After 10 years, the Arbuckles to Ardmore race will have run its course.
This year’s A2A, slated for March 31, will mark the final time runners, walkers, and the Ardmore community come together to raise money for the Mercy Cancer Center in Ardmore. A2A founder Alison Smalley said the wind down is bittersweet, but timely.
“Here we are at the end, and it’s just been a wonderful thing,” Smalley said. “I’ve been so blessed in so many ways. There’s people I’ve met I wouldn’t have met otherwise, people in the community who came together who wouldn’t have otherwise, and to have the facility we have, that serves this whole area, that’s just tremendous.”
A2A is somewhat unique among charity runs because it’s entirely volunteer-run. For larger races in larger cities, money raised must also cover operational costs and employees’ wages.
“At one point, I think most races were volunteer,” Smalley said. “But all races in major cities are run by businesses, and they’re owned.”
The volunteers are the reason the race has been able to generate so much money for the cancer center, but Smalley said that aspect of A2A is a double-edged sword. The race needs about 600 volunteers to run smoothly, and most if not all of them have been doing it for years.
“I was originally told, ‘Well, you know small towns don’t do marathons,’”  Smalley said. “The reason is, if you think about it, because it takes hundreds of people to support a marathon. You just don’t have a big pool to pull from. People are tired. It’s just gotten harder and harder to recruit 600 volunteers.”
A2A has averaged about $100,000 each year for the cancer center. Smalley said this year, their goal is to hit that threshold one more time for a total of just over $1 million raised over 10 years.
“It’s not that we’re quitting, it’s just that we don’t want it to diminish to where it isn’t a high-quality race anymore,” Smalley said.
A different event could take the spot, but the A2A itself will conclude.
“That would be wonderful if someone would take it and go now with it, but it would not be the A2A again,” Smalley said.
Smalley said she started out raising money for the American Cancer Society, but eventually felt motivated to form something that would benefit the Ardmore community specifically. Several of her family members had cancer, and she’d experienced the devastation it can wreak firsthand.
Her father, who passed away the year before the first A2A, received treatment in Mercy Hospital’s original cancer center.
“They were so sweet and wonderful to him there, but our town needed a better facility, and I was thrilled when Mercy announced one was going to be built here,” Smalley said.
She decided the new center would be her focus, and set out finding sponsors for the event, explaining that she wanted to do something for Ardmore’s cancer patients and their families.
“That struck a cord with sponsors,” she said. “People were thrilled to give money when they could drive by the cancer center and see it being built. Unfortunately, everyone knows someone who’s been effected by cancer.”
Smalley said many people donated in someone’s name, volunteered or ran the 5K in memory of a lost loved one. Those who didn’t run it walked, sometimes wearing T-shirts in remembrance of someone. The community of runners in Ardmore took up the cause as well, dedicating time to the planning and ensuring the marathon course would be a certified Boston Marathon qualifier.
The route, from the Arbuckle Mountains to Noble Stadium in Ardmore, was designed to show off the best scenery surrounding the city, following a scenic path through Turner Falls, through Ardmore Regional Park and, in one section, through a horse ranch belonging to Jud Little.
“The runners love it,” Smalley said. “They love the horses running along with them along the fence.”
The stadium also gives onlookers a convenient place to wait, as well as a place for runners to recover after completing the route.
“What we hope this last year is that people remember what a community-wide event this has been, and what a blessing this has been to people who volunteered and participated,” Smalley said.
Smalley said she hopes former runners, walkers, volunteers and supporters will all come out, don A2A shirts, and give the event a proper send-off.
“We realize that it’s time for it to end,” Smalley said. “It’s sad something so successful has to come to an end.”
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