'Puffer' is road race with a cause

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Participants in Saturday's Pinch Gut Puffer 7.5K cross country race will have the chance to relive a piece of Augusta history while helping out local athletes.

A large portion of the profits from this year's event will go toward sending members of Greenbrier High School's boys and girls cross country teams to the Nike Running Camp in Asheville, N.C. Those who attend the camp will gain exposure to college scouts as well as receive top-notch training on how to become a more efficient runner. This is the second year in a row that the race has served the Wolfpack in this way. In all, eight runners were able to make the trip in 2008.

"There are just so many coaches there," said junior Joey Castillo, who took part in last year's camp. "Plus it gets you motivated to run. You see people there that are already in college and they tell you about it. It just makes you want it that much more."

"In the big picture, this is going to give high school kids the opportunity to go to camp and learn more about running and to get exposure to college coaches," said Greenbrier coach Katie Smallwood. "That's really important to us."

Saturday will mark the 30th time that the Pinch Gut Puffer has been run through the streets of downtown Augusta. The race, founded in 1978, was held annually until 2007, at which time the organization of the race was turned over to Scott McWhorter, of the Augusta Striders Running Club.

"Things had kind of waned and organizationally it kind of broke down, so in 2007 they decided not to do it," McWhorter said. "In December of that year, we were looking to put on a race to benefit the cross country team and they said, 'Well, why don't you take over the Pinch Gut?' So we took it over."

The race gets its name from Pvt. Robert J. Puffer and the downtown area, Pinch Gut, so named because of the hourglass shaped women of the 18th and 19th centuries. The area is better known as Olde Town.

According to legend, Pvt. Puffer ran messages between two American Revolutionary War battalions who were preparing to march on British forts located on what is now Reynolds Street. On May 28, 1781, the 19-year-old Puffer volunteered to relay messages to begin the attack from Gen. Andrew Pickens, located near the area where the race now starts, the Standard Textile-King Mill, to Gen. "Light Horse" Harry Lee and Col. Elijah Clark near what is now Sandbar Ferry Road. He did so in 28 minutes and on June 5, 1781, both British forts were captured.

"It's a unique race because it's got a lot of history involved. It's about the Battle of Augusta and it celebrates that," McWhorter said. "You don't usually get to run this type of course in the city. It encompasses Riverwalk, Riverwatch (Parkway) and the Augusta Canal."

In honor of Puffer, the top male and female who can complete the course in the time of 28 minutes or less dressed in a Revolutionary War-era costume will receive a cash prize. Smallwood said that in her many years running in the race, she's never seen anyone try to attempt the feat.

The race will begin at 9 a.m. and will end at St. Paul's Episcopal Church. Registration is $12 for military, students and Augusta Striders members when registering online at www.pinchgutpuffer.com. Cost is $20 otherwise. Race packets will be available for pickup at the Augusta Museum of History on Reynolds Street.

Reach Joey Jones at joey.jones@augustachronicle.com.


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