At most road races, the numbers on bibs pinned to runners' shirts allow timers to identify runners at the finish line. Often, bibs also contain hidden electronic chips which allow race organizers to provide accurate timing and designate winners.
There were no numbers on the runners' bibs at last Saturday's Get Heeled 5K. No timing chips to designate the winners.
But personalized messages, written by many runners on their bibs, still paid proud tribute -- some in memoriam -- to courageous competitors in a different struggle.
"When you go to registration, they give you bibs without numbers on them, since it's not a timed race," said Michelle Aguiar, who participated with her son Nuno and his friend George Ernest, both 10. "You can do basically whatever you want on them: '...in memory of,' 'in honor of'..."
Run from UNC's Friday Center through the Meadowmont Community, the 5K benefitted the "Get Real and Heel" after-care program for Triangle area breast cancer survivors.
"Get Heeled is a great program, and several people on my list on my bib have gone through the program," Aguiar added.
The event included a 5K run, 1-mile family walk, free food, youth activities, give-a-ways and music.
"It's a family event," race director Mike Cashion said, "so we decided that having chip time would take away from what we were doing. Most racers, if they're serious, are going to time themselves. It's a $10 add-on, and we wanted that money to go to cancer patients."
Cashion helped to coordinate the race alongside fellow members of the grassroots organization called the Pink Pacers. The group partnered with local O2 Fitness clubs, which have facilities in the Falconbridge Center and adjacent to Cole Park Plaza.
The "Get Real and Heel" program serves Triangle-area breast cancer patients by integrating exercise and therapy to increase chances of survivorship and quality of life.
The fundraising goal of $75,000 would theoretically allow 50 women to participate in the program without cost. Though the event raised an impressive $60,000, it was announced by Pink Pacer co-founder Katy Gilliam shortly after the race that O2 Fitness would make up the $15,000 difference between funds raised and the overall goal.
The Pink Pacers Team was created in 2006 when Gilliam and six-year cancer survivor Anne Neeley walked nearly 40 miles together in the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, raising $6,000 along the way.
"It's a community group of Chapel Hill-based women and men ...who run marathons, do tabling, pass out water: anything to just raise awareness for breast cancer," Pink Pacer Shanna Kane explained. "They're really well connected with UNC Lineberger, Get Real and Heel, and now with O2."
It was speculated that the Saturday's turnout of 750 entrants and their friends reflected the largest on record for a local 5K race, thanks in large part to the support of sponsors, such as O2, Fleet Feet Carrboro and the Carolina Ballet.
"We were involved last year when they did a version of this on campus," Fleet Feet Carrboro co-owner Brian White said, adding that the event took on a life of its own with the addition of O2 Fitness.
"It's been awesome to see how Katy Gilliam and her team have taken this to a whole new level," White said.
Cashion also had high praised for the law enforcement presence at the event and throughout the planning process, which involved temporarily closing N.C. Hwy. 54.
"The idea was that we could use the Friday Center lot as a nice contained area for all the kids and families," Cashion explained. "This is actually the first time they've literally shut 54 down. The town and UNC police (were) phenomenal to work with."
Organizers also agreed that almost ideal race conditions may have played a role in luring more runners to the starting line, though temperatures were challenging for organizers during early morning hours.
"It (was) freezing, and none of us were used to it yet," Kane said, laughing. "Katy (Gilliam) got out here early this morning and couldn't type on her cell phone because her hands were numb."
Conditions were particularly ideal for first-place finisher Ted LaMay, who crossed the line in 19:42.
"It was a good course," he said. "There were a lot of turns, but people were at every one to tell you which way to go. It was a perfect day though, and it was fun."
Even where hills may have tried runners, supporters along the route offered cheer and inspiration.
"We ran-walked the race last year, and I volunteer with the Pink Pacers," said Michelle Young, who brought along her daughter Abby Young, 10, and her friend Leah Schaad, 9.
"We're providing emotional support this year," Young said. "I've had a lot of family who've had breast cancer, so I do this for the future. It's close to my heart, and it's for future prevention."
While there were no awards bestowed to runners Saturday from the stage, the notes and tributes on bibs, the smiles on faces and the spring in everyone's step, proclaimed loudly that breast cancer was the loser, and with that, everyone came up a winner.