The 2021 edition of the RUN Country Fest & 5k in Nevada is now in the books, after a spring Saturday filled with exercise, live music, and perfect weather.
RUN, short for Runners United Nevada, was launched in 2018. The founding group’s aim was to give local runners an organized line of races, while also benefitting the local community. “A few years ago, we started a runners group,” RUN Board of Directors President Dane Nealson explained prior to Saturday’s event. “Nevada has had a couple of 5k events that have been ongoing for years. We didn’t really have an official group that was organizing these races, so it just made sense to file as a non-profit organization.”
The evolution of RUN’s ideas was met with some adversity last year following the outset of the Covid-19 pandemic. Country sensation Bryan White had been scheduled to appear at the event in spring of 2020, but the date was altered to a fall plan due to the virus. Still, though, the threat of Covid-19 raged on, and White’s appearance got cancelled altogether for the year. But with ambitious determination and loyal sponsors, the organization found a way to reschedule White’s appearance for May 2021, this time with fellow 90’s act Wade Hayes.
“It just shows the vibrancy we have in this community and the support we have from the business community, in doing something for the public like this,” Nevada Mayor Brett Barker said on Saturday. “We, as Runners United Nevada, raise tens of thousands of dollars a year. And most of the money that we are able to donate comes from sponsorship support. The support we have gotten from our sponsors has helped us to run a really professional event, especially for a town our size.”
The RUN Country Fest & 5k is dedicated to raising funds for The Nevada Foundation, which is fueling many of the town’s community projects. “The first major project that we’re working on right now is the Nevada Fieldhouse project,” Barker explained last month. “We have also been talking with the Historical Society about Evergreen Lane upkeep and other projects throughout the community.” The Nevada Foundation also helped throughout 2020 with pandemic relief for those in need of assistance within the community.
Nealson had also echoed similar sentiments regarding the city’s group of loyal businesses. “We have been really, really fortunate with the business community here in Nevada and the amount of financial support they have given,” he noted. “Burke has been an incredible supporter of our activities. They are our presenting sponsor, but we have a lot of others as well. Van Wall was very instrumental in getting Wade Hayes added to the ticket.”
The event started on Saturday with the 5k run, which began and ended at Billy Sunday Field, near the corner of West Third Street and West I Avenue. Hundreds gathered at 3:30 p.m. for check-in, readying themselves for the over three-mile run. Included in the group was country music star Bryan White, who helped finish the day off by means of a duo performance with Hayes inside Bob Williams Arena at the Story County Fairgrounds.
Hayes, who did not run in the 5k itself, spoke to StoryCounty.News just after the runners took off. As an Oklahoma native, he asserted that the reception he received from Nevada locals made him feel right at home. “It’s been an awesome day,” he said. “I got hung up in Chicago for a little while, but still got here pretty early. It’s been a beautiful day and a beautiful drive up here from Des Moines. Everybody is very kind and very polite, just like you would expect people in Iowa to be. I have got some longtime friends and fans from this state. And I actually have some family from Shenandoah. Very, very nice, wonderful people here.”
When asked why he was not running in the 5k, Hayes stated that a years-old injury dictated his decision. “Believe it or not, I was a runner for many years,” he confessed. “I actually ended up tearing my ACL [anterior cruciate ligament] completely in two. So, it is torched.” The injury occurred when Hayes tried jumping off a stage to sign his autograph for a fan after a show. Hayes proceeded to land in a hole, which caused the tear. He had a surgery done shortly after the accident to “straighten out” his leg. However, the demands of life as a performer have prevented Hayes from pursuing further surgery and rehab to completely fix the issue. Still, Hayes appreciated all of the festivities prepared by RUN organizers.
Nealson said Monday that 127 participants ran in the 5k, with a combined race and concert attendance of approximately 300. White impressed with his running ability, with a final race time appearing to be situated within the upper third of all finishers.
After the run, local country musician Neil Hewitt, along with Chris Patterson and Spencer Braly, opened for the main acts of White and Hayes. Hewitt met with StoryCounty.News shortly after his performance to speak on the significance of the entire event. As he made clear, Hewitt is just another example of the strain the pandemic placed on performers. Now, he is finally beginning to foresee a payoff for his perseverance. “I grew up here in Nevada,” he said. “I hadn’t played here in awhile. And I think everyone was just getting a little stir-crazy, so it just feels good to come back out and perform for people live.”
“Last year, I took probably a 30% hit as far as business goes, because live music is one of the ‘least essential’ things you can do, and only essential things were allowed. So, being in the entertainment business, that was the first thing to go when the pandemic hit. We got by, but it definitely was not fun. It’s a lot better this year, and I’m booked solid this summer. It feels great.”
Following Hewitt’s appearance, White and Hayes took the stage together, rotating back and forth in performing most of their numerous Top 10 hits.
Throughout much of the evening, three food trucks served people a wide array of dinner options, including sandwiches and barbecue-style meals. Smokin Critters BBQ, Comfort Food of Huxley, and Ally’s Sandwiches and Wraps were all set up just to the north of the music venue. A beer garden was also active just inside the arena itself.
At the end of the evening, White and Hayes lined up at the west end of the arena to take pictures with and sign autographs for fans.
Barker, who also served as an organizer for the event, stood impressed with Saturday’s turnout, especially that of the race itself. “It was the largest running event that we have had in recent memory here,” he stated. “Definitely the largest one that I have been a part of, and I have been doing races for 8 or 9 years now.”
After last year’s altered races, Barker sees this event’s success as evidence that the public health emergency that has plagued Story County for the last 14 months is finally heading in a positive direction. “We were able to have races last year, but we had to modify them significantly, doing wave starts, contactless pickup, and we couldn’t do awards ceremonies,” he acknowledged. “It just wasn’t the same. To be able to do it the old-fashioned way [Saturday] was really, really nice. And people really have an appetite for music. Just that human element that we have all been missing over the last year and a half. My day job is as a pharmacist, and we have worked so hard to vaccinate thousands of people through my organization here in Story County. And this is why…events like this.”
According to Barker, the positive results of this year’s RUN Country Fest & 5k, which is just the start of RUN’s four-race 2021 series, also signal the importance of continued vaccination efforts. He used the opportunity to put in another plug for Story County residents to go get inoculated. He understands how some vaccine misinformation has caused trepidation on the part of many within the area. But, as he put it, the shots are what help everyone get to a point where events like Saturday’s can become more of the norm again.
“The [vaccine] safety data is incredible,” Barker relayed. “There was just a lot of government red tape that was eliminated. The safety things that needed to be done were done. The studies were done. And now we have real world studies with millions of people vaccinated. If you would have told me when this thing started that we would have vaccines this safe, this effective, and this fast, I don’t think I would have believed you. It definitely was the best-case scenario. I just can’t say enough about how incredible that is.”
Runners United Nevada, its Board of Directors, and its runners, along with every performer and patron that attended on Saturday, have reason to be proud. And with the tireless vaccination effort from healthcare workers everywhere, all central Iowans have been given a bright light of hope that events like Saturday’s RUN Country Fest & 5k can soon become the widespread norm again.