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Twenty-eight Years and Still Running

Pre – 2003, David Yon

Shawn Patterson and Angela Dempsey won the 28th annual Prefontaine 5K race on September 27 in 18:35 and 23:49, despite the most plentiful array of obstacles spread along the course in race history. They edged Dave Guerra (18:56) and Julie Clark (24:12). Tim Unger grabbed the masters crown in 20:34, while Julie Clark took the masters title for the women.

This trek from Silver Lake through the Apalachicola National Forest is never an easy course, but this year the participants understood the agony of one of track's toughest events – the steeple chase. Run a few strides (maybe as much as a quarter mile) and then climb or jump over fallen debris that was sometimes waste high. There was simply no such thing as "finding a rhythm" when hills and sand seemed like respites from obstacle climbing. Runners had to dig deep to find the necessary reserves to get to the finish line with their pride intact; ok, maybe it is a bit hyperbolic to say they ran like Pre, but rest assured those who conquered the beast of a course found a bit of what made American running legend Steve Prefontaine so special.

So what keeps a race like the Prefontaine 5K on track to celebrate its 30th run in just two more years? It certainly is not the huge crowds or large sponsorships. It is instead the spirit of people with the love of a challenge, those on the starting line and those who carry this event close to their hearts. Runners who line up for the start of this race either have no clue what they are in for (and never come back) or look around knowingly at their fellow runners. They know it will not be pretty, but they also know that at the end they will all share a badge of courage that no flat road 5K can ever bestow.

It all started with the race founders Dave and Carmen Rogers in 1976. Be sure to read their story on the web page about the early history of this race. Although they passed on the race director's job after nine years, their spirit still hovers over the Apalachicola Forest assuring the character of this race never changes. And sure enough they were there this morning; Dave bare feet flying over the sandy trail bringing him home in good style and Carmen quietly watching to see that all was in order. And then there is Jeff Doherty. No one is more protective of this event then the "wild one." Jeff spent many years as race director and was famous for such things as the "Wrong-way-Roy" race course. Runners were randomly assigned different directions around a loop. Jeff always made sure there were plenty of obstacles on the course. And sure enough, he still hangs around helping out in whatever way is necessary to keep this race true to its legacy. Now Jeff Nielsen and Kathy McDaris rise long before dawn to make sure Pre's legacy lives on. Whether it is seven hours of weed whacking to cut a trail though the forest or pulling giant logs onto the course to make sure runners have to do that ultimate gut check to keep their pride intact, it gets done.

So the Pre 5K lives on reminding us not just of the iron will of the famous runners, but also the special spirit of those who keep this running treasurer alive for all to enjoy. Don't look for flash in the race, just an opportunity to peer through the window to see your soul. After all, isn't that what running is really about?