The 13th annual McKee Southern 6 Trail Race will be held on Sunday, Feb. 19, at the White Oak Mountain Trails. Southern Adventist University students and faculty can run the race for free, and proceeds from the race will go to Southern’s Adventure Program Affinity Fund, according to the race’s website. Online registration ends on Feb. 17, but in-person registration will be available on race day.
Prizes will be awarded to the top three male and female finishers in two categories, regular and age 50 and up, or “masters.” A $100 cash prize will be given to first place finishers, a $75 cash prize to second place finishers and a $50 Rock Creek gift card to third place finishers. The fastest male and female finishers will also be offered a pair of Salomon shoes.
The 3.4 mile course begins on Industrial Drive by the Hickman Science Center, continues rup a steep climb to the White Oak Mountain Trails and is followed by a descent down the trails to finish back by Hickman. Jonathan Ziesmer, race director, said he ran the race multiple times while he was a student at Southern and fell in love with the course.
“ … You gotta work really hard in the beginning, and then you just cruise, and you can push as hard as you want for the end,” Ziesmer said.
According to Ziesmer, the race started in 2009 due to a partnership between Southern and Rock Creek, an outdoor gear store. The race initially had 200 to 250 runners, Ziesmer estimated, but numbers started to dwindle after a few years.
Rock Creek stopped sponsoring the race in 2015, and Southern continued to hold the race but stopped advertising it to the public, which led to mostly Southern students and faculty running the race, according to Ziesmer. Rock Creek returned as a sponsor this year.
Ziesmer wanted to bring the race back to the community to show that Southern had running trails that people could take advantage of. He said some in the Chattanooga running community assume Southern only has mountain bike trails.
“So, hopefully, by bringing people from the community into the space and bringing students into this race there will be some cross traffic there,” Ziesmer said. “Conversely, this also provides an opportunity for Southern to witness [to] the broader Chattanooga area that may not be familiar with Southern or our mission.”
Ziesmer spoke with Robert Benge, dean of the School of Health and Kinesiology, and Mike Harris, adventure programming director, about bringing sponsors back to the race.
Alan Outlaw, owner of Fast Break Athletics, which is helping sponsor the race, gave Ziesmer advice on finding sponsors and helped him get in contact with different companies.
Sponsors for the race include Fast Break Athletics; High Point Climbing and Fitness; McKee Foods; the presenting sponsor, Rock Creek; and Focus Treatment Centers.
Grey Satterfield, High Point’s marketing manager, wrote in an email to the Accent that the company is sponsoring the race because it wants to give back to the community and the trails that the owners love.. Satterfield wrote that John O’Brien and John Wygul, the co-founders of High Point, both had personal connections to Southern. O’Brien was a student at Southern, and Wygul went to elementary school on the campus.
“ … High point has long been a part of the broader Chattanooga outdoor space,” Satterfield wrote. “We love sponsoring events that bring together like-minded people with a passion for the outdoors.”
According to Ziesmer, Southern’s support has been key in planning the race this year, and access to Southern’s resources has made things easier. Outlaw, who Ziesmer used to work for, has provided useful guidance in the process.
“Getting Advancement on board was very important, and getting Alan Outlaw on board was very important,” Ziesmer said. “ … [Outlaw] is always willing to mentor people, especially people he sees that are teachable, in developing their running-related projects.”
Ziesmer wants to get 200 runners in the race this year and believes the event will continue to grow and build momentum in coming years.
“My hope is that no matter who shows up, we will still be able to put on a quality race for them,” he said. “They’ll be able to enjoy themselves, have fun, connect with other fellow runners, run a good race and then want to spread the word and get their other friends to come back and do it with them the next year.”
According to Ziesmer, the race lost money last year, but, this year, it should be profitable for Southern’s Adventure Program Affinity Fund. Most of the costs of the race came from shirts and hiring Terra Running Company for race timing and prizes. The School of Health and Kinesiology funded the purchase of finisher medals.
Looking to the future, Ziesmer hopes to raise attendance and continue to improve the quality of the race.
“I want to make sure to learn from what went well [and] what didn’t go well so we can improve that next year,” Ziesmer said.