By TOM BONE
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
Aaron Phillips turned in the first sub-20-minute finish in several years at the annual Pipestem Pumpkin Run on Saturday morning. That is noteworthy enough.
The fact that the Lerona resident is still running, and winning, after 16 foot surgeries makes the feat a little more special.
“It’s painful, especially in cold weather, like now. I don’t have good circulation in my feet,” Phillips said after clocking a time of 19:03 in the 5-kilometer race at Pipestem State Park. “In the summer, it doesn’t bother me.”
“But look at all those people with no legs that ‘run’ in wheelchairs. What’s the need of me to complain? If you look over your shoulder, there’s always somebody worse off than you.”
He explained his medical condition. “My dad ran over my heel when I was 2 1/2 years old,” he said. “I’ve had 16 surgeries on my feet, five of them major surgeries.”
This was his fourth entry into the Pumpkin Run, held in late October by the Southern West Virginia Road Runners Club. He won the 10-kilometer race distance three years in a row, “back in the late ’90s,” he said.
Back then, he was a top high school runner, a three-time regional champion and a two-time all-state honoree. Now, a good portion of his time is devoted to mowing “20-some yards during the summer,” he said.
Winning the Pipestem event again, he said, “feels good — but now, I do it more for the love of it. Back then, I was in high school, so I kind of had to do it for my training. I don’t have to do this; I’m 33 years old. I do it for the love of it.”
He said Saturday’s event was his seventh race in the last month and a half.
“I was ahead the whole way, except for the first 50 or 75 meters,” he said. That is not his typical approach to 5K races.
He said, “No, not anymore, because I don’t have speed like some of these college guys do, and high school guys.”
“I pretty much know, when I go to races, who’s faster than me and who’s not — for the most part. I had it together.”
“I’ve been up here training on this course,” he said. “I just live four miles from here. I pretty much knew what I was going to run. It would’ve been a little faster, but the cold weather — it’s, like, 35 degrees.”
Though freeze warnings were in effect throughout the area early Saturday morning, he didn’t think about staying home.
“I had some family members that were going to come so I didn’t want to let them down,” he said.
With temperatures in the high 20s, a hardy group of 66 runners and six walkers took to the roadways for the 36th annual Pumpkin Run.
The top female finisher in the 5K was 10-year-old Erin O’Sullivan of Athens, who had a time of 22:42 in her first Pumpkin Run effort.
“This is probably the pace I usually run, but I have run faster,” she said. “One reason (I ran the race) is because of my grandfather. ... He helped start this race.”
She is a granddaughter of the late Kevin O’Sullivan, a runner in college, and for decades thereafter when he was director of student affairs at Concord College (now University). His wife Anne was on hand to watch their grandchildren run in the race.
The top male and female finishers in the 10-kilometer division of the race were Aaron Paynter and Kristy French. The winner of the children’s fun run was Phillip Truitt of Peterstown.
The top finisher among the walkers was Randy Tephabock, who lives near Rainelle in Greenbrier County. He was among 15 people, not counting one dog, who followed a Pumpkin Run tradition by showing up in an outlandish costume.
He was attired as a 1980s rock musician, with a huge black wig, an inflated balloon “guitar” and his own “groupie,” Crisandra Honaker.
“The guitar deflated a bit because it was so cold, but I kind of held onto it and stayed in costume,” he said as he performed a silent riff on his fake musical instrument.
“This is actually my first walk, because I’m nursing a plantar fasciitis injury from back in the summer. I normally run. It was a different experience for me, but I was able to participate, and I did good, I think.”
He said he joined the runners’ club last year and ran in the 2012 Pumpkin Run. “This is one of the best (club runs) in the fall. We have excellent food. We have the costume-judging contest, which has great prizes.”
Organizers of the race expressed appreciation for the assistance of park personnel in arranging for the event each year.
Saturday’s run was slightly more challenging since the runners had to share the park with the first Mountain East Conference cross-country championships. That race drew college and university teams from three states and began just down the road from the Pumpkin Run starting line.
Complete results of the Pumpkin Run were not available on Saturday evening.
— Contact Tom Bone at email@example.com