Run Thru History celebrating 40 years as a major Vicksburg event
Published 6:00 am Sunday, February 24, 2019
Warner Byrum was dubbed the “Father of Vicksburg’s Run Thru History.”
After learning about the popularity of amateur runs in several cities, the Chicago native, who had moved to Vicksburg, thought a race in the River City would serve as a great way to kick off Vicksburg’s annual spring pilgrimage.
Now 40 years later, the race, which winds through the Vicksburg National Military Park, has become one of the top races drawing runners from all over the South and other regions of the country.
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In fact, the RTH has become the largest race conducted by the Mississippi Track Club.
Byrum, along with Bob Roberts, Tommy Ross, Rich Alman and Missy Arnold, sat down and began organizing the first ever RTH and for several years headed up the event, former RTH race committee chairman Mack Varner said.
But in 1986, after the death of Ross, the reins of the race were handed over to Varner, Robert Sadler, Bobby Abraham and Hays Latham.
These four local men had been running together for about five years, Varner said, and had even competed in the New York City Marathon together.
In 1987, after the four men decided to keep the race alive, Varner said the RTH was in debt to the Mississippi Track Club for more than $1,000.
So in an effort to move forward debt free, the committee reached out to businesses, asking for sponsorships for the race.
At the time, Varner said they solicited sponsorships in the amount of $1,000 each, and in the early years managed to retain a few.
But as the popularity of the race grew, so did sponsors.
And with this growth came an abundance of funds, which, Varner said, the committee decided to ante up and give out as perks to participants.
“We wanted to give back to the runners, as much as they gave to the race. We gave incredible presents. There were great looking t-shirts, bags, socks and race trophies,” Varner said.
“We had great water stops along the way and the party afterwards was fun with good food, and The Chill would perform,” Varner said. “People loved coming.”
The race takes place inside the VNMP because Byrum felt it offered an ideal spot for runners.
In a 2001 interview by Vicksburg Post news reporter Misty McDermitt, Byrum said, “It’s such a nice running trail with no traffic, and it really is a beautiful, very challenging run.”
The race begins at the Memorial Arch inside the VNMP and initially ended at the old Ramada Inn that Byrum owned. The hotel was located off I-20 on the frontage road near the park and is now a Hampton Inn.
The RTH race is a 10K (6.2 miles) run, and in 1989 a 10K race/walk was added.
Varner said adding a race/walk became a game changer for the annual event.
“That was the best decision we ever made,” Varner said, because it made the RTH the first race on the Mississippi Track Club circuit to have a race/walk.
The following year, the race/walk was changed to a 5K (3.1 miles) and later a 1-Miler for ages 5 and younger was added.
The RTH 10K is a grueling race up and down hills in the VNMP.
Originally the course went past the Mississippi and Louisiana monuments before swinging south past the Minnesota monument to the Visitors Center, then to another southern segment winding by the Texas, Alabama and Iowa monuments.
During its tenure, the RTH has garnered more than 1,000 participants in some years. Competitors and winners have included locals, out-of-towners, family groups, pregnant women and those that have overcome physical challenges.
In 1984 Lindy Clement of Jackson walked away with the win in the RTH women’s division. At the time, Clement was six-weeks pregnant.
In an interview by Vicksburg Post reporter, Steve Swogetinsky, Clement said, “The last big hill was rough. I was tired when I finished it. But by the time I reached the finish line, I felt great and I was excited to win.”
In 1992, Phillip Walkins of Jackson won his second RTH title. Walkins had hopes at the time of making the Bahamian Olympic team that summer.
Eleven-year-old Ashley Carrillo of Raymond was the top finisher among the women’s division in 2002 and that same year 91-year-old Levi Hutton competed in the 5K walk finishing ahead of 55 other walkers.
Former Vicksburg Post reporter Sean P. Murphy reported in 1997 that local resident Charlie Montague began competing in the 5K-race/walk to control his blood pressure.
Montague, who is a YMCA office administrator, said he began competing in 1994.
“I did that for 24 years and on my 25th year, I started running in the 10K,” Montague said.
2019 will mark Montague’s second year to run in the 10K.
The RTH was all in the family for Sarah Ruth Andrews, her brother Sam and Claire Gamble during the 22nd annual event. The first cousins competed in the 1-Mile Fun Run, with Sam and Claire tying for first place and Sarah Ruth taking second.
But the RTH has been much more than just a race.
In addition to its organizers, through the years there have been hundreds of volunteers who have helped out during the race including the Vicksburg Amateur Radio Club, said Gary Sessums, who along with Rodgers Coffing have been the only two competitors who have never missed a RTH race.
Sessums said the radio club transmits information along the racecourse back to the race director at the finish line with any medical issues.
“And there are water stop volunteers,” Sessums said, “who set up water stops, serve water to runners and clean up the water stop trash after the race.”
There are many volunteers and hours dedicated to stuffing race packets and manning the check-in.
Other long-standing traditions with the RTH include entertainment by The Chill.
“I think the band has played post-race music at almost every RTH. They get runners and family members up and dancing at the post race party,” Sessums said.
And of course, there is the VNMP. Superintendents and staff at the park, Sessums said, are responsible for the safety of runners and park visitors.
Ten years ago, Varner said, the RTH was turned over to the Vicksburg YMCA, and it now serves as one of the organizations fundraisers.
If you go: The 40th Annual Run Thru History is set to begin at 8 a.m. Saturday, March 2. For more information, visit runthruhistory.org/info.html.