43rd Rhody Run off to the races

A map of the first Rhody Run route in 1979. Then, Mark Walton nears the finish line at the second annual Rhody Run in 1980. Walton remembered hearing loud booms during the race and was surprised when he learned that Mt. St. Helens had blown while he was running.

Event has been festival tradition since 1979

May 21, 2022 — The Rhody Run, a Rhododendron Festival tradition, will celebrate its 43rd running this year. The annual race has been run every year since 1979 except 2020, when COVID-19 canceled the competition.

The Rhody Run has had many different routes through the years, but the goal has always been the same — to stage a competitive road race through Florence and at the same time raise some money for charity.

The race was initially sponsored by the Florence Booster Club and Delta Gamma Sorority. The first race was a fundraiser for the Easter Seals Society.

Florence resident Tami Nivens spearheaded the organizing of the first race, which was held May 20, 1979. 111 runners entered Rhody Run I. The winner of the first-ever Rhody Run was Dave Holmes of Veneta, who finished the 10k course in 30:26. The top woman in the first Rhody Run was Kim Krause of Eugene who covered the distance in 40:23.

The first race was considered a success when it raised about $100 for Easter Seals. 

The second running of the race, in 1980, happened to fall on an important day in Oregon history. 

Mark Walton grew up in Florence and was excited to come home for leave from the Navy while his hometown’s yearly floral festival was happening. He entered the Rhody Run.

“I ran the 1980 Rhody Run,” remembered Walton. “Thought the loud booms were loggers blasting but found out from my ex-wife and mom that Mt. St. Helens blew!”

Tim Williams of Lebanon won that second race and was the first to break the half hour mark when he finished in 29:55.

Steve Stuart of Eugene won the race in 1981 and 1982 to become the first runner to win consecutive races.

The 1985 Rhody Run was a more somber than normal event as it was dedicated to Nivens, who had recently passed after battling cancer. Racers wore shirts that said, “This one’s for you Tami.”

The route of race has changed often through the years, but the race has always been a 10k. A 5k race was added in early years and is still part of the Rhody Run today.

For the second time, Florence Habitat for Humanity is this year’s sponsor of the Rhody Run, which is today (Saturday, May 21), and is a USA Track & Field sanctioned race. This race is enjoyed by runners and walkers of all ages. People can also participate by volunteering to help race officials or line the streets to cheer on every runner and walker.

Fee is $25 for ages 18 and older, $20 for ages 13-17 and $15 for ages 12 and younger. A $5 additional fee is charged for race day registration.

Check-in begins at 7:30 a.m. and an awards ceremony is scheduled for 10:15 a.m.

Medals will be awarded for the top three in each of five age groups for both male and female entrants.

Rhody Run T-shirts are available for $20 on race day. The event is a fundraiser for Habitat. 

For more information, visit florencehabitat.org.