Runners to your marks
HUNTINGTON -- For race organizer Pat Riley, there's one moment of The Herald-Dispatch West Virginia 5K Championship that makes all of the hustle and bustle of putting the event together worthwhile.
"Being at the starting line, and being on that ladder in front of hundreds of people, just seeing all of these fit, active runners is amazing," Riley said.
The West Virginia 5K Championship begins Saturday at 8 a.m. on Veterans Memorial Boulevard next to Pullman Square and has a course that circles the downtown Huntington area.
Participants will start by heading west on Veteran's Memorial Boulevard, approximately 0.6 miles before turning left on First Street, where they will head south for two blocks before turning left again on Fifth Avenue. They will travel almost 1.5 miles down Fifth Avenue before turning left on Hal Greer Boulevard. After running or walking two blocks on Hal Greer, the participants will turn left on Third Avenue, where they are more than half a mile away from the finish line. The runners and walkers will continue on Third Avenue and finish on Veteran's Memorial Boulevard.
The race course will close at 9 a.m., at which time participants still on the course will be asked by Huntington Police to move off the road pavement and onto the sidewalks.
Veterans' Memorial Boulevard and Eighth Street will be closed from 6 a.m. until noon for the 5K and a 10K cycling race that's part of the West Virginia Senior Sports Classic. Bikers will be on Veterans' Memorial Boulevard and Virginia Avenue from 10 a.m. to 11 a.m., so drivers are asked to find an alternate route.
This year's 5K event has a few interesting story lines, including the last local race for Cabell Midland High School graduate Jacob Burcham, a track and cross country phenom, before he leaves to join the Oklahoma Sooners.
Burcham will be signing autographs and posing for photos at the Race Expo, which takes place from 5 to 8 p.m., Friday, at St. Mary's Center for Education, Fifth Avenue and 29th Street. The expo is a place where runners can register, and those who already have registered can pick up their running packets.
"It's kind of a neat thing to have Jacob doing this," Riley said. "It gives people an opportunity to say one day, when this guy is maybe in the Olympics, 'I met him.'"
Another story waiting to happen is that of 10-year-old Noah Castro, of Hurricane, who surprised everyone last year by finishing 52nd overall with a time of 19 minutes, 2 seconds to easily win his age group.
Since then, Castro has been training and trimming his times, and has a chance Saturday to set a national record for a 10-year-old if he can beat 17:50.
Castro is running with his 14-year-old brother, Braxton, 17-year-old sister, Barkley, a state track champion, and his mother, Marie.
"Her goal is just to break 30 minutes," said husband and father James Castro. "Honestly, if she does that, I'll be just as proud as if Noah breaks the record."
Riley predicts there will be about 800 participants in the race.
That's down from last year, when more than 900 people started the run, and 805 finished.
But Riley said it's all about perspective.
"I have a framed copy of The Herald-Dispatch from when we did this the first time and we had 500 entries, and it was just unbelievable," he said. "Now, we get 800 and it's no big deal. There are a lot of other 5Ks that have popped up and maybe that takes something away, but our event is the fastest and most competitive."
The flat nature of the course makes it a draw for top competitors from around the region, because they can record their fastest times at an official event.
The run started in 2009 as a way to combat obesity, and all proceeds go to the United Way of the River Cities Health and Wellness focus area. But the race has become known more as a competitive event than a benefit.
"It's definitely a sporting event," Riley said. "Yes we want to highlight fitness, but a lot of people are here to see how fast they can go. It's designed for speed and to showcase the running community."
Riley said the event has strengthened the running community in Huntington and shown the region that the city has a strong fitness culture.
"I see people wearing shirts that say 'Runnington,' I mean, that's awesome," he said.
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