As the group Blood, Sweat and Tears famously explained in their song “Spinning Wheel,” “What goes up, ‘got to’ come down…”
Then again, as many runners at Saturday’s second annual Guardians of the Hill 5K learned, what goes down, “got to” eventually come back up again.
Run on an out-and-back course along a rolling greenway through Southern Community Park in Southern Village, the Chapel Hill Police Department (CHPD)-sponsored event benefited the North Carolina Children’s Hospital. The race course teased runners, however, with a notable downhill through the first mile, only to leave them trudging back up the same hill as they approached the finish line.
Graced by the presence and participation of so many of the area’s first responders – including police, fire, and EMS personnel – it was two civilians who were the first to respond to the challenge on Saturday morning.
Breezing through the 5K (3.1-mile) greenway course was men’s overall winner Jordan Stafford (17:19.5). Superior Court Judge Allen Baddour (17:32:6) finished a close second. Third-place finisher Randy Villalta (19:30.4), an officer with the Chapel Hill Police Department, was the first sworn officer across the finish line.
“It’s my guess that it’s about an 8 percent grade going downhill in the beginning,” Stafford said. “I ran about a 4:58 first mile, but then I’m guessing my last mile coming back up the hill was closer to six minutes. That last hill coming back definitely hurt.”
Baddour said he kept pace, but it was after Stafford gained a bit of separation through that first downhill.
“I had him in my sights the whole way,” Baddour said. “He got ahead right at the beginning though, and he just stayed that far ahead. If I’d caught up to him, he probably would have had another gear.”
Aleksandra Jones (22:14.1) of Raleigh finished first among women in the race, with Elise Julian (23:09.9) in second place and Samantha Terry (24:22.4) rounding out the top three spots.
“It was good. I liked the course,” Jones said. “The downhill over the first half-mile was great, but it was a little bit (tougher) coming up. It was pretty hard, but there were good moments in the shade, especially toward the end. I’ll definitely come back next year.”
While registration ran about even or just behind last year’s initial staging of the event, the parking lot at the race site was noticeably more crowded, thanks to a larger number of sponsors and those helping to man race day attractions.
“I actually think our numbers were a little down this year,” Chapel Hill Police Chief Chris Blue said, “but I think the atmosphere was more festive. We’d worked out some of the bugs from last year, and I think, overall, especially competing against the Running of the Bulls in Durham, we still managed to register about 100 runners.”
“Yeah, we had a decent turnout,” CHPD Public Information Officer Lieutenant Josh Mecimore agreed. “We were expecting about the same numbers as last year, and I think we were pretty close to that. We’ve been competing with another race, but the weather was great, and it was a lot cooler than it was last year, so I think it’s been a lot more enjoyable for people.”
Race day festivities included informational booths representing CHPD, the Chapel Hill Fire Department, Orange County Emergency Services, and other public safety organizations.
“We’ve got a clown for the kids,” Mecimore added, referring to Mister Rainbow the Clown (Dave Bartlett), who kept the crowd entertained with jokes and light-hearted ditties, “and we’ve got a child ID program where you can (register) your child’s fingerprints.”
Through the event’s Child ID registration program, parents were provided a free CD and printout containing their child’s fingerprints, a photograph, and other vital information to be used in the event that their child was ever missing.
Still other first responders used the race to bring attention to personal causes. Chapel High Firefighter Jake Sinkiewicz ran the entire 5K under the weight of full firefighting gear, all the while pushing his son Carter in a stroller.
“I ran to raise money for Code Three for a Cure,” Sinkiewicz explained, “and that’s a national non-profit organization started in California which helps firefighters who are battling cancer and their families.”
“I’m just trying to raise a lot of awareness and raise donations,” Sinkiewicz added, “and it all goes directly to the firefighters. Seventy percent of firefighters out there are volunteers, and they’re all exposed to these carcinogens, but they’re not supported the same way that career firefighters are.”
Also supporting their own causes were age group winners. Among the female finishers, first across the line in the 9-and-Under division was Amelia Garstka (33:07.3), while Madison Clossick (27:32.3) captured the 10-19 crown. Leah Andrianos (24:22.4) struck gold in the women’s 20-29 bracket, while Rebekah Cowell (27:01.6) was first among 30-39 women. Among female 40-49s, Beth Donahue (25:34.0) stood atop the podium. Shari Porterfield (30:25.8) went home with the 50-59 prize, and Patricia Carstensen (32:20.9) earned the gold medal among women 60 and above.
It was Henry Baddour, 14, capturing the men’s 10-19 prize by virtue of his 21:08.7 performance. Zak Witter (21:39.4) was good as gold among men 20-29, while Israel Bilbao (20:24.1) of High Springs, Fla., finished ahead of the male 30-39 crowd. Nick Galvez (20:09.4) topped the men’s 40-49 podium, while James Easthom (22:31.5) took the men’s 50-59 crown, and Ralph Karpinos (29:21.4) was best among men aged 60 and above.
Next up for Chapel Hill police is their ongoing alarm system registration campaign.
“We’ve got a series of events to help local residents register their alarm systems,” Mecimore said, “and there’s more information on the town’s website. We’ve had some people with questions about how to register on the website, so we’re staging several events to help them.”
Looking ahead to next year, organizers don’t plan on any major changes to race, but they may consider moving the race date.
“We’ve talked about maybe moving a little further out into June just because of the number of other events we’ve got to compete with,” Mecimore said.
There’s no word from these guardians of the “hill,” however, about flattening out a few of them along the race course.