Home Lifestyle Runners brave bitter temps in Rockingham run on Christmas Eve

Runners brave bitter temps in Rockingham run on Christmas Eve

Participants in the Choppy Warburton Black Bottle Run on Christmas Eve pose together at the Hitchcock Creek Greenway. Contributed photo

ROCKINGHAM — Eighteen runners braved the subfreezing temperatures Christmas Eve morning to participate in the second annual Choppy Warburton Black Bottle Run.

According to Mayor John Hutchinson, who organized the event with help from the Mangum Track Club, it was 14 degrees — with a wind chill factor just one degree above zero — when the fun run kicked off at the Hitchcock Greenway at 8 a.m.

“It was brutally cold,” Hutchinson said Tuesday.

Last year’s run was also cold — 33 degrees at the start and only 37 when they finished the 6.2-mile hilly route. There was still frost on the ground — and on some of their toboggans — when they returned.

Hutchinson’s oldest son John Patrick ran the trail portion of the route before joining his father riding along the road portion to check on the other runners. His only comment was that it was “very cold.”

“Saturday’s temperature was the coldest I have run in,” said Mangum Track Club member Mark Long. “Without a doubt, it makes running a bit of a challenge to do it in those low temps.

For me, the hard part is keeping the hands and face warm enough,” Long added. “You know it’s mighty cold when you remove the bandana or face cover from your face and it freezes solid.”

Some of the other runners were also local, including attorney Tommy Nichols — who ran in shorts — and members of the Richmond Senior High School track team, while there were others from outside Richmond County and one from Michigan, according to Hutchinson.

The run is named in honor of James “Choppy” Warburton, a British champion long-distance runner who ran a 6.5-mile exhibition in Rockingham on Christmas Eve in 1880.

Warburton, from Lancashire, England, won hundreds of races in his home country and made his way to the U.S. in the late 1800s. His brother, George, was a boss in the Pee Dee textile mill, which is how he wound up in Richmond County.


Choppy also reportedly challenged to race against the local sheriff’s horse — but the sheriff declined, according to Hutchinson.

Newspaper records show the afternoon temp on the day of Choppy’s late 19th century run was 47 degrees.

The route takes runners around the park’s loop, up Love Lane and through the hills of the Richmond Park neighborhood — including a jaunt down “Warbutron” Street (it’s supposed to be “Warburton” but is spelled incorrectly on the sign) — and eventually to Randolph before ending back at the Greenway.

Hutchinson said that as a sometimes-runner and local history lover, “you get to tie all of that together into one event.”

“The Choppy run is truly a gem for runners,” said Long. “It is an old school running event that ties some of Richmond County history in with it. I really like that John does that.
“The location is perfect for the event since it includes the trail that passes by the Split Rock where Choppy carved his initials back in 1880 or there about,” Long continued. “Running events like the Choppy run are the true essence of running, no matter what the weather is like that day.”

Each participant received a T-shirt and tumbler — and a commemorative black bottle. Choppy was reportedly known for his black bottles, which some people speculated contained a performance-enhancing cocktail made of caffeine, cocaine and strychnine.

The run, which Hutchinson plans to continue as an annual event, is intended “to be a social run, not a race … about fun and getting together the day before Christmas.”

The bitter temps, the mayor added, “just gives us something we can talk about when we get together next year.”

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Managing Editor William R. Toler is an award-winning writer and photographer with experience in print, television and online media.