By Ted Allen
While numbers of registered runners are up by at least 10 percent to more than 1,300 for Saturday’s 39th running of the Virginia 10 Miler the quality of the field keeps improving as well.
“It’s pretty spectacular,” said Bret Boman, an engineering manager for Areva in his fourth year serving as the race’s elite runner coordinator. “I think it will be fabulous racing and if people come out to the course this year, they won’t be disappointed.”
Boman has facilitated the arrival of about 30 elite men and 15 elite women for the race, which starts at 8 a.m. outside of E.C. Glass High School and this year serves as Virginia’s 10-mile championship event.
Last year, Lynchburg was designated a “runner-friendly community” by the Road Runners Club of America. This weekend’s races provide an opportunity for area residents to make the incoming runners feel welcome, rather than just putting them up in hotels.
“We’re very fortunate this year, we have about 12 families in Lynchburg opening their homes and lodging a number of the out-of-town runners,” Boman said, hearkening back to the race’s slogan in the late 1970s and early 1980s. “From back in the day, it was ‘This is where Southern hospitality meets the road,’ and I think we’re bringing that back.”
About half of those elite runners will be making their Virginia 10 Miler debut, which may cost them in the long run, especially if they’re not prepared for Farm Basket Hill, the mile-and-a-half incline to the finish line.
“At least early, it should be a good-sized pack until they start battling each other, and, for those who have course experience, that should be a tremendous advantage,” Boman said. Though there is a chance of rain, temperatures in the upper 50s should make for near-perfect conditions for the race and Boman expects some very fast times, relative to last September.
“I think we had a total of 20 people breaking 60 minutes last year and I would be surprised if it isn’t 35 or 40 people this year, including at least five women sub-60,” he said. Three runners who competed in the U.S. Olympic Trials will be in the 10 Miler field, with a fourth entered in the Four Miler.
Rustburg and VMI graduate Donnie Cowart, who placed fourth in the steeplechase trials; Bobby Mack, a former N.C. State All-American who was ninth in the 10,000 meters; and Emily Harrison, who competed in the marathon trails, will compete against elite runners from Kenya and Ethiopia for top-10 finishes.
“Bobby and Donny definitely have the capability of being up in the top five or six,” Boman said.
Additionally, Patterson Wilhelm and Sallie Ford, standout runners at Glass and William & Mary, will be back in the field. Wilhelm finished sixth last year in 52:48 and Ford placed second among women in 2010 and seventh last year.
International runners typically have been favored and this year is no different, with the four Kenyans who won the past five 10 Milers — David Cheromei (2007, 2008), Julius Kogo (2009), Benson Cheruiyot (2010) and Elkananah Kibet (2011) — returning for today’s race as well as Ellen Jemutei, the 2009 women’s champion.
There also are a number of Ethiopians coming in as well as individuals from Morocco and Poland and a Russian couple — 2008 Olympic Marathon qualifier Aleksey Sokolov and his wife Natalia.
Kogo was the front-runner in last year’s race and was well ahead of the lead pack as he entered Riverside Park. However, he
made a wrong turn at an unmanned station, resulting in his disqualification and Kibet being declared the winner in 49 minutes, 47 seconds.
Boman doesn’t foresee another one-man race to the finish line today.
“If it’s a breakaway, that person will be extremely fast, or, heaven forbid, he’s gone the wrong way on the course,” he said. “We’ve taken precautions this year so we don’t have a repeat of that this year. We actually have a lead vehicle that can go through the park now. You would have to try pretty hard to get lost this year.”
Lynchburg’s Jeff Harrington, 42, who finished 10th overall in last year’s event and first among “masters” runners, will be one of the favorites in the masters division again.
One of, if not the oldest runner, on the course will be Bill Draper, 84, of New Jersey. He is the only one to have finished all 38 races to date after Bill Fastabend of Lynchburg missed last year’s race with an injury and Jim Montgomery died months prior to its start. Draper will be sporting the No. 1 bib number.
Steve Bozeman, who will be running his 36th consecutive Virginia 10 Miler and leading the Color Guard for the 12th year in a row since Sept. 11, 2001, will be running with the American flag.
“This is our 12th running of the Color Guard and we have 12 soldiers and Marines who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan with ties to the Lynchburg area,” Bozeman said.
Three of the 18 participants in Bozeman’s running flag corps have combat experience serving in either Iraq or Afghanistan — Randy Brown and Kirby Mills with the Marines and Nathan Kolb with the Army Reserves.