ROCKINGHAM — There was frost on the ground Friday morning when more than 40 runners crossed the first footbridge at the Hitchcock Creek Greenway for the inaugural Choppy Warburton Black Bottle Run.
With it being 33 degrees at the start around 8 a.m., and only 37 when they finished, there was still frost on the ground — and on some of their toboggans — when they returned.
The run, organized by Rockingham Mayor John Hutchinson with help from the Mangum Track Club, 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.
Hutchinson, donning a fake mustache, was dressed as the namesake historical character.
Warburton was a champion runner from Lancashire, England, who, after winning hundreds of races in his home country, made his way across the pond to the U.S. in the late 1800s.
Some of Warburton’s fleet-footed feats 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.
Warburton’s brother, George, was a boss in the Pee Dee textile mill, which is how he wound up in Richmond County.
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.
Friday’s 6.2-mile run took participants 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.
Some of the runners were locals, but others came from surrounding Moore, Montgomery and Stanly counties, as well as from Raleigh and Charlotte, to take part.
The participants received 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.
“It was very successful,” Hutchinson said as some of the final runners made their way back. “We had between 40 and 50 runners to show up. Some in came in costume, which was nice. And I think everybody really enjoyed the social run.”
Being a “fun run,” it wasn’t a timed event.
Hutchinson said he plans to make it an annual event for the city.