BURKES GARDEN, Va. —
Nick Whited’s flock of sheep just keeps multiplying.
The Bluefield Virginia native won The Varmint Half Marathon for a record fourth time on a hot and muggy Saturday morning, finishing the grueling 13.1 mile course in 1:19:47.0.
Whited, who has won two straight — and also claimed titles in ‘08, and ‘06 — passed Keith Hurley of Charlotte, N.C., and course record holder Larry Taylor (1:15.23) of Fayetteville, both of whom had been tied with Whited with three wins apiece.
“That is the fourth time I have won this and that is the most anybody has ever won,” Whited said. “This year I won a fourth and two years in a row, I would say that might be it for me over here though...
“I just want to do some different races. I may come back here, but this course is just hard, I think anybody that finishes this is a winner.”
There were lots of winners on Saturday, with 437 runners — including a record 313 for the half-marathon — and another 124 to tackle the 5K (3.1 mile run), which was won by recent James Monroe graduate Aaron Paynter.
“My dad and my brother got into racing real big so I kind of went along with them,” said Paynter, who finished ahead of Logan Lewis of Bandy (20:00.4) and his father, Ivan Paynter (21:27.2).
His 15-year-old brother, Bryce Paynter, finished first in his age group in the half-marathon. Andrew certainly didn’t expect to win the 5K event.
“I was not, I was expecting to be five back, I had no idea I would win,” Paynter said. “It was a decent flat race, there were a couple of big hills, but it was nice. I have never been up here, it is a pretty place, the mountains are all the way around, it is nice.
“I ran a couple of other 5Ks, but I haven’t done that good in them. I guess it was the flatter course, more adrenaline, I had somebody running with me, he was pushing me really hard.”
The women’s 5K winner was won by Katie Burns-Carne (21:47.2) of Christiansburg, who finished well ahead of 10-year-old Emilee Ellison (24:35.4) of Parkersburg and Carrie Minarik (24:54.2) of Hunt Valley, Md.
Whited, who is one of the more accomplished runners in the area, won his sixth race of the year, defeating former Virginia Tech athlete Jordan Chang (1:21:52.9) and Gerald Thompson (1:24.42.7) of Lexington, Ky.
“I was over a minute faster than I ran last year and I think the next guy was 1:21:50 or something so I won by over two minutes,” said Whited, who has also won the Varmint 5K run on two occasions. “(Chang) is a good runner, I have raced him a lot, he could beat me in a 5K real bad and he is real good at the ultra distances too, to beat him by that much, I am pretty happy with that.”
Chang, who finished first in 2009, and second in each of the last two years, continues to collect the sheep-shaped trophies — complete with fur — that go to the overall winners and top three in each age group in the half-marathon. The 5K runners get more conventional trophies for their efforts.
This year the trophies were presented by Erin Brown, a resident of Richlands, who is currently Mrs. Virginia. She also ran in the half-marathon event.
“It is a great event, I love it down here,” said Chang, who celebrated his 26th birthday on Saturday. “I have a little flock of sleep, my wife and I have been collecting them and we are getting a nice little flock, it is fun.”
Chang’s wife is helping with the collection. Kristen Chang considered Saturday’s 13-mile-plus tract a mild run compared to the ultra-marathons the former Virginia Tech athlete competes in.
“I did a lot of 50Ks this past spring and some marathon distance stuff, so this is a nice shorter event for me,” said Kristen, who added with a smile, “this is like a vacation almost.”
Kristen finished third (1:36:12.0) among the women’s participants in the half-marathon, finishing behind Kristen Herring of Newport News (1:33:36.1) and Richlands’ product Evan Ferrell (1:35:42.0).
Ferrell, who won the event last year, has won the 5K several times in the past. A former standout runner at Richlands, Ferrell is currently a cross country and track participant at King College in Bristol, Tenn.
“I am glad to finish, it was really hot, it is tough, first or second, it is still good,” said Ferrell, whose father, Rick, finished second in the 55-to-59 male age group. “It is just tradition, I come home to do it, I do love it though...
“You just have to keep going, that is my goal to keep going. It was a pretty good race, but it was really hot though, that is for sure.”
The Varmint half-marathon works its way around the small picturesque community of Burkes Garden, a course that starts with a steep decline, and then includes a pair of steep climbs that Whited says will wear on even the most experienced runner.
“The course actually has more downhill than it does uphill, but the first half-mile it is flying fast because it is like you going off a cliff going down to the creek and then you climb and turn...,” said Whited, who would like to see more water stations along the route. “Some 5Ks, like the Brian Delp course in Bluefield, it only climbs like 140 feet in the whole 5K and that is considered a hillier course and you do that here in one mile.
“You do it from mile one to two and from three to four you have another 140 foot climb and it just takes it out of you because everybody wants to start out fast and kind of jockeying for position and then when you got out on the back side, it is just open and it is hot.”
Still, Whited found it hard to complain much with another first place finish in the area’s most popular race.
“I was struggling a little with that, but I ran good. Everybody looks like me and say ‘You are so fast’,” Whited said. “It hurts to train, whether you are running two hours or running for an hour and 19, we all hurt the same.
“I was running pretty good mile splits, but I felt horrible.”
Chang, a native of Baltimore, was a triathlon participant at Virginia Tech, who enjoys checking out the stunning scenery that Burkes Garden provides on a spring day that followed two days of near constant rain.
“This is a moderately difficult course, but it is beautiful, you just can’t beat it,” Chang said. “It is so beautiful the whole time, you just want to look at the scenery. It is great, and the folks are great out here.
“I think this was the fastest time I have run out here, but it is just so cool today.”
While most every runner tries to achieve a P.R. — or personal record — in any such event, Chang simply wants to have a good time.
“It is not really about time, it is more about going out and having a good time. It is a fun race and it is fun watching it grow too,” Chang said. “Just being out there with friends, some time by yourself, think and breathe.
“I just love being out there running, they say it is a lifestyle.”
The Chang’s weren’t the only family affair. The Paynter’s were enjoying a family outing, that included Ivan Paynter, whose son, Bryce — a student at Ballard Christian Academy in Monroe County — placed first in the half-marathon in the 15-to-19 age group.
“We got into running because my youngest son, Bryce, decided he wanted to do this as a sport, he started running 5Ks and then he got interested in triathlons and that is what he is big into now,” Ivan said. “He is trying to get his endurance built for the triathlon to run, bike and swim and we have been running with him and we just hit every event just to stay in shape.”
Like most parents, Ivan is glad to see his kids succeed in whatever they do.
“Absolutely, it is a good bond when you can take you and your son and go run,” Ivan said. “It is just a great feeling to be out there doing something together. You have only got them for such a little time, but when you see them do good, it just makes you proud...
“I am excited about the things to come for this family in this sport. We are trying to hit all of (events( we can, so far we have improved on every race. This is a great course, it is beautiful out here, the scenery, the hills aren’t too bad, it is just a good course.”
No one has enjoyed it more than Whited, who left with the biggest prize of all...again.
“This is my sixth win this year, that is like one a month,” Whited said. “I am happy to be out here, they do a good job and this is the biggest race of the year. I am just blessed to win, I will take it and go to the house.”
With his sheep.
Ferrell also had a few of those furry trophies. Where does she display them?
“They find their special place,” said Ferrell, with a laugh.
Whited wins fourth half-marathon in Burkes Garden
BURKES GARDEN, Va. —
Nick Whited’s flock of sheep just keeps multiplying.
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