PHILADELPHIA -- Gritty may not be much of a runner, but he sure knows how to put on a race.
More than 2,500 racers donned orange fur, googly eyes and other Philadelphia Flyers mascot-related regalia while participating in the inaugural Gritty 5K on Sunday.
Gritty led the pre-race stretching, and former Flyers forward Scott Hartnell was on hand to cheer the runners. The race benefited Flyers Charities, which supports nonprofits that provide educational and recreational resources to underserved youth, engage in important medical and healthcare research and promote community investment initiatives in the Greater Philadelphia region.
Runners were boosted by the "Rocky" theme and as they took off from the Wells Fargo Center parking lot, and the route went south past the scenic Navy Yard and along the Delaware River before looping back to the arena.
The race, true to the namesake's nature, was hardly conventional and had a slew of quirky diversions along the way. Children sprayed racers with silly string, and there was a shrine to Flyers captain Claude Giroux, where fans were encouraged to pay "respeks" and bow to "the king."
Some racers were pushed to "Crawl like Claw'd" and crabwalk on their hands. There was a basketball court where fans were encouraged to take shots and a "Wooder Stop" for fans to get rehydrated. At the three-mile mark racers were given hot dogs before finishing back at the Wells Fargo Center parking lot.
Gritty mingled and posed for pictures with swooning fans after the race, while others played street hockey, cornhole and other tailgate-style games.
"It was the funniest race I've ever run," said Kerry Rose of South Philadelphia, a self-proclaimed marathoner who has participated in dozens of races. "I'm not so much a sports fan as I am a Gritty fan, and he delivered. We met him. I met him in the flesh."
Paula Wright and her friend Melissa Lenhard traveled from Wilmington, Delaware to run the race. Wright convinced Lenhard, a Flyers fan of 45 years, to participate in their first run because of Gritty.
"I'm a little bit of a Gritty fan, and I like to have a little fun, and I'm not a runner but I'm a funner, so I didn't want to miss the fun," Wright said. "We are big Flyers fans, and we had to be where the action was at, and it was fun and different, and I like to be silly."
Gritty, donning bib No. 1, declared himself the winner at the post-race awards and earned the honors after defeating the race's first-place finisher, Kevin Corbusier of Haverford, Pennsylvania, in a staring contest where he distracted Corbusier by spraying him in the face with silly string.
Lori Kile of Blackwood, Pennsylvania was honored as the last-place finisher and given a prize of Flyers tickets and a can of nacho cheese. Cailin Ryan, 8, earned a Flyers gift bag by winning the "Best Knitty Gritty" award.
There were hundreds of spectacular Gritty costumes on the course, but the group of Josh Weichmann, his wife Rachele, Jeff Rappleye, Steve Reynolds, Carl Dolente and Bruce Quinn took home the coveted "Best in Fur" costume and an inflatable Gritty with their incredible costume dubbed "The Grit-a-pillar."
All five participants wore and "raced" in he giant caterpillar costume with a Gritty head, which took more than three weeks to create. It was made of "spray foam, chicken wire, old T-shirts, PVC pipe and grit," according to Weichmann.
"It feels amazing," Weichmann said of winning the award. "I'm just honored, and we had a blast. It was fun to be here with all the other awesome costumes."
Weichmann, the owner of Rosebear Arts in Franklinville, New Jersey, ran the race in lockstep with his friends while inside the costume. Neither he nor his friends have done a race before but were on board when they learned that Gritty's race was the anti-runner's 5K.
"I liked that it was the non-runners 5K. It gives a little relaxation to guys like me that don't run," Weichmann said. "Generally, I don't believe in running, but you can come out here and run a little if you want or walk or do whatever you want and just have a great time."