Paonia racers Jacob Helleckson and Jason Sturgis, and Dustin Ownbey of Delta will share this year's title of Cherry Days 5k champion after topping a field of more than 60 runners on July 4 to win the eighth annual foot race. The three crossed the finish line, arms linked, in 24 minutes, 24 seconds.
Sturgis, Ownbey and Helleckson, all veteran cross country and track racers for their respective schools, were well in the lead after the first quarter mile. Ownbey said that none of them needed water by the time they reached the mid-course aid station, but they were safely in the lead and stopped for some juice and a visit. "We probably could have gotten a better time, but it's just a local race," said Ownbey.
It's also a tough course, and a handful of runners missed a turn or two along the way and were given unofficial times for the course. It's not hard to miss a trail marker, noted Richard Hypio, a former ultra-runner and current head coach for the Paonia High School cross country team, which hosted the race. This is a difficult trail and one has to constantly watch their step. "Totally different experience than a 5k road race."
Times were slower than a typical road race, too. Sturgis won last year's race with a time of 18:48 — almost 6 minutes faster than this year's time. But the gap in times is a reflection of the difficulty of this year's course.
After being a road race for the past seven years, this year's race wound its way through the trails on Jumbo Mountain, gaining roughly 400 feet in elevation in the first mile, beginning with the steep climb to the top of Pan American Road via a trail leading out of Apple Valley Park. The course, charted by Dave Knutson of Paonia as the course for the 2012 Mountain Harvest Festival course, was designed to save the more gentle sections for last.
While it's a bit rough for baby strollers, Leah Morris and Kelly Johnson kept the PEARL — Paonia's Elegantly Attired Running Ladies — tradition alive by running in dresses and wearing pearls.
"Kudos to Dave. This is a great course," said Hypio, who was surprised by the record turnout on Thursday morning.
Finishing in fourth place was Eli Etter of Paonia. Etter, 14, finished in 26:12; Caden Meilner, winner of the medal for the least experienced runner, finished 16 seconds later to place fifth. Jon Depuy finished sixth with a time of 27:53.
In the women's division, Chelsea Meilner of Paonia won both the overall and 18-and-under division with a time of 28:06. Meilner placed seventh overall. "I love it. It's awesome," said Meilner of the course. Caden and Chelsea Meilner were among four members of the Meilner family to compete in the race. Tim Meilner finished 11th overall and won the 50-and-older division, Shauna Meilner finished 25th.
Two-time defending Cherry Days 5k champion Natalie Anderson, who runs cross country and track for Hotchkiss and is a top prep competitor in the state, had an unofficial time of 28:15 — the eighth-best time of the day, after getting lost.
Dustin Ownbey, who will be a senior this fall, said he'd like to compete on this course again. "It's fun and it's difficult, and I like the difficult stuff," said Ownbey, who won the men's division in 2011. "It's nice to get a fast time, but if you're just running on something flat, it gets kind of boring."
The course is similar in difficulty to the Hotchkiss Dobies course, said the three winners, but the start is steeper and more challenging. "It's difficult," said Helleckson, who graduated from PHS in May, "But it's fun. It's fun."
The race attracted 63 entrants. The team's break-even number was 30, said Hypio. "With 33 (additional) we'll have some funds for our team." Money will be used to purchase uniforms and pay team race entry fees this fall.
While the race attracted a lot of young runners, several seasoned veterans made it to the finish line. Tom Alford and Marilyn Waitman were given the "Most Experienced" award. Alford, an ultra-runner from Parachute, brought friends Coni and Steve Wolfe of Cedaredge along. It was Coni's first 5k. "Man, it's a beautiful trail," said Alford. "We couldn't have found a harder course if we'd have looked all over."blog comments powered by Disqus