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Wintry weather doesn't dampen Sleighbell 5k

Special to the Gazette

Every year for the Sentara Sleighbell 5K Run, Geri Elder and her crew at Colonial Sports Screenprinting designs a long-sleeve race T-shirt with lots of cutesy snowflakes and various winter scenes, sleds and sleighs on the snow.

Those winter scenes look great on the T-shirts, but when it comes to actual wintry weather, or the threat thereof, that’s not too appealing for most runners and walkers. Last Saturday’s ninth annual Sleighbell 5K had its most miserable weather ever, cold, around 34 degrees, and with a light to moderate rain, and enough wind that race director Jim Elder was not able to put up the Sleighbell banners for the first time. There were 1,030 total entrants, with 400 of those students from the SHIP (School Health Initiative Program), directed by Janice Kailos, the Sleighbell 5K founder and original race director. Understandably there were a larger than usual number of no-shows, fair-weather runners who chose not to endure the cold and wet conditions, and stayed inside their warm homes on a Saturday morning. But there were still enough brave souls to give a total of 595 finishers in the 5K run and 5K competitive walk, including 260 SHIP students, as well as a dozen or so one-mile fun run participants.

But thankfully, it was just cold rain, and not snow or ice, as the snow/ice/sleet line remained west of Williamsburg, as predicted for several days in advance. Generally, running events are always held as scheduled unless there is a safety issue, lightning and thunderstorms during the summer, icy conditions during the winter, or high winds. On the same morning as Sleighbell, the Peninsula Track Club held their Ugly Sweater 5K Run at Newport News Park and had 64 entrants but just 33 finishers in the cold, blustery and wet conditions and a temperature of 38. And a similarly named Tacky Sweater 5K at Ocean View Park in Norfolk the same morning was canceled due to winds and heavy rain.

Race director Jim Elder of Colonial Sports Timing said, “I knew on Wednesday that the event could go on. I knew it would be cold and wet; but, was surprised by the wind. Although this was the worst weather yet for the Sleighbell, it did not dampen the spirits of those who participated. The pride of all who finished was on full display and epitomized by one SHIP finisher who refused to put on his hat, gloves and jacket so he could proudly show off his finisher medal. I was impressed by all the parents who showed up to watch and encourage their children. A tremendous day and a badge of honor for those who ran.”

Most importantly Elder said all of the volunteers needed for a safe race showed up on time despite the weather, including Boy Scout Troop 103 for course marshals, Key Club, York County Sheriff and EMS and James City County Police.

Despite the nasty weather, there was still outstanding competition in the final Colonial Road Runners Grand Prix event of 2017, including a battle between Jamestown High and Warhill High coaches for the men’s division, a Jamestown sweep of the overall titles, and five age group records.

Jamestown coach Mark Tompkins, 42, of Williamsburg won in 17:25, a men’s 40-44 record (he also set the men’s 35-39 record of 16:55 in 2010), two seconds ahead of Warhill coach Kameron Schaefer, 27, of Williamsburg (17:27). Jamestown was also third overall for the men, John Vogel, 16, of Williamsburg (17:52).

Jamestown also placed first and third in the women’s division, with senior Thorin Jean, 17, of Williamsburg, winning in 19:31, a women’s 15-19 race record, and younger sister, sophomore Sorenna Jean, placing third (21:25). In between those two were former Jamestown teacher and assistant coach, and current Tabb High teacher and coach Emily Honeycutt, 26, of Newport News (20:56). For Thorin Jean it was revenge of sorts, as she broke the 15-19 age group record of Elizabeth Starbuck, then 19, of Williamsburg (a 20:08 in 2012), after Starbuck had won the Thanksgiving morning Blue Talon Bistro 5K Turkey Trot several weeks earlier in 18:36, with Jean runner-up in 19:29.

In the Masters (ages 40-and-over) category, Steve Chantry, 62, of Williamsburg won in an excellent 18:11, improving his Sleighbell men’s 60-64 record by 25 seconds from two years ago (Chantry also holds the Sleighbell record for men 55-59, at 17:25 in 2012). Robert Whitaker, 59, of Yorktown was close behind for second Masters (18:24), and Jason Miller, 40, of Williamsburg, who debated not running due to a sinus infection, showed up anyway (his 19th of the 20 CRR Grand Prix races this year), and ran 18:43 for third Masters.

For the female Masters, the top three were Annie Gilbride, 50, of Providence Forge (22:05), Rose Crist, 62, of Lanexa (23:03) and Katrina Fuller, 43, of Providence Forge (23:59). Crist improved by over a minute on her Sleighbell record for women 60-64, having run a 24:09 last year.

The final Sleighbell record was turned in by the women’s race walk winner Jocelyn Lamprecht, 12, of New Kent (34:27), the former record 35:00 from 2014. John Strassberger, 73, of Williamsburg won the men’s race walk in 37:42. The overall 5K run course records are 15:27 by Adam Otstot of Williamsburg in 2009, the inaugural year, and 18:22 by Karen Terry of Newport News in 2011.

The CRR now takes its annual winter break, the next race the Toano Icy 8K and Frosty 5K on Saturday, Feb. 3, from the Toano Middle School.

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