When Jim Gay started volunteering for the Woodbury Country Mile in the 1980s, participants ran the races entirely along rural roads. “At that time, anywhere you tried to run [in Woodbury] was in the country anyway,” he says. “We didn’t have any trails when we first started.” Now in its 35th year, the event, put on by the Woodbury Area Chamber of Commerce with title sponsor Summit Orthopedics, has developed along with the city and incorporates its many parks and paths.
The event kicked off in 1981 when founder Gail Boland started it as a way to promote the growing suburb. “It originally began as an idea to make Woodbury more known in the community, especially since races weren’t real prominent back then,” says Nancy Kennedy, who was involved in managing the race from 1995 until a few years ago and is now the office coordinator at the Woodbury Community Foundation.
This year’s event, set for August 21 at East Ridge High School, includes the signature half marathon, 5K run/walk, kids’ 1-mile and tot trot along with a brand new 10K race and a 3.5-mile walk that is not timed. The routes make use of the school campus as well as trails throughout the city and around its lakes. Woodbury YMCA executive director and chamber board member Heidi Bardwell says she expects around 700 participants across the races this year.
The Woodbury Country Mile has seen considerable changes since its early days. Before finding its current home of three years at East Ridge, the race started from several different locations around the city as it grew. Race technology has also advanced since the days of manual timing with stopwatches and recording sheets. The process is now streamlined with electronic chip technology that runners attach to their bibs.
For most of its years, the event was put on completely by volunteers. This meant a dedicated group of community members were responsible for coordinating the event, designing and marking the course and managing all aspects of race day. “It was amazing, but it was a lot of work,” Bardwell says. Since 2013, the chamber has brought in a race management company to help organize and run the event. But that doesn’t mean volunteers are no longer necessary or welcome. Bardwell says they always need help getting people registered, putting together participant packets and assisting with race day activities and water stops.
The race shirts have also evolved over the years. While the chamber now provides short-sleeved technical shirts with wicking material, the Woodbury Country Mile was once known for its popular long-sleeved mock turtleneck shirts. “In fact, some people would pay the entry fee just to get the shirt and wouldn’t bother to run or walk,” Gay says. The race’s logo has also varied and for many years was decided based on submissions from Woodbury High School art students. The logo is now fixed for branding purposes, but is still based on a design from a student from two years ago.
One constant across the 35 years of the event is the support from the city’s parks and recreation department, police and EMS workers, to which Gay attributes much of its success. “I know some of the struggles other people have in other races getting adequate police presence and EMS, and that was not an issue here,” he says. “Quite possibly, this race would’ve died a long time ago if [the assistance] wasn’t there.”
Despite changes over the years to adapt to a growing city and to current race conventions, the Woodbury Country Mile remains a beloved family event that showcases the city’s scenic trails and active residents. “Everybody’s always really excited about it,” Bardwell says. “People have such a passion for this race and for it being part of this community.”
Woodbury Country Mile
August 21 East Ridge High School
Races have start times between 7-10 a.m.; various registration fees.
For more information on the event and how to register, visit the website here.