Vulcan brings trail races to quarries

By |  July 6, 2017

The haul roads that trucks regularly traverse at Vulcan Materials Co.’s Columbia Quarry are annually transformed into trails that attract hundreds of runners to the aggregate operation in Columbia, South Carolina.

2017 marks the sixth straight year the Columbia Quarry hosted a trail race on the operation’s grounds. In fact, the race has become such a great way for the operation to connect with the local community that Vulcan has transferred the race concept to other company quarries.

Now, six Vulcan quarries host trail races as part of the company’s Quarry Crusher Run Series that stretches from as far east as Baltimore to as far west as San Diego. The proceeds from each race are donated to local groups and organizations.

This year’s race at the Columbia Quarry attracted 802 participants.

“It’s kind of taken on a life of its own,” says Darla Oldham, a plant office administrator who handles the company’s community relations in South Carolina. “It’s been a good way to educate the community about the importance of the aggregates industry.”

Making preparations

Vulcan’s Columbia Quarry in Columbia, South Carolina, was the first company site to host a race. Photos courtesy of Vulcan Materials Co.

The Columbia Quarry, like a number of Vulcan sites, approaches community relations in different ways. Before venturing into trail races, the Columbia Quarry worked closely with the nearby Olympia Community Education Foundation, whose representative approached Vulcan to see if it would consider hosting a 5K run in conjunction with OlympiaFest, an annual festival the foundation puts on.

Originally, the plan for the inaugural Columbia Quarry race was to run down the quarry’s entrance road and into the community. But Jaime Lomas, the owner of Eggplant Events whose company manages the Quarry Crusher Run Series, posed an intriguing idea.

“She asked to see the pit,” says Bob Johnson, the plant manager at the Columbia Quarry, which is located in the village of Olympia. “So I took her down there.”

The idea of running through the quarry enthralled Lomas upon seeing the terrain and the quarry landscape. She sold Johnson on the concept of hosting the race in the quarry, and Johnson got approval from Vulcan.

“Naturally the big concern is safety,” Johnson says.

Transitioning an operational quarry into an environment for 800 runners requires a team effort, Vulcan says. At the Columbia Quarry, Vulcan makes several safety-related preparations ahead of each race, ensuring that roads are smooth for runners and restricted areas are well blocked off.

“All of the employees are on hand that day,” Oldham says. “We have them stand along the route to make sure folks don’t get too close to the sides, especially walkers with their phones who want to take pictures.”

Emergency medical technicians are present in the event of slips and falls while running, Oldham says.

“We also had a safety talk with participants to let them know they were going to run in an active mine,” says Jeff Johnson, the manager of lands and public affairs within Vulcan’s Southern and Gulf Coast Division, referring to a 2016 race at the Dolcito Quarry near Birmingham, Alabama. “We asked them to take direction from people on the scene and to stay away from certain areas. You want to stress safety but you also want everyone to have fun, so we covered that as well.”

Expanding the concept

Photo courtesy of Vulcan Materials Co.

Six Vulcan quarries now draw runners in for trail races in the Quarry Crusher Run Series.

To expand the race series, the event model in place at the Columbia Quarry was one other Vulcan sites could replicate and adapt as they each ventured down the road of establishing a trail race.

Not every quarry site is necessarily a good candidate to host a race, though. Executing a race to the standard Vulcan has set requires a sizable population center from which an event can draw the number of participants it needs to consider the event a success.

That’s why the other races in the Quarry Crusher Run Series are held near metropolitan areas, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Birmingham, San Diego and San Antonio. The races near Atlanta, Baltimore and Birmingham are in their second years, while San Antonio and San Diego host their first races in 2017.

“The uniqueness of the series is that if you participate in one event then you haven’t done all of them,” Jeff Johnson says. “Each mine is unique in the way it’s been developed and in its location. So it’s a different experience with all six of the races we have across the company’s footprint.”

For its inaugural 2016 race, Vulcan attracted 674 runners to the Atlanta-area Norcross Quarry.

“You need a quarry but also a population of folks to participate,” says Carol Landrum, a human resource manager in Vulcan’s Southeast Division who also handles community relations. “I imagine the races in San Diego and San Antonio, with their nature of being metro areas, will do well.”

Landrum had the opportunity to learn from the hosting experiences of the Columbia Quarry. Hosting a race at Vulcan’s Norcross Quarry, for example, meant developing or enhancing partnerships with individuals and organizations that could support the necessary components of a successful race.

Landrum also coordinated with Big Peach Running Co., which helped to promote the event and provided its seven area stores as venues where runners could pick up race day materials. She also worked closely with the local schools, which lent their support.

“The high school last year provided a lot of volunteers,” Landrum says. “We had the cheerleaders at the finish line passing out waters and putting medals on the finishers.”

Local schools were among the beneficiaries of the proceeds raised through the Norcross Quarry race.

Unique outreach

For the Norcross Quarry, its race represents another opportunity to serve the surrounding community – particularly its schools.

“Vulcan’s Norcross Quarry is in the metro Atlanta area in Gwinnett County, which has the largest school system in the state,” Landrum says. “Part of Vulcan’s mission is to give back to the communities in which we operate. Working with local schools is a big part of this mission.”

As examples, Vulcan has supported schools through programs geared toward student achievement and teacher appreciation.

“We meet with the [administration] during the summer to plan activities for the upcoming school year,” Landrum says.

Vulcan is also open to tours of the Norcross Quarry, which hosted more than 1,800 visitors in 2016.

“Those are another way to educate through an outdoor classroom,” Landrum says.

So the races within the Quarry Crusher Run Series are merely another way Vulcan reaches out to the communities it serves.

“It has definitely strengthened our relationship with the community,” says Oldham, who also serves as president of the Olympia Community Education Foundation that receives proceeds from the Columbia Quarry race. “The folks in the community find us very approachable. They’re very complimentary and appreciative of everything Vulcan does, expressing that in letters, emails or even coming in to visit.”


Continuous creativity

Photo: iStock.com/Radionphoto

As if running a race through a quarry isn’t exciting enough, Vulcan Materials puts some fun twists on the trail races in its Quarry Crusher Run Series to keep runners coming back.

Most runners wind through Vulcan quarries one time each in what the company calls its Single Crusher runs (about 3.7 miles), but the company offers a Double Crusher opportunity (7.4 miles) for those interested in a more intense challenge.

Some runners can even challenge themselves by saddling a rucksack on their backs during a race. Those who raced with a rucksack earlier this year at Vulcan’s Columbia Quarry in South Carolina did so in support of Operation Restoration CDC, a nonprofit organization. The mission of Operation Restoration is to educate and assist low-income families in upstate South Carolina with the goal of developing self-sustaining, community-building lifestyles.

“Runners filled [rucksacks] with as much sand as they wanted,” says Darla Oldham, who handles the company’s community relations in South Carolina. “They did it to honor a fallen hero. This was the first time we’ve done that and Operation Restoration CDC was thrilled at the opportunity.”


Quarry Crusher Run Series – 2017

March 25 – Columbia, South Carolina
April 22 – Birmingham, Alabama
May 6 – Atlanta
Sept. 9 – San Antonio
Oct. 14 – Havre de Grace, Maryland
Oct. 28 – San Diego

Learn more about the Quarry Crusher Run Series here.

Kevin Yanik

About the Author:

Kevin Yanik is the editor-in-chief of Pit & Quarry magazine. Yanik can be reached at 216-706-3724 or kyanik@northcoastmedia.net.

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