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Camp prepares for annual River Valley Run

Runners at the annual River Valley Run will have all the classic race options to choose from, as well as a couple of new trails.

The run will be the eighth iteration of the event, said Jon Bisset, executive director of River Valley Ranch and one of the race directors, and will feature the Kids Stampede for ages 5 to 12, the original 5K that started it all and the 10K, a nationally-acclaimed long-distance trail run.

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In remembrance of the tragic death of River Valley Ranch camper Justin Nicholas Diggs, of Pikesville, who was killed during a storm July 8, the race directors also decided to add a moment of silence before the start of the 15K, 10K and 5K races, Race Director Anna Lanford said.

The race directors added two new trails this year, Bisset said. The 10K, which was added the second year of the event, has received national attention, being rated the No. 4 10K in America by SeriousRunning.com, as well as being ranked one of the top ten 10K races in the country by Active.com. The immense popularity of the run convinced the directors the only way to accommodate all the runners this year would be to create another trail, Bisset said. Based on runner feedback, he said they decided to add a longer run, one where participants would need to focus on endurance rather than speed to complete.

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One such runner, Josh Itzoe, ran the 10K for the first time last year and said the trail was fantastic, with a lot of features unique to the area that made it more difficult than most people expected.

"I ran it a lot faster than I anticipated I was going to," Itzoe said. "I ran with a neighbor of mine, who didn't train on trails, and he paid the price for it."

This year, Itzoe said he will be participating in the 15K, and he is excited about the challenge.

"I'm not nervous, but I'm anxiously waiting for what the additional length of about three miles will do to the run," he said.

The second addition to the event this year is the Toddler Trot, a race designed for children aged 2 to 5 which will circle the area used for Kidsfest, a post-race event for children. Bisset said the River Valley Run was also named by Active.com as one of the 10 best races to do with your kids in the nation, and to maintain that reputation, the directors decided to create a race enabling children of all ages to participate.

While the races are going on, two roads adjacent to the campgrounds will be partially closed to allow runners to cross without risk of injury: Shaffer Mill Road from Grave Run Road to just before Lineboro Road, roughly a quarter mile; and Grave Run Road from just before Roller Road to Shaffer Mill Road, about a 3/4-mile stretch.

The camp has also made efforts to go green, Bisset said. For the past three years, it has partnered with A Fit Planet, an organization that works with running events to help them become environmentally friendly by providing a list of requirements and suggested tips. The organization then rates the event director's efforts and makes the decision whether it qualifies as a certified green event.

"We understand we are in a pristine part of the county and we believe we are to be stewards of the areas God has given us to manage," Bisset said.

The event has received this rating for the fourth straight year by making some very simple changes to the typical race format, Bisset said, such as using reusable cups and coolers, recycled paper for brochures and using a hybrid pace car, among other things.

The run was created to act as a fundraiser for the camp and its scholarship program, Bisset said, and since its inception, it has grown to become the largest fundraiser of the year. To attend camp, the cost is around $600 per child, and the camp was able to grant 239 scholarship applications last year, 31 of them as a direct result of the run — or about $15,500. The scholarship awards each recipient with $500 and requests that just the last $100 is paid.

The number of participants has increased from 200 runners since the event's inaugural year in 2007 to expectations of 1,700 this year: 220 for the 15K; 800-900 for the 10K; 500-600 for the 5K; 100 for the Kids Stampede; and 50 for the Toddler Trot. Bisset said the number of runners could have been larger but the directors decided to keep the 15K small for several reasons, not the least of which is to ensure the safety of the participants on such a long and difficult course, Bisset said. As a result, it has been sold out for about a month.

"We are doing a limited run for [the 15K]," he said. "We are trying to see how people like it. It's going to be tough."

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Sponsorship for the run has also increased significantly, Bisset said. After the run, Itzoe said he was so impressed with the mission of River Valley Ranch and the opportunities the camp provided that he wanted to do more for them.

"I offered to help in any way I can, and one of the opportunities was to be a sponsor, and I jumped at the opportunity," Itzoe said.

Participants can also help bring in funding by becoming "ForRunners," Bisset said. To increase the incentive for people to raise money on their own, the directors decided to create a VIP tent, which anyone who participates as a ForRunner can go to and relax after the race. Anyone who collects $200 will have access to a hot meal and a massage, while those who raise $500 will also get a ride on the camp's zip line. The participant who collects the most for the fundraiser will win an iPad Air, Bisset said.

The addition of races, increased sponsorship and the incentive for bringing in additional funding has helped grow the scholarship program tremendously in recent years, Bisset said.

"Five years ago, we probably fulfilled about 100 scholarship requests," he said.

Bisset said he would one day like to be able to fulfill every grant request the camp receives, but in order to do that, the run will need to continue to grow. The tricky part, he said, is finding a balance between size and simplicity.

"We want the event to continue to grow in popularity while at the same time maintain the integrity that everyone has grown to love," he said.

Reach staff writer Wiley Hayes at 410-857-3315 or email him at wiley.hayes@theadvocateofcc.com.

If you go

What: River Valley Ranch's eighth annual River Valley Run

Where: River Valley Ranch, 4443 Grave Run Road, Millers

When: 8 a.m.-noon Aug. 16

Cost: $40 for the 5K; $50 for the 10K; $28 for the Kids Stampede; and $20 for the Toddler Trot. The fee for the Kids Fun Run and the Toddler Trot includes admittance to Kidsfest, a post-race event for children. The top three finishers in each of the age categories — 12 years and younger, 13-19, 20-29, 30-39, 40-49, 50-59 and 60 and older — will be awarded medals.

For more information, contact River Valley Ranch at 443-712-1010.

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