisis band. Over the years, the race grew in stature and regularly attracted some of the best athletes, not only from our region, but often from other parts of the world. The male record for the race is still held by Hans Koeleman of Sweden, a former Olympic athlete. The female course record is held by Olympian Joan Nesbit, who returned to race the course again last year.

Lots of Olympic hopefuls have competed here over the years, especially when there were a lot less road races. When Winter Flight was born, there was usually only about one good road race a month within a two hour drive, especially in the winter. Winter Flight was a fixture as the first race on the Tar Heel Tour for many years. The Tar Heel Tour was a series of races of varied distances, with points tabulated for state overall and masters winners (those over 40 years of age)proclaimed by year- long results.

On Saturday morning, Jan. 26, the 30th Annual Rowan Regional Medical Center Winter Flight 8K will run a 4.97 mile loop out of Catawba College before returning to a fast finish on the Shuford Stadium track. In the early years, the race ran from the downtown area and used the historic district for part of the course. Since 1986, Winter Flight has been hosted by Catawba. Other race directors like Bob and Judy Zirt, Dick Franklin, Dan Roseman, and Edie Brantley Smith managed Salisbury’s premier road race to high standards, always hoping to start the year with the best race, much like the Nascar Daytona 500.

The 2012 Winter Flight was selected for the Running Journal Grand Prix, a series of the top road races in the southeast for the first time. The 2013 version is also on the Grand Prix, taking its place with top races from Alabama, Florida, Tennessee, and South Carolina. The 2013 Winter Flight 8K remains the Road Runners Club of America 8K North Carolina Championship. This year’s race is the oldest 8K in NC and the 4th oldest race of any distance. RRCA officials from the southeast region and NC will be on hand to present the state championship awards.

Winter Flight is not all about the elite runners. Frankly, it is more about the middle of the pack runners, and the chance to celebrate their fitness with many people who return to Salisbury annually just to compete against themselves and others on the storied course. On an average weekend, at least 3-5 races can be found within an hour’s drive. At last count, March alone will have seven races in Rowan County. The fact that Winter Flight has continued to exist for all these years says volumes about the quality of the race and its course. A large percentage of competitors on Saturday will be older runners, many who seldom miss a Winter Flight.

Bottom line, by showing up at the starting line, you will have a chance to compete in the same event as some of the better runners around. It’s still possible to do this in a road race, though we can’t drive a race car against Jeff Gordon or play golf against Tiger Woods. Participants are already registered from Georgia, Louisiana, and Illinois.

All proceeds from the event are being donated to Rowan Helping Ministries. There is a 5K Health Walk and a ˝ mile fun run for kids, 12 and under. A health and fitness expo will take place throughout the morning in Catawba’s Goodman Gym. All 8K and 5K participants get a long sleeve, specially designed dri-fit shirt that commemorates the 30th Annual Winter Flight. Spectators are welcomed and encouraged. The football stadium provides comfortable seating and a fantastic view of the finish. Start time for the fun run is 9:30 and all kids get a finisher’s medal and shirt. The 8K and 5K Health Walk start at 10 AM.

A printable registration form and more information are available at and online registration is at Registration is available by mail and online all week. In person registration is available at Catawba College’s Goodman Gym on Friday night from 5-7:30 PM. Registered runners can pick up their race bags and numbers at that time also. Race day registration is available on Saturday from 8-9:45 AM.

The event remains as Salisbury’s largest participatory sporting event. Come join the fun!

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