WHEELING - You wouldn't know it from the recent chill in the air, but summer's unofficial kickoff in the Ohio Valley - the Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Run and Walk - is less than two months away.
But preparation for the annual race, set for May 24-25, Memorial Day weekend, knows no season, as Race Director R. "Scat" Scatterday is well aware.
"It's an all-year thing," Scatterday said, noting planning for the 37th-annual race began even before the starter's pistol fired to kick off last year's event.
There's certainly plenty to do between now and race day to make sure all runs smoothly, but event organizers aren't the only ones immersed in preparing for the race. Also gearing up for the big day is Shadyside resident Joe Foster, who Scatterday described as one of the Ohio Valley's "local running heroes."
Foster drew attention during the last two Ogden races by running the entire length of the course with an American flag on his shoulder, and he plans to do the same this year. And once again, he will be driven by the desire to help repay the sacrifices made by America's wounded warriors.
Last year, Foster used his participation in the race to raise money and awareness for the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, which is building a "Smart Home" for Pfc. Kyle Hockenberry of the Marietta area. A survivor of a June 2011 improvised explosive device attack in Afghanistan, Hockenberry had both legs and one of his arms amputated.
"Smart Homes" are specially equipped with technology designed to make life's daily tasks easier for multiple amputees and quadriplegics, and cost about $350,000 each to build.
Foster's mission remains the same this year. Ground already has been broken for Hockenberry's house, but the foundation still needs to raise a little bit of money for appliances and other finishing touches - and Foster said there are plenty of wounded soldiers on a waiting list for homes.
Foster, a former Marine, said it helps him reach just a little deeper for endurance when he thinks of all the young men and women who leave behind growing families to serve their country, with no guarantee they will return.
"And they're expected to do it again, and again and again," he said. "It amazes me that we still have a generation of kids that will go out and do that."
Just a few weeks removed from heart surgery, Foster wants to challenge himself in a new way by carrying the flag during April 15's Boston Marathon. He said he will do just that if he can raise $5,000 in time for the event.
For information on the Tunnel to Towers Foundation, visit www.tunneltotowersfoundation.org. Foster said anyone wishing to donate can call him at (740) 676-0605.
To date, Foster has raised about $15,000 for the organization - all through small, individual donations, he said.
As runners continue to train and watch their diets to make sure they're in top condition by Memorial Day weekend, event organizers are busy making sure no detail is overlooked for the race, which Scatterday said will include a few new features.
Scatterday said race organizers are trying to encourage more and more young people to participate by reaching out to Ohio County schools and offering the chance for students in sixth grade and up to take part in any of May 25's events at a discounted rate. And in addition to making their students aware of the opportunity, he hopes the schools will incorporate training for the race into their physical education curriculum.
"This is an effort to partner with these schools in their efforts to emphasize physical fitness for their students," Scatterday said.
And thanks to the help of one of the event's major sponsors, Ohio Valley Medical Center and East Ohio Regional Hospital, Scatterday is pleased to announce the expansion of medical care available to race participants. Services at the medical tent located in front of WesBanco Arena near the start/finish line will be more comprehensive than ever before, he said, with oxygen and heart defibrillators and more physicians on hand to assist runners.
Another change this year is that late registration will be available on May 24 only, not on race day. Late registration will be open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. on the ground level of the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Center, Main Street side, and preregistered participants also may pick up their packets during that time.
Online preregistration, available by visiting www.ogdenhalfmarathonclassic.com, is open through May 13 and offers early birds the chance to save $10 on the entry fee for all events. Entrants also can save $10 by registering via mail before May 13.
Weekend events surrounding the Ogden race kick off May 24 with the Veterans Torch Relay at 4 p.m. honoring the nation's armed forces, both past and present. The relay begins in Elm Grove and covers the last 6 miles of the Half Marathon course. Scatterday said Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., is tentatively scheduled to be on hand for the event.
Following a brief ceremony at the conclusion of the relay, the evening's festivities continue with the Ogden Tiny Tot Trot at 6:45 p.m. for children ages 5 and under beneath the WesBanco Arena skywalk. At 7:15 p.m., the non-competitive, mile-long Ogden Fun Run for ages 12 and under, followed by the Ogden Mile at 7:30 p.m., with both events stepping off from the top of Wheeling Hill.
The action gets back under way bright and early May 25 with the Half Marathon Walk at 7:30 a.m., the Half Marathon Run and Run Relay at 8 a.m. and the 5K Run/Walk for Health at 8:15 a.m. Packet pickup will begin at 6 a.m. at the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center.
Announcement of race results will take place at approximately 11:30 a.m. at the Heritage Port Amphitheater.