Three heavy-hitters went into Sunday’s ninth annual Christmas Town Dash 8K Run at Busch Gardens as favorites: Roger Hopper, 27, of Norfolk; Victor Flemming, 39, of Carrollton and Andrew Osborne, 24, of Yorktown.
Three-time defending Colonial Road Runners Grand Prix champion Roger Hopper is a perennial top finisher at the 4.97-mile holiday-themed race. The 2013 William and Mary grad won both 2012 (28:36) and 2013 (28:15), was second in 2014 (27:46) and 2015 (27:57), finished third in 2016 (28:26), then ran his fastest CTD time to date (27:18), but was only fourth last year, behind Osborne (26:44) and two W&M runners.
Flemming was the last male CRR Grand Prix champion before Hopper took over, winning that title in 2014, he then too a break from competitive running. Two weeks prior to the CTD, Flemming ran his first CRR race in years to win the Knights Quest Warhill 8K Run in 27:46; Osborne finished second in 28:15.
When it was all over last Sunday under unusually warm (upper 50s temperature for the 8:30 a.m. start time), it was Hopper winning his third title at Busch Gardens, in 27:37, 19 seconds slower than last year, in part due to cautious racing due to the wet conditions.
Hopper had taken a spill warming up before a 10-mile race in August, and needed three stitches in his chin afterwards. They were administered by his doctor-to-be wife Julie Myers.
Flemming again finished ahead of Osborne on Sunday, taking second in 28:00, with Osborne third in 28:16. There were 2,043 official finishers.
The next eight runners were all local: Jason Bridges, 35 (fourth, 28:44); Grafton High junior Zachary Sturm, 16 (fifth, 29:49); Matt Joosse, 38 (sixth, 30:17); Jamestown High junior Paul Glass (seventh, 30:25); Logan St. John, 24 (eighth, 30:49); Bruton High sophomore Jacob Lohr, 16 (ninth, 30:56); Jason Miller, 41 (10th, 31:10); and Lafayette High assistant coach John Piggott, 53 (11th, 31:18). All are from Williamsburg except Sturm (Yorktown) and St. John (Newport News).
Two teenagers dominated the women’s race. Kasandra Aulenbach, a Tabb High senior and one of the top female high school cross country runners in Virginia — she won the VHSL 3A state championship title Nov. 9 in 18:41 — was first overall in 32:45.
One minute behind, in one of the best races of her life, was Jamestown High junior Sorenna Jean, in 33:46, a finish that had a major impact on the 2018 CRR Grand Prix standings.
Alison Valrey, 37, of Hampton, was third in 34:09, and was followed in the women’s top 10 by Rachel Bandy, 26, of Falls Church (fourth, 34:44); Kari Tallent, 36, of Portsmouth (fifth, 34:57); Holly Bugin, 39, of New Kent (sixth, 35:03); Kellie Dowling, 27, of Fort Monroe (seventh, 36:04); Emily Honeycutt, 27, of Newport News (eighth, 36:09); Erin Wreski, 41, of Virginia Beach (ninth, 36:11) and Amanda Ward, 34, of Hardyville (10th, 36:19).
Honeycutt was the 2017 CRR Grand Prix champion, and going into the CTD was in the driver’s seat for winning a second title, with a 103-100 lead over Sorenna Jean for their best 12 CRR races.
However, Jean’s second place was good for nine GP points, an improvement of four points and pushing her to a 104-103 lead over Honeycutt.
There are more complexities — point total improvement, tie breaker rules, head-to-head competition, and fastest 5K time during the year — but the bottom line looks to be that whoever wins in their final competition of 2018, at Saturday’s Sentara Sleighbell 5K, will win this year’s women’s CRR Grand Prix title.
Four CTD race age group records were broken. Flemming broke the men’s 35-39 record of 28:18 with his runner-up 28:00 time. Ben Dyer, 75, of Toano, ran a time of 41:17 for the men’s 75-79 record, more than four minutes faster than the previous mark of 45:20, by John Essery, 76, of Williamsburg, in 2012.
Fernando Atienza, 80, of Hardyville established an 80-and-over mark with his 1:20:08 and Linda Phillips, 81, of Midlothian, improved on her 2017 time of 1:41:12 with a 1:35:50.
On an age graded basis, with 70% considered regional class, Colonial Road Runners age-group stars dominated, with all but two of the top ten. Flemming (78.41%) nipped Piggott (78.35%) for that title, and was followed by Paul Pelletier, 53, of Williamsburg (31:37 time, 77.57% age grade), Hopper (76.72%), Aulenbach (75.16%), Osborne (74.96%), Bridges (74.71%), Dyer (74.43%), Greg Dawson, 53, of Williamsburg (33:03, 74.23%), and Sorenna Jean (74.13%).
There was one more race over the weekend, the Peninsula Track Club’s 12th annual Run with the Son for Haiti 5K, in Tabb, from the St. Kateri Tekakwitha Catholic Church. There was a record 399 entrants and 367 finishers.
Tabb High runners took the top three male spots overall, with Ben Madrigal, 15 (17:47), Dylan Raney, 15 (18:36) and Zachary Sturm, 16 (18:37).
For the women it was Tabb High coach Emily Honeycutt (21:35) winning over Sorenna Jean (taking it easy with a pace workout 22:32 before Sunday’s CTD), and Sheila Scotti, 35, of Newport News (23:14).
Platt is president of Colonial Road Runners.