Ashley Southern is a familiar face in the Greenville running community. A frequent competitor at many local races throughout the year, she also coaches track at North Greenville University during the spring where she works with the female sprinters. While Southern trains mostly for 5K races and up, her athletes rarely race beyond 400 meters- widely considered to be the longest sprint in track & field- anaerobically speaking. Despite the difference in their running styles, the coach and her runners have used this offseason to dabble in some friendly competition on the track, something other Greenville area running enthusiasts have integrated into their summer calendar.
On Tuesday evening at Furman University, the Greenville Track Club (GTC) will conclude another season in its annual All Comers Summer Track Meets. The event is held on eight evenings over June and July, except for the week of the Fourth of July.
Southern designates Tuesday evenings as her speed training day. “Since I usually dread doing track work alone,” she says, “(the meets) not only help to sharpen my speed for race training, but they also allow me to compete against other local runners who can push me to run faster.”
She gets additional satisfaction from seeing her athletes break out of the mundanity that can accompany formal practice sessions during the track season. Common off-season training plans suggest that individuals should work to improve on specific areas within their running arsenal. For Southern’s runners, the objective over the summer months is largely centered around strength and core training with workouts designed to be run at around 75% of race season effort. “The track meets are a great tool in showing my sprint gals where their fitness level is and offers them insight into what they should be focusing on when they come into the season,” says Southern.
When Southern jumped into the 400 meter event at one of this year’s All Comers Meets to race against some of the athletes she coaches, she figured this distance would provide the most competitive balance between their divergent running styles. “In the summer track meets, I usually run the mile and sometimes the 2 mile,” says Southern. “I have also jumped in and run the 800m and then 400m with my girls, because the 400m is their least favorite sprint event, and they like it when they get to beat me!”
Within each event, heats allow runners of different abilities to participate side by side and help keep things safe. For instance, in the Mile event, sub-six minute runners race in a separate heat from the rest of the pack.
Meet director Beth Grumbles says that the turnout on Tuesday evenings continues to grow with each passing year. For the last meet in June, 135 participants made it out to Furman's Irwin Belk Track Complex- the highest attendance figure of the summer.
“The Summer All Comers Track Meets are a family event designed for all members of the family, no matter what age or athletic ability,” Grumbles explained recently. She points out that “runners as young as three and walkers as young as ninety” were on hand at this year’s meets.
Runners like former GTC President Michael Burchett, attend the Tuesday meets as much for personal training as they do for the running comradery that is on display, where in-race music supplied by the GTC’s sound guru Ed Hughes keeps things lively. Burchett started coming to the summer meets several years ago. Back then, a 2-mile race was held at the last meet of the year where club members could contend for age group points in the Run In Running Series. He was immediately struck on how inclusive the meets were. “When I saw how friendly and laid-back everyone was, it made me want to keep coming back,” Burchett recalls about his first experience with the All Comers Meets. “Now I never miss one,” he says.
Many adults who attend the meets do so while putting in long hours during the work week. Sometimes even making it up to Furman (located in Greenville’s far north end) can be a chore, just trying to get through all of the Upstate rush hour traffic. One of the most rewarding perks of the All Comers Meets is that parents have the opportunity to engage in physical activity with their young children. Most track meets place a high emphasis on event check-ins and imposing proper racing attire. But the GTC summer meets- while still geared toward serious runners- is truly a family affair with a 50 meter dash for children under five and a family relay featured as part of the event schedule.
“I was pleased when my three-year-old son became old enough to run in last year's meets,” says Burchett. “I love to watch the little kids run, because they don't associate running with work and suffering like we often do; it's just sheer joy for them.”
Burchett, who coordinates the club’s Wednesday night track workouts at Greenville High School, says that the summer events have helped him maintain overall speed throughout the year. “I’m usually pretty banged up in the summers when I go to the Wednesday workouts because I’m essentially doing back-to-back hard days,” Burchett says. “But it is worth it, and I think the extra intensity helps me to get ready for the fall races.”
The summer meets are largely made possible through the volunteerism shown by Run In (the main sponsor of the event) and from members of the GTC Elite team. “GTC Elite athletes and Run In employees participated by cutting watermelons, giving freeze pops, giving out ribbons at the finish line, and most importantly,” explains Grumbles, “supporting and encouraging young runners.”
Grumbles says that the pop-up showers that are common around the area during the summer held off for the most part. This year there were no cancellations, and with the exception of one rain delay, all of the meets went on as scheduled.
The All Comers Meets are free to all current Greenville Track Club members and to children under 18. Nonmembers can register for $3 which can be applied to their annual membership ($25 yearly for individuals, $10 for high school/college students, $30 for families). Registration for the meet allows for participation in an unlimited number events, and many runners take advantage entering multiple races. All attendees are required to sign a waiver beforehand.
The final All Comers Meet of 2014 is Tuesday, July 29 with registration beginning at 6:00p.m. The events begin at 6:15p.m.
- 10 minute warm-up/jog
- 50 M dash (5 and under)
- Family relay (5 and under)
- Long Jump
- 100 M heats
- Mile heats
- 400 M heats
- 800 M
- 200 M heats
- 3200 M
View the meet pamphlet for addition information.