Chapel Hill: Sports

Recreation: Times speed by Little River

Runners stream through the old barn at the start of Saturday’s 7K race at Little River Regional park.
Runners stream through the old barn at the start of Saturday’s 7K race at Little River Regional park. RANDY YOUNG

Maybe Einstein had it wrong. Maybe time is always relative, not just near light speed.

The Trailheads running group first staged its first Little River 10-mile and 7K Trail Runs in January 2006. Ask any of the Trailheads, and they’d say the years since that cold day in 2006 seems like the blink of an eye.

The overall 7K winner in last weekend’s race in northern Orange County probably was watching Nickelodeon in 2006. Ask him and he’d say January 2006 seems like half-a-lifetime ago, because, for him, it was.

Jack McAdams, age18, of Durham finished Saturday’s Little River 7K race in 26:56.1, beating out three-time winner Curtis Swisher (27:19.2) of Kernersville. Brett Haensel (27:29.9) of Raleigh earned the bronze, and Conrad Hall (29:07.9) won the men’s masters division crown.

“I kind of paced myself for the first mile,” said McAdams, a senior at Riverside High School. “When it got into the single track, I caught Curtis.”

In the women’s 7K, Allison Peters of Kernersville (29:49.2) repeated her 2014 performance as the winner. Lauren Hagedorn (30:51.6) placed second, and Christina Kim (31:14.6) was third on the medal stand. Jamie Dilweg (33:00.1) also repeated as 2014 female masters’ victor.

“It was a little slippery, but I enjoyed the course as always,” Peters said. “I slipped a few times coming up the hill and on a couple of the bridges.”

While well short of the speed of light Saturday, Scott Spillman of Morrison, Colo., was fast enough to win the Little River’s 10-mile race in 1:03:36.4. Durham’s Andrew Baker (1:03:53.8) finished second, with Amadeo Iraheta Mejía (1:08:12.2) of Garner in third place overall. The men’s masters’ division winner was Paul Francis of Chapel Hill (1:08:23.5).

“The trails are very different than the ones I’m used to in Colorado,” Spillman said. “These have tons of turns and pine straw. I’m used to just bare dirt and rocks.”

Spillman said rains earlier in the week had not left the trail too slippery.

“In general, conditions were pretty awesome for running,” he said.

Katie Hume (1:13:02.7) of Carrboro finished first among the women in the 10-mile race, with Sara Crippen (1:20:43.6) in second place, and Elizabeth Foster (1:21:09.9) rounding out the top three. Shannon Johnstone (1:25:27.7) repeated her 2014 performance by capturing the women’s 10-mile masters division crown.

“It was good, and it was much better than when I ran it four years ago,” Hume said. “I started out too fast, which is a bad strategy for me, so I was kind of suffering the whole time.”

The Trailheads’ Little River Trail Runs follow the single-track trails through Little River Park Regional Park’s pristine forest. The Park boasts nearly 15 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails, picnic areas, bathroom facilities, a campground, and a playground. Managed by Orange County, the park offers nearly 400 acres of natural area.

Through a common love of trail running, ultra-running, mountain biking, and other off-road adventure sports, the Trailheads ( celebrate nature, preservation, and sensible stewardship of areas such as Little River and the Carolina North Forests in Chapel Hill.

Some of those running Saturday entered the race for reasons other than speed, like Chapel Hill firefighter Jake Sinkiewicz, who ran the 10-mile race in full gear, all 45 pounds of it, to bring attention to “Code 3 for a Cure” — a non-profit organization that provides financial assistance to firefighters who are battling cancer.

The rest of Sinkiewicz’s day was relatively easier.

“When I get home and take off the equipment, it’s like walking on air,” he said, laughing.

Layna “Willow” Mosley, race co-director (with Cliff “Grub” Simpson) said the race was still evolving.

“Fleet Feet Carrboro is bringing in a lot of folks who’ve never done a trail race,” she said. “This year we had a nice U-Haul track for the timing crew, and also a medical tent. We had a record number of finishers this year, because we had the same number of registrants as last year — 650 — but we also have great weather this year.”

Another change this year was the option to sign up for both of the Trailheads’ races — the Little River and the Philosopher’s Way Trail Runs — with a $5 discount.

“We’re going to have prizes for the best combined time through both races,” Mosley said.

Conversely, Mike Armstrong, who has run in all 10 of the Little River races, said what he likes about the race is that it hasn’t changed that much.

“I’m running about the same times, and the crowd is pretty much the same,” Armstrong said. “Like with all the Trailheads’ races, it’s not about going fast—it’s about having a great time with a community of runners.”

While race registrations mean higher donations to the park ($51,000 through nine years), some money is came pouring in on its own, including almost $500 in additional contributions.

Little River park manager Mike DiFabio said the donations have been invaluable.

“We’ve been able get a ton of new amenities which help us give back to the public,” he said, “like providing ongoing educational programs for adults and kids, and we’ve got our night sky stargazing sessions.”

Programs like these put Little River on the map for 47,000 visitors in 2014, up nearly 20 percent from the previous year. Still, DiFabio has seen nothing but sensible stewardship over the past decade.

“We’ve fostered new relationships and developed new partnerships with groups who help us here,” he said.

Parks Conservation Technician Michelle Pesavento said the money was secondary to the exposure.

“It’s been about letting people know we’re out here and that they have this resource,” she said. “We’d been a hidden gem for a time, but ... we also want people to come out and enjoy themselves.”

“The TrailHeads will now focus on their next race, the Philosopher’s Way Trail Runs in Chapel Hill on May 2.

Whatever the next decade or two holds for Little River, chances are the years will pass for most Trailheads at light speed. For some future winner — perhaps one not even born yet — a Little River victory is a lifetime away.