Last Saturday at the fourth annual Toano Icy 8K Run, the 2016 Colonial Road Runners Grand Prix series started out remarkably similar to the previous year's opening race at the Toano Middle School.
The men's winner in both races was Roger Hopper, and the women's top three of Sika Henry, Jessica Riggs and Debbie McLaughlin remained precisely the same. The biggest difference was the improvement in times from 2015 to '16.
Hopper, 25, of Williamsburg, who works for Sentara Williamsburg Regional Hospital, ran 28:19 last year, and improved by well over a minute, to a lifetime best of 26:56 under very good weather conditions — temperatures that had risen from the morning low in the upper 20s, to a comfortable 40 degrees or so by the 10 a.m. starting time, with sunny skies, and very little wind.
Hopper, the 2015 CRR men's Grand Prix champion, has set his sights higher this year, and wants to win the Hampton Roads Super Grand Prix, a series of 12 races from Williamsburg to Virginia Beach. Hopper was just 2 seconds short of the Toano 8K course record of 26:54 by the 2014 race winner, and the 2014 CRR men's Grand Prix champion, Victor Flemming of Carrollton. Second overall was Blaine O'Reilly, 27, of Williamsburg, a West Point grad, who's served at Fort Eustis for the past few years, timed in 27:44.
Third overall was Keith Schumann, 45, a dermatologist from Williamsburg, running his first CRR race since 2013, and with an impressive time of 29:18 for the off-road cyclist and triathlete.
Schumann has been active in the Xterra off-road triathlon series, which includes a 1-mile open water swim, 20-mile mountain bike, and 10K trail run, with the national championships in Utah, and the world championships in Maui, where both Schumann and Darren Cox, 49, of Toano (seventh overall at the Toano 8K in 31:23 last Saturday) have competed the past few years. Schumann is training for an Xterra event in Costa Rica in March.
For the women, both Sika Henry, 32, of Newport News (30:46) and Jessica Riggs, 38, of Williamsburg (31:51) set lifetime PRs for the 8K (4.97 mile) distance, and had major improvements from the 2015 Toano race, where Henry ran 31:06 and Riggs ran 33:30. Riggs's previous 8K best was a 32:49 at last May's Yorktown Freedom Run Memorial Day 8K. Her best CRR 8K was a 33:07 in winning October's World Class Freedom Run 8K. Riggs, the 2015 CRR women's Grand Prix champion, is focusing on an attempt to break 3:10 at April's Boston Marathon. Henry bettered her own Toano 8K course record with her 30:46.
There were 10 Toano age-group records broken this year, four for the men and six for the women. Record-breakers for the men were Hopper (men 25-29, 26:56), Greg Dawson, 50, of Williamsburg (men 50-54, 30:35), Robert Whitaker, 57, of Yorktown (men 55-59, 31:02), and Ernest Schillinger, 84, of Williamsburg (men 80-and-over, 1:04:04).
For the women, it was Kendall Kemelek, 28, of Williamsburg (women 25-29, 36:56), Henry (women 30-34, 30:46), Riggs (women 35-39, 31:51), McLaughlin (women 50-54, 33:46), Norma Phillips, 55, of Williamsburg (women 55-59, 39:48), and Judy Stewart, 76, of Williamsburg (75-and-over, 57:54).
There were 127 combined finishers this year in the Toano Icy 8K and Frosty 5K, almost exactly the same as the 128 finishers in 2015. The breakdown this year was 71 finishers in the more competitive 8K, and 56 finishers in the 5K, won by Douglas Flapp, 44, of Williamsburg (20:30) and Megan Schulze, 33, of Glen Allen (23:19).
Age-graded in the 8K, compiled by CRR statistician Jim Gullo, there were two over a national-class level 80 percent, 10 over 75 percent, and 15 total over the regional-class level of 70 percent. The top-10 age graded were Robert Whitaker (81.79 percent), McLaughlin (80.16 percent), Hopper (78.71 percent), Schumann (78.50 percent), Dawson (78.26 percent), Henry (78.17 percent), Riggs (76.82 percent), O'Reilly (76.44 percent), Darren Cox (75.62 percent) and Dan O'Brien, 53, of Williamsburg (32:35 for 75.29 percent).
Whitaker returned to the Peninsula last summer after living and working in the Huntsville, Ala. area from 2010 to 2015. While in Alabama, he was most impressive in the road mile, setting Alabama state records at that distance for age 51 (5:14.54), age 52 (5:11.23), age 53 (5:18.93), age 54 (5:32.0), age 55 (5:21.99), and age 56 (5:25.0).
He also had the Alabama state single-age record in the 5K for age 52, a 17:51. He got back in the CRR racing scene at last October's Governor's Land 5K, where he won the 55-59 age division in 18:23.