How Did Ragged Mountain Running Become a Local Landmark? One Step at a Time

March 30, 2022 By Whitelaw Reid, Whitelaw Reid,

Mark Lorenzoni couldn’t believe what was happening. It was as if someone were playing a prank on him.

Shortly after moving to Charlottesville in September 1979 to start his first post-college job, Lorenzoni received a letter from Michigan State University informing him that he was still three credits shy of earning his degree in parks and recreation.

It turned out that Lorenzoni hadn’t taken a required field trip – one that he thought had been waived due to his obligations as a resident adviser.

The upshot: In order to graduate, Lorenzoni had to return to East Lansing for an eight-day tour of park and recreation destinations in the Midwest.

So there was Lorenzoni – after just one week on the job – having to tell his boss that he didn’t actually have a college degree.

“I was so nervous,” recalled Lorenzoni, a New Jersey native who, at the time, didn’t know anybody in Charlottesville. “I thought for sure he was going to fire me, and I wouldn’t have blamed him for a second. But he said, ‘No, I get what happened, go and do what you need to do.’”

Lorenzoni returned to East Lansing “kicking and screaming” – but being three credits short wound up being the best thing that ever happened to him.

On the first day of the trip, while on a run near a golf course, Lorenzoni ran into Cynthia Wadsworth, a star runner on the MSU track and field and cross-country teams who had been featured in the student newspaper on several occasions.

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Mark and Cynthia Lorenzoni in an office, the walls of which are covered in photographs
Over the last 40 years, Mark and Cynthia Lorenzoni have directed more than 900 races that have raised more than $10 million for organizations and causes in the area. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)

“I knew her right away,” Lorenzoni said. “There were a couple of well-known athletes at Michigan State at that time. Magic Johnson was one, Cynthia was another.”

Ironically, Cynthia also had no interest in being on the field trip – it was causing her to miss practice time. “We both were there and didn’t want to be,” said Cynthia, laughing.

Cynthia asked Mark how much farther the road went, Mark said he wasn’t sure, and then Cynthia took off running. But the next day, while touring a national park, they bumped into each other again.

“She came up from behind me and said, ‘How far did you go on your run yesterday?’” Mark said. “That started it. That was the beginning.”

Just a year later, Mark and Cynthia were married.

Two years after that, back in Charlottesville, the couple started the Ragged Mountain Running Shop on the Corner.

Today, the name “Lorenzoni” is indelibly linked with running in Charlottesville – as Bodo’s is to bagels or Mincer’s is to sports apparel.

Over the last 40 years, Ragged Mountain has employed more than 1,000 University of Virginia students and directed more than 900 running races, raising more than $10 million for organizations and causes in the area, including UVA’s Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center, the Virginia Institute for Autism, Big Brothers/Big Sisters of the Central Blue Ridge and The Haven.

Born to Run

The youngest of six children, Cynthia grew up on a dairy farm in Farmington, Connecticut, that also included a 100-acre orchard. Her family sold apples, pears, peaches, plums, corn – and milk.

Cynthia’s father was mayor of the town and a volunteer fireman; her mother taught Sunday school.

As a kid, Cynthia loved to ride her bike and play kickball, but didn’t consider herself particularly athletic.

However, this changed when she got to high school and decided to go out for the track team. Without any kind of training, she ran a mile in under 6 minutes.

“I was like, ‘Oh, I guess I’m pretty good at this,’” Cynthia said.

The next fall, Cynthia decided to join the girls cross country team at her school that her neighbor had just started. In her very first race, she finished third. This was notable because it was something that would never happen again; she won every other high school race over the next four years.

As a teen, Cynthia would tag along with her coach – a big runner himself – to races throughout the Northeast. He had planted the idea of her someday running a sub 5-minute mile.

A newspaper photo of Cynthia Lorenzoni running across a finish line and an old photo of her shaking hands with a man in a U.S. Marines uniform
In 1981, Cynthia Lorenzoni won the Marine Corps Marathon and qualified for the first ever women’s Olympic marathon trials. (Contributed photo)

As an 11th-grader, Cynthia ran a 5:06 mile en route to winning her second straight track title.

Then, as a senior, she won both the mile and 2-mile events, running a national record of 11:03 in the 2-mile race.

In today’s era of college athletics, recruiters would have been busting down Cynthia’s door, but back then, only a few years removed from the passage of Title IX, not many universities had women’s running programs.

“My high school coach was like, ‘Go somewhere and help start a program. Go to Harvard, go to Yale, go anywhere,’” Cynthia recalled. “But I didn’t really want to do that because I knew I was going to end up running with guys, which wasn’t meaningful to me. I had done that in high school, and it wasn’t fun.

“If I was going to run in college, I wanted to be around women like myself and wanted to feel normal, because in high school nobody ever saw me run much. I was hiding in the woods. I was a big trail runner back then, just because there weren’t a lot of people out running like there are now. I wanted to go somewhere where I had opportunity, and that is exactly what I got.”

Wedding Bells

Cynthia arrived as Michigan State’s top recruit, but unfortunately, after a strong freshman season – one in which she would run that sub-5-minute mile – she tore her plantar fascia.

Not being able to run for a year and a half proved far more painful than the injury itself. “I was really sad,” Cynthia said. “It was really disappointing.”

In an attempt to lift her spirits, Cynthia’s coach helped find her a part-time job at a new running store called Frank Shorter Sports, which was located on Michigan State’s version of the Corner in East Lansing. Shorter, the store’s namesake, had been an American long-distance runner who won gold and silver medals, respectively, in the 1972 and 1976 Olympics.

“I loved it,” Cynthia said. “I loved being in a situation where I could help other people. It was just really fun. We put on a big road race, and so I learned all about how to do that. And just helping people with their shoes – it was just a different way of appreciating the sport. I just loved being in an environment where I was around runners who all loved the sport.”

Cynthia eventually recovered from her injury and returned to top form, but the experience of working at the store stayed with her.

After graduating from MSU in 1980, she thought about moving to Boulder, Colorado, to work at the main Frank Shorter Sports location, but by then she had already met Mark.

Following the momentous eight-day field trip, the couple had started a long-distance relationship. They would eagerly wait until 11 p.m. to chat on the phone, because that’s when the rates for long-distance calls would decrease. Mark, who had four younger siblings and had always been an avid runner, would drive to East Lansing once a month to cheer Cynthia on in meets.

“I missed her so bad,” Mark said. “I remember her mother saying years later – and she was so right – ‘Don’t marry the person you can live with. Marry the person you can’t live without.’”

Old photo of Mark and Cynthia Lorenzoni inside a bus, smiling

Mark and Cynthia are pictured during the college field trip where they met while at Michigan State in 1979. (Contributed photo)

Mark set out to do just that – though his proposal didn’t go how he had envisioned.

A month before he had planned to pop the question, an old college crush showed up unexpectedly in Charlottesville to declare her feelings for him.

Even though he had once thought of the crush as the most beautiful woman at Michigan State, he now, due to his deep love for Cynthia, no longer felt the same way.  

Mark took it as a sign that he should immediately propose to Cynthia.

So in the parking lot of the old Lord Hardwicke’s restaurant on Emmet Street, Mark told Cynthia – who was visiting him during Thanksgiving – about the old crush, and that he only wanted to spend the rest of his life with her.

Unfortunately, “crush” was the only thing registering with Cynthia, and a scene similar to a “Three’s Company” television episode played out.

“She thought I was still interested in [the other woman]!” said Mark, incredulously. “And I said, ‘How did you get that? It’s the opposite!’”

Over 40 years later, Mark and Cynthia still dispute some of the details.

“He always kind of brushes over how angry he was making me,” Cynthia said, smiling. “I thought he was telling me he wanted to see other people. I was going to get back in my car and drive back to school.”

Good thing she didn’t. The Lorenzonis were just getting started.

Open For Business

Mark’s parents, who had moved around a lot when he was young, were living in London in 1981, and it was while on a trip to visit them that Mark and Cynthia, now married, started thinking about what they really wanted to do with their lives.

Cynthia had been working for a sporting goods store in downtown Charlottesville while training with former UVA women’s track star Margaret Groos.

Cynthia would win the Marine Corps Marathon and qualify for the first-ever Women’s Olympic Marathon Trials in 1984 (where she wound up finishing 40th), but she knew her days of competing at that level were probably winding down, since she wanted to start a family.

Mark, at that time, was working for the Albemarle County Parks and Recreation Department.

“I had a great boss and a great job,” Mark said, “but Cynthia and I both weren’t 100% satisfied. My dad said, ‘Cynthia, you loved working at the [running] store when you were in college. Mark, you’re a people person. There are no running shops in Charlottesville. Why don’t you open one?’”

In January of 1982, the Lorenzonis, with the help of Natalie Heyward – Cynthia’s friend and running partner – did just that. Heyward’s father, Henderson, came up with the Ragged Mountain name, a nod to the small chain of rugged hills (an offshoot of the Blue Ridge Mountains) located southwest of Charlottesville.

Black and white photo of Mark and Cynthia Lorenzoni standing in front of the entrance to a shop with the sign 'Ragged Mountain Running Shop'

Mark and Cynthia stand in front of the original store just a few months after they opened it on Elliewood Avenue. (Contributed photo)

The first store was located in a tiny 500-square-foot space of an old house on Elliewood Avenue. Over the years, the store has moved to increasingly larger spaces on the Corner, and, in 2017, due to the steady increase in walking patrons, changed its name to Ragged Mountain Running and Walking Shop.

“We weren’t interested in being in a mall,” Mark said. “Fashion Square had just opened up. We both wanted to be in the UVA area. Even though neither of us had gone to school there, we just both loved the feel, the energy and vibrancy of it.”

Mark said his father, who worked in cost engineering for Exxon, gave great advice.

“He said, ‘Start small. Don’t get in over your head. Let the customers dictate where to go,’” Mark said.

In the beginning, that wasn’t very far. Ragged Mountain, in its first year of business, sold just three pairs of shoes, on average, each day.

However, by the end of the year, Mark and Cynthia said they could feel the store developing a “heartbeat.”

Heeding advice from their accountant, the couple never took any money out of the store and invested everything back into the business.

It was to that end that they commissioned an artist, Neal Gropen, to create a logo for the store that would become iconic. It featured a silhouetted image of former UVA runner Vince Draddy, the first Cavalier in school history to break the 4-minute mile.

Races Galore

In the summer of 1982, Mark and Cynthia – with the help of close friends Bill and Ellen Kelso – directed their first race, “The Chicken Run Five Miler.”

“There were only three races in town at the time, and we felt like for the interest level out there that was too little,” Mark said. “And we also wanted to find a way to raise money for causes.”

The event, which took place in North Garden, attracted more than 100 racers and raised more than $1,000 for the volunteer fire department.

In 1983, Mark and Cynthia persuaded the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors to temporarily close a section of Garth Road to car traffic for the inaugural Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler. A year later, Mark and his longtime friend, Dave Murphy, began co-directing the Charlottesville 10 Miler.

Hundreds of women running a race
The Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler had close to 400 runners in its inaugural race in 1983. (Contributed photo)

The success of those two races opened the floodgates for hundreds of races, all of which have supported local causes. The Four Miler alone has raised more than $4 million for UVA’s Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center.

“They do it without taking a dime,” said Dr. Robert Wilder, chair of UVA’s Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, who met the Lorenzonis through running when he was a first-year UVA medical school student in 1984. “So many races, when you look into them, even those that are fundraisers, you find that just a portion [of the proceeds] is actually donated and that the rest becomes a source of income for the folks running the race. And that’s not to say that there isn’t a role for those kinds of races, but it does contrast with what the Lorenzonis have done. If it’s a charity race, it all goes to the charity.”

Wilder, who has volunteered as medical director for more than 250 of the races that the Lorenzonis have put on, recalls the time when, shortly after meeting Mark, he asked how much he charged for his coaching services.

“He looked at me like, ‘What are you talking about?’” Wilder said. “He said, ‘There’s no cost.’ He said, ‘My reward will be the smile on your face when you have a good race.’ And that’s been his mantra all of these years. That’s what he tells everybody.”

In 1984, Mark was asked to serve on the board of directors for Camp Holiday Trails, a camp in Charlottesville designed for children and teenagers with chronic medical needs. Since then, he, Cynthia and their two eldest children, Alec and Audrey, have served on more than 30 nonprofit boards and task forces.

Ragged Mountain has played a vital role in the Virginia Institute of Autism’s growth, according to Alison and Bernie Webb, who co-founded the organization in 1996. Mark was the first non-family member to serve on the school’s board, doing so for 13 years, including two stints as president.

The Webbs said that the annual Run for Autism 5K has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the institute, allowing it to grow from four students in its first year to around 60 today.

“Mark has more energy than maybe anybody I’ve ever met – except maybe Cynthia,” said Alison Webb, laughing. “They’re just such an integral part of the Charlottesville community. They have always been there to support us.

“Back in the day, we didn’t have very much, and it was hard to raise money. [The race] was just a huge benefit to the organization.”

More Than Shoes

Over the last 40 years, Ragged Mountain, in conjunction with the Charlottesville Track Club, has staged more than 20 races per year. From races for young children and high school students, to ones for weekend warriors, to events for elite runners, they run the gamut. The common denominator is always the fundraising component.

One memorable race that Mark continues to direct is the Community Bridges 5K, which began in 2018 as part of UVA President Jim Ryan’s inauguration weekend. The race involves participants crossing several bridges throughout Charlottesville – a nod to the administration’s “building bridges” theme. The proceeds from the race benefit the Center for Nonprofit Excellence, which supports more than 250 nonprofit organizations in Charlottesville.

“Mark and Cynthia are two of the most generous people I’ve ever met, and they have made Ragged Mountain into a unique enterprise that helps make Charlottesville special,” Ryan said. “It’s a place that brings people from all walks of life together, and that gives back by investing in causes that support the city.”

Ryan and his wife, Katie, both avid runners, first met the Lorenzonis when Ryan was a UVA law professor; Mark has served as Ryan’s running coach ever since.

Ryan said that, in some ways, the spirit of inclusivity and openness that Ragged Mountain embodies inspired his popular “Run with Jim” events.


A post shared by Jim Ryan (@presjimryan)

“Mark and Cynthia have been incredible mentors to countless UVA student workers, many of whom count their time at Ragged Mountain among their most valuable experiences,” said Ryan, whose own children have worked at the store.

Mark and Cynthia say they have been the lucky ones.

“The students just bring so much life, and are so interesting and hard-working,” Cynthia said. “We’ve had generations of that. Every three or four years we get a whole new crop.”

Mark and Cynthia keep in touch with the vast majority of the students who have worked at the store, affectionately referring to them as their “Ragged Mountain kids.”

One of those “kids” is Rachel Ward, a former state champion in cross country and track at Albemarle High School who ran at UVA before going on to dominate the Charlottesville competitive running scene, qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials in 2012 and 2016.

Ward worked at Ragged Mountain for 12 years while training under Mark and is the store’s longest-serving employee. On her very first day, Ward remembers a talk with Mark in which he discussed the store’s ethos. He explained to Ward his belief that “confrontation was tangential to honesty.”

Cynthia Lorenzoni in the shop helping a woman pick out running shoes.
Runners and walkers alike have relied on Ragged Mountain’s expertise for 40 years. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)

“That was almost enough to send me running, honestly, because I was so averse to confrontation, and I think a lot of people at that age are,” Ward said. “But slowly but surely I grew to embrace the freedom that comes with being completely honest with yourself and with other people and from communicating clearly. That life lesson really resonated because I don’t think it’s something I would have gotten anywhere else.

“But there are really a million things just like that which Mark and Cynthia are responsible for teaching people about.”

Ward said one of the main ways they accomplish it is by being transparent about challenges in their marriage.

“It’s just an incredible example to employees, who at a young age, may have a very naïve interpretation of what love or what long-term relationships look like and the challenges that may present,” she said.

The Lorenzonis helped Ward through a painful period of her life in which her parents died within a year of each other.

“They were not only emotionally present, but traveled to my races to cheer me on so that they could be physically present at a number of the defining experiences of my life,” Ward said.

Wilder said the Lorenzonis just have a way of making people feel at home.

“They are a family-run business, but they just invite so many other people into their family, into their circle,” Wilder said. “It’s so much more than selling shoes and equipment. … It’s life support.”

Next Generation

Mark and Cynthia can still be found in Ragged Mountain almost every day, but in January of 2020 they signed control of the business over to Alec and Audrey, who had worked at the shop for 20 years and had been playing pivotal roles in the store’s growth and success.

When gyms and other athletic facilities closed during the pandemic and many people turned to running – and walking – the siblings rose to the challenge.

Luckily, they had just finished setting up Ragged Mountain’s first-ever online store.

“They were ready to do things that Cynthia and I were either not interested in doing or not capable of doing,” Mark said.

That included computerizing the store (which until then had relied on an old manual cash register and notecards recording customers’ previous purchases), making home deliveries, providing virtual gait analysis and setting up tents outside the store where customers could safely try on shoes during the pandemic.

The Lorenzonis say their children have become the new faces of Ragged Mountain.

Audrey Sackson and Alec Lorenzoni standing in the running shop stock room, between two rows of shelves filled to the top with shoeboxes
In January 2020, Mark and Cynthia’s children, Audrey and Alec, took over as owners of the shop. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)

“Our biggest fear was us stepping back bit by bit, but having people still looking for us and putting that burden on the kids,” Mark said. “But now during the day, so many people come in and say, ‘Are you Alec?’ I say, ‘No, I’m his father.’ And they say, ‘I want to speak to Alec.’ And I’m like, ‘This is awesome!’

“And it’s the same thing with Audrey … I love it.”

Alec was a star runner at Western Albemarle High School in Crozet before going on to study economics and run at UVA. In 2005, he won the 10 Miler, making him and Cynthia the first mother-son duo to accomplish the feat.

Some of Alec’s fondest childhood memories are from when he would help out at races.

“It was such a tight-knit community,” said Alec, who graduated from UVA in 2008 before marrying his wife, Lawren Magerfield, a UVA alumna. “I remember all the people who would volunteer at the finish line. It was always the same people who were so passionate about the sport.”

Audrey, who also ran at Western Albemarle, attended Michigan State before realizing how much she missed Charlottesville, her family, the UVA community, and, especially, Ragged Mountain. It was while in East Lansing that she decided she wanted to someday run the store.

“I think I saw how special of a place my parents had built,” said Audrey, who transferred to UVA. “Ragged Mountain was just not like other places in terms of how they wanted to help people – which is what I realized I wanted to do. I was like, ‘I can help people through running.’”

Both Alec and Audrey now do that on a daily basis. Sometimes it’s just through friendly banter as customers try on shoes. Other times, it’s something more tangible.

Recently, Audrey alleviated pain a customer was experiencing in her foot by cutting a small hole in the insert of her shoe – something her dad had taught her how to do. The customer returned to the store a couple of weeks later, bearing flowers.

“She was so thankful, and that’s what’s really cool is that we can help change people’s everyday lives in little ways, easy ways,” Audrey said.

Alec looks at a computer monitor with newspaper clippings taped to the back, and Audrey checks the fit of a woman's running shoe
Alec Lorenzoni, left, and Audrey Sackson, say the best part of their job is being able to help people. (Photo by Ziniu Chen, University Communications)

What’s also cool is that if you work at Ragged Mountain, you apparently have a pretty good chance of meeting your spouse.

That was the case for Audrey, who, after graduating from UVA with a degree in English in 2009, met her husband, Stewart Sackson, then a UVA student who was working at the store. Audrey and Stewart were married in 2020, becoming the 10th couple to tie the knot after meeting at Ragged Mountain, according to a running tally that Mark and Cynthia keep.

During the pandemic, Stewart took time off from his teaching job to help at the store, as did Alec and Audrey’s younger brother, Adrian. Annie, the youngest of Mark and Cynthia’s four children, has also worked at the store over the years.

As the new owners of Ragged Mountain, Alec and Audrey say one of the biggest things they have learned from their parents is the importance of open and honest communication.

“They have such strong personalities and sometimes they have a short fuse,” Alec said, “but they have short memories.

“If my dad gets mad about something and is getting on my mom, she’ll give it right back. And then 30 minutes later, they’re fine. They don’t internalize things. They’re never resentful. They have this shared passion, work ethic and philosophy about how to structure their marriage – it just works.”

“They are always a team,” Audrey added. “They are never not a team.”

It’s all part of a recipe the siblings plan on continuing to use for the next 40 years – and beyond.

“It’s not just about the store and working,” Audrey said. “It’s about building a community outside of the store and helping and giving back to what gives to us.”

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Whitelaw Reid

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