ROCKINGHAM — Newly installed Mayor John Hutchinson is calling for participants to lace up their sneakers and celebrate the city’s first long-distance run — more than 140 years ago.
The inaugural Choppy Warburton Black Bottle Social Run is named in honor of James “Choppy” Warburton, a champion long-distance runner who ran a 6.5-mile exhibition in Rockingham on Christmas Eve in 1880.
“For a guy who usually ran 20 or more miles, it was a short workout,” Hutchinson said about Warburton. “Choppy propbaby wanted to get straight to the eggnog afterwards. Or, maybe, to the secret combination of things he drank from his infamous black bottles.”
Earlier in the week, Hutchinson wrote a Facebook post about the Englishman’s history and ties to Richmond County.
Some of Warburton’s running accomplishments included covering 10 miles in less than an hour and winning a bet that he could lap 20 miles in less than two hours — which he completed with four minutes to spare, according to Hutchinson.
“As far as anyone knew, it was a European record,” Hutchinson said, adding a quote from the newspaper in Blackburn, Lancashire:
“When he had completed the distance there was little outward indication of his being exhausted, and he laughed and shook hands with the friends who surrounded him.”
Choppy came to America during the summer of 1880 and, after challenging some of the top runners in New England, made his way to Richmond County to visit his brother, George, who was a boss in the Pee Dee textile mill.
Described as “an almost world-renowned athlete,” by the Rockingham newspaper at the time, Hutchinson writes that Choppy donned his tights — “(the) first runner in town…and, probably, the first local man to wear tights” — and logged 6.5 miles in 45 minutes making laps downtown.
Choppy also reportedly challenged to race against the local sheriff’s horse — but the sheriff declined, according to Hutchinson.
“Then, as now, his success bred suspicion: Choppy always had a little black bottle of an unknown substance,” Hutchinson writes. “Some speculated it was a mixture of caffeine, cocaine, and strychnine, an early performance-enhancing cocktail.”
While in town, Choppy carved his initials into a rock overlooking the Pee Dee Mill pond, according to Hutchinson.
Warburton, who was also a cycling coach, died in England at the age of 52 — nearly 17 years after his fleet-footed feat in Rockingham.
To commemorate this bit of history, the route — laid out by Mangum Track Club members Jerry Lindstrand, Mark Long and Rosemary Torres Baxley — will start at Hitchcock Creek and cover “a ridiculously hilly 6.2 miles,” according to Hutchinson.
The event, which is open to everyone, starts at 8 a.m. and will be an untimed social run, with one of the houses along the route offering water for the runners.