While most Lexingtonians were snug in their beds, a group of hearty runners left the University of Kentucky tennis courts at 5:30 a.m. Wednesday on a 2-mile run to Triangle Park.
In front of the downtown park's Christmas tree, the runners paused a few minutes to sing carols under the direction of Everett McCorvey, the head of UK's opera program and a dedicated runner and walker.
After a half dozen or so songs, everybody ran back to UK, then drove to McDonald's on Richmond Road, where Lexington businessman Alex Campbell bought breakfast for the crew.
The Todds Road Stumblers, founded by Campbell, have been holding their low-key Christmas Run for about 20 years. More than 75 runners turned out Wednesday morning.
"It's one of my favorite holiday traditions," said Steve Grossman, an avid runner and Lexington stockbroker.
Campbell started the Christmas event as a way to get running groups from all over town together so runners could get acquainted. The format has not changed: run, sing, eat McDonald's.
"It's just a way for all these people to say thank you for Mr. Campbell's generosity with the Todds Road Stumblers," said Becky Reinhold, comptroller for Campbell's various businesses and principal broker for Bluegrass Sotheby's real estate company.
Reinhold ran competitively for years and won the women's division of the Bluegrass 10,000 in 1991. She and Grossman run three days a week with a group that starts at Starbucks in Chevy Chase.
Campbell no longer pounds the pavement, but daily workouts with a personal trainer keep him trim and fit. He drove to Triangle Park Wednesday morning, mingled with the runners, greeted friends and handed out song books.
At McDonald's, Campbell made sure the restaurant set out a tray of mustard and dill pickles, so the runners could enjoy what he calls the "Camille Weber special" — sausage and a biscuit with pickles and mustard.
"It sounds awful, but it is wonderful," Campbell said. "It's what most of the runners order."
Weber, the wife of UK track coach Don Weber and a Herald-Leader employee, met Campbell soon after she and her husband moved to Lexington in 1978. They ran together for years.
Triangle Park was a fitting destination for the runners. The downtown oasis exists thanks to Campbell's efforts.
The small plot at the intersection of Main, Broadway and Vine streets was targeted to become a parking lot in the early 1980s. In the face of public opposition, Campbell organized the Triangle Foundation, raised money and hired the nationally known landscape architectural firm Zion and Breen of New Jersey to design the park. It opened in 1982.
The foundation also built Thoroughbred Park at Main and Midland Avenue in 1992 at a cost of nearly $8 million, and a skateboard park in Woodland Park in 1999.
In November, the foundation agreed to pay for extensive renovations to Triangle Park, returning it to its original design. That work is under way.
Campbell, who generally shuns publicity, declines to talk about his philanthropy, saying only that "giving is a selfish act" because it is so gratifying.
But he will talk at length about running and fitness. "We're all better off if we do some sort of exercise," he said.
Campbell started running in the late 1960s when, he said, he was overweight and worked all the time. He started running on Todds Road, where he lives.
"There was one runner out there, and that was me," he chuckled.
He was joined by his friend Dyer Rodes, and he tried to get everybody who worked for him to run; the group grew.
An informal, low-key image is what Campbell had in mind a few years later when he coined the name Stumblers to put on T-shirts made for club members running in the Boston Marathon. He said he picked the name so people who came out wouldn't think they had to be fast runners.
The Stumblers is still a functioning group with a quaint clubhouse decorated with "500 Mile Club" plaques, displaying names of those who have logged a total of 500 miles on Saturday runs. There also are charts where members can track their mileage.
People show up to run every Saturday morning. The only requirement to be a member is to complete the 6-mile course.
"You can walk, run or crawl around," Campbell said.
The first time a runner finishes the course, they get a Todds Road Stumblers T-shirt. Campbell said he's given out more than 10,000 shirts.
Mingling at McDonald's on Wednesday were young runners Melissa Preece and her friend Carrie Milner, and ones such as Campbell, Rodes, Doris Matlack, Diane Curry and Martin Ginocchio, who have run 25 years or more.
Don Weber said Campbell's impact on Lexington's running is "unmatched."
"He provided unique opportunities for runners at every level ... young and old fitness runners, high school athletes and hundreds of UK track athletes," Weber said.