It is a story about faith, friendship — and perhaps a little fantasy. It is about three people whose ages span 30 years, but whose careers and experiences led them to find this historic town on Maryland's Eastern Shore as the perfect spot to start the next phase of their lives.
Ultimately, they also found one another.
Given the size of St. Michaels, with a little more than 1,000 full-time residents according to the 2010 census, it's not unusual that Mike Kerrigan met Peter Paris. Or that when the two decided last November to establish the first St. Michaels Running Festival, they would bring Sparrow Mahoney Rogers, whom Kerrigan knew from church, on board.
A running festival seemed like a logical fit for a town that hosted thousands for a wooden boat festival years ago and 2,000 people this year for the Carpenter Street Saloon's annualSt. Patrick's Dayshopping-cart race down the main drag.
"I haven't heard any negatives," Town Manager Jean Weisman said . "You certainly have people here who want to continue the local heritage and they're very proud of it. But an event that brings people to fill the hotel rooms and restaurant, the town welcomes that. I've been here 28 years and it's always been that way."
Six months after Paris mentioned a running festival to Kerrigan — first while they were parking cars at a benefit event and later while they worked out together at the local YMCA — the inaugural festival will take place May 19.
Kerrigan credits Paris, a 44-year-old former real estate developer who grew up around Baltimore , with pulling all the details together so quickly.
The details included obtaining permits from the State Highway Administration to briefly close a portion of the state road that runs through town to gaining trust from and cooperation with local officials. They also had to work with police and other emergency responders and had to find some 800, 20-inch traffic cones to line the course.
What started out as a "small event" has grown more rapidly than Paris and Kerrigan anticipated. Though they won't say how many runners they expect, they would not be surprised to get as many as 2,000 for the 8 a.m. start. More than 200 volunteers will work the festival, which begins the night before the race.
"If we have a ... beautiful sunny day, people will get up at 4:30 in the morning and drive down here and we can have hundreds and hundreds of people do registration [that day]," Kerrigan said. "They'll have plenty of time to sign up."
The event, which also will include a concert with two well-known local bands, a private dinner for the first 100 half-marathoners who sign up and a silent auction, will cost more than $100,000 to $150,000 to put on.
"It's going to be a fairly major event for this community," Kerrigan said . "We want to do this every year. We want this to be an annual event and we can grow it every year."
While a majority of the runners will be participating in the 5K and 10K races, there should be a sizable number who will run a half-marathon certified by the American Track and Field Association , meaning their times could be used to qualify for marathons across the country.
There is competition from similar events — last year's inaugural Annapolis Half-Marathon drew 4,000 runners — but Rogers and her partners see a day when their event will become as big a destination for runners as their adopted hometown is for the tourists who come from Memorial Day to Labor Day.
"From what we've heard from some of the runners, we believe this will become the definitive qualifying race for major marathons up and down the East Coast and other places in the U.S.," Rogers said. "This is a serious opportunity for very competitive runners to get the best time they can get."
Paris said the combination of the ATF certification and a flat, mostly straight route has helped attract runners up and down the Eastern seaboard, and from as far away as California. Smiling, Paris is quick to point out that the highest point of the route "is a footbridge with 15-feet elevation."
"A lot of these runners want to establish new [personal records] on this course," Paris said.
Peyton Hoyal, a 23-year-old teacher from outside Atlanta, read about the St. Michaels Running Festival online and signed up with his girlfriend.
Hoyal, who took first place in an NAIA marathon while competing at Berry College in Rome, Ga., said he and his girlfriend, Taylor Gupton, were attracted to the "fast track" he expects and said "we were enchanted by the area."
Having run in "six or seven" other half-marathons over the past couple of years, Hoyal looks forward to his first inaugural event.