Meet The Team


             Jimmy Ballard

Jimmy Ballard is the President of Ironclad Races, Inc. and a co-founder of the Ironclad Half-Marathon. Jimmy's love of running, appreciation for history, involvement in our community and pleasure  in a good beer all come together into this race. He welcomes you to Kinston, his hometown for the past decade, and encourages you to spend the weekend exploring downtown and see for yourself why Kinston is becoming a go-to destination. 

Jennifer Bland

               Jennifer Bland

Hello. My name is Jennifer Bland. I am originally from Virginia; however, after attending undergraduate and graduate school in North Carolina I remained in Raleigh. I moved to Kinston in 2005 after I married a Kinston native, Frank Bland. Initially, I was hesitant to embrace Kinston as my new home.  Over the years, I have grown to love and call Kinston my home. I started running in 2009 when a group of my high school girl friends decided it was time to get together for a reunion. We found there was no better way to catch up than to run a half marathon together. Every year since, I have run at least one marathon or half marathon and now even dabble in ultra running. Recently, I have wanted to be more involved in my local community and joined the team to host the Mother Earth Brewing Ironclad Half Marathon. It has helped me meet new people and give back to my community. My favorite thing about being a part of this event is seeing everyone cross the finish line accomplishing their running goal. I am grateful to be a part of such an amazing group of people who willingly volunteer their time.

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Amy Albritton

Hi! I am Amy Albritton. I was born and raised in Kinston. My motivation for being involved in this race is to show others what great things Kinston has going on and to share my love of running with fellow runners. I initially started running track in high school just to be able to get a letter. I later started running for the fun of challenging myself, and I now run so my friends, family, and co-workers can tolerate being around me! Welcome to Kinston and to The Mother Earth Brewing Half Marathon and 5k. I hope to be able to chat with you on the day of the race, congratulate you and share a beer with you afterward!

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               Mike Afarian

Hey! I’m Mike Afarian. I was raised in the Boston area and grew up playing whatever sport was in season – baseball, football, hockey and basketball.  As most of those sports got phased out of my life (no pro opportunities for me!) I turned to other endeavors like golf, biking and running to try to stay in shape. In 2013 my wife and I relocated to Kinston from very cold and snowy Central New York.  I’m anxious to contribute and give back to my new “home town”.  The first half marathon I ran was the initial Ironclad half marathon back in 2015.  I enjoyed it so much I volunteered to join the race committee.  Welcome to Kinston and to The Mother Earth Brewing Half Marathon and 5k. Enjoy the race and stick around for the fun afterwards.   


             Susanne Ballard

Hi, I’m Susanne Ballard, Secretary-Treasurer of Ironclad Races, Inc. and happily married to its President, Jimmy. We live in Kinston and have four beautiful daughters. There are many reasons why I’m involved in this race and love this town, but my driving factor is a little known story that I will share with you now.

Around 20 years ago, I was not a runner.

Then I happened upon a series of events that changed all of that: 

1) I made the excruciating decision to become happily divorced.

2) I met a very inspiring young leukemia patient, George, and his family, through the hospital where I worked.

3) I received an invitation to train with the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training & run my first Marathon (AKA my first race).

Having had zero experience running and living a fairly predicable, acceptable life up to that point, I decided to change all that - I committed to and trained for the Mayor's Midnight Sun Marathon in Anchorage, Alaska, less than six month's away.

During that time I grew up quite a bit. 

I pushed through the fear of disappointing others by honoring what I knew to be best for me. I gathered every ounce of courage I could find, actually filed for divorce, rented an apartment and called my parents & grandparents and told them the dreaded news - all in rapid succession. I learned my family is stronger and more supportive than I imagined. I also learned how quickly and easily life can change just by deciding to face my fears and take action.

Training in George's honor, I got to know him and his family better, and saw his courage at 17 years old facing the fear of his disease head-on; and, with unexpected humor, encouraging his family to do the same. 

I saw in his eyes an acceptance- joy and peace I had never seen before. Three months into training, his mother tracked me down at a conference to let me know he had passed.

Through George, I learned we are capable of being stronger and more supportive than we ever imagined, even in unimaginable situations. I learned how quickly and, permanently, life can change, and how much richer life can be if we embrace it, head on, fears and all, and take action to live in the present moment. HIs life was cut short, but he made it meaningful. 

The physical training for this marathon taught me I could still do hard things, both mentally and physically.

Seemingly impossible things.

That perseverance, dedication and commitment count.

That I could become more than what I was. I learned I was stronger than I thought. I learned how quickly life can change, just by deciding to face and work through discomfort, fear and pain and taking a little action every day.  

Newly single, I ran that marathon, in memory of George, and rather imperfectly, but I did it. 

And, it changed my life. 

It was one of the most bittersweet, painful, soul crushing, soul soothing, exhilarating experiences of my life. 

Did it make me a lifelong runner? 


In fact, it was a while before I ran again after crossing that finish line (and, truthfully, I’m still more of a wanna-be runner).. 

What it made me was appreciative. 

Appreciative for this life I have and how to spend it. 

It made me not worry about what other people thought quite so much and embrace a meaningful life. 

One step at a time. 

And, ultimately, THAT is why I'm involved with this race. 

That running can be done imperfectly, can force you to think and grow stronger and live like you have never lived before is pretty cool. 

I simply want the world to be filled with more people who get that..