With eight races and more than 6,000 runners a year, Coastal Race Productions keeps Brunswick County moving.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY Genie Leigh Photography
Ten years ago Johnna Terragna ran her first marathon. Crossing that finish line meant way more to her than ticking an item off a to-do list. Running gave her a profoundly different roadmap for how to live.
Terragna’s passion for running began as a youngster during a trip to Chicago, where she watched in awe as the Chicago Marathon took place. But it was her personal battle in overcoming cancer that was the catalyst to start running herself. Reflecting on things she had always wanted to do but had never tried, she set a goal to run a marathon. The training for the race was just the thing she needed to heal her body and soul after her cancer treatments.
“I led a pretty defeated life for a very long time,” Terragna says. “When I first started training, I didn’t realize if I was running away from things or running toward something.” Either way, it was running that helped pull her out of the dark times.
Terragna began running with a group that helped keep her motivated and encouraged her to get in her run times. “I became smitten with the running community,” she says. “They were so supportive.” Through running clubs and races, she found teammates, partners, friends and a future opportunity.
Her first race was out of town, and she noticed that it wasn’t put together very well: not enough hydration options, poor route markers, misplaced volunteers and logistical issues. But the lack of organization didn’t dissuade her from future runs. In fact, it prompted her to start her own race series, Coastal Race Productions, along with her co-founder and son-in-law, David Hutnik.
Four years ago Coastal Race Productions hosted its first race, Run Sunset Beach, with about 500 runners. Today they host eight races a year — four Big Ass Medal (BAM for short) races and four holiday-themed races with more than 6,000 runners. They expect 8,000 to 10,000 runners in their 2018 series. All of its BAM series, including the 5Ks, half marathons and full marathons, are USATF certified and sanctioned.
“We have people from 40 different states participating in our races,” Hutnik says. “Also, we have people from other countries, including Canada, Mexico and Brazil, who have participated.”
Runners come to the area to run the races, but they stay to enjoy the beaches and they eat and shop while they are here. Since all of Coastal Race Production’s events are held during the shoulder season between Labor Day and Memorial Day when tourism and business is slow, this means increased financial opportunities for local merchants.
“We’re currently doing an economic impact study with the Brunswick County Chamber of Commerce to see the impact that our races have on our local community,” Hutnik says. “We also have a lot of marketing opportunities for merchants interested in getting their names out there.”
Just what attracts people to the area for these races? Hutnik believes it’s a combination of the Big Ass Medals, the quality production of each and every event, and their family-friendly philosophy. “We have the world’s largest race series medal,” he says. “Each medal is nearly seven inches, and every one of our racers gets one.”
Producing well-organized events is paramount to Coastal Race Production’s business model. Terragna and Hutnik both devote more than full-time hours overseeing every detail. “On race day things just don’t happen to fall into place,” Terragna says. “It’s a big commitment, but it’s one we’re both passionate about.”
Terragna and Hutnik take care of the day-to-day operations, but come race day, they wouldn’t be able to manage if it wasn’t for the help of their own run-loving family, including David’s wife, Jackie, their 10-year-old daughter, Addie, and Terragna’s husband, Terry. “It’s truly a family business,” Terragna says. “They pick up all the pieces that we need them to and more. But we’re also always welcoming volunteers from the community as well.”
The close-knit, family-inspired feeling of inclusiveness is a thread that runs all the way through to the Coastal Race Production participants. In all of its BAM series races, all running paces are welcome. Each race is walker-friendly, stroller-friendly and very family-friendly. “Our holiday series is also pet-friendly,” Hutnik says.
As if their schedules weren’t already packed, Terragna and Hutnik recently launched Run CRP, a weekly running club with four locations to make it easier for people to participate: Oak Island, Shallotte, Ocean Isle Beach and Sunset Beach. For those who’ve thought about running but are having difficulty finding the motivation, Run CRP welcomes every pace, whether you want to get out of the house and complete your first mile or you want to train for a whole marathon.
Coastal Race Productions is more than just a race series and a running club. They work with the chambers of commerce as well as local nonprofits to raise money and awareness for a variety of causes and charities. “Every race in the BAM series supports one main nonprofit,” Hutnik says. “Plus we spread out smaller support to several other nonprofits. That’s 16 nonprofits all together.”
Many who run races aren’t just running a distance, they’re running to accomplish things in their lives. They’re also running to memorialize someone else or they are running for someone else. Once fulfilling her own goal to overcome trauma and illness, Terragna now hopes to help others cross the finish line, physically and emotionally. “It’s a journey getting there and to be a part of that is truly inspiring,” she says. “I like to say that while cancer may have changed my life, running saved it.”
Want to run?
Coastal Race Productions has several more races coming up in 2017:
Run Sunset Beach on May 20
Run Holden Beach on September 9
Run Ocean Isle Beach on October 7
Holiday Series – Dates TBA
Shallotte Trick or Trot 5K
Calabash 5K Turkey Trot
Southport Ugly Sweater 5K
Sunset New Year’s Plunge 5K