By Doug Hawley
A record number of 80 participated in the Big Harry Cross Country Run on Thursday night at Dalton’s Lake-shore Park.
“We were delighted to have this many people,” race director Doug Renz said. “We only had about 25 percent repeat people, but word obviously spread.”
This year’s tally doubled last year’s number, which had fallen from 72 in 2011’s inaugural race.
“We made the mistake last year of having it two weeks later, when schools were out,” Renz said. “When school lets out, Dalton is a traveling town. The beautiful weather also helped.”
The race benefits the Harry W. Renz Jr. Memorial Scholarship Fund, which was started to honor the race director’s late father. The fund has raised $13,000 for college scholarships.
On a sunny evening with temperatures reaching the mid-80s, the low-key action did not have the customary age division awards. However, competition was heated among the male frontrunners.
Sergio Aguirre, a 16-year-old Dalton High School sophomore who participates in cross country and track, claimed overall honors for the challenging 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) race in 20 minutes, 37 seconds. With half a mile to go, he overtook Dalton’s Zac Long, 31, who clocked a 20:57.
“This is the first time that I’ve won a race like this,” said Aguirre, whose cross country team holds an annual race on the course in addition to practicing there sometimes. “... It was very hot. I was worried that I did not have enough water beforehand.”
Long, a commercial sales operator for Shaw Industries, has been running for three years.
“I thought that it was a great night of running for everybody,” Long said. “I know Doug and his family so that was an attraction for running it the first time. I liked the different elements of the course. It did get pretty hot.”
Olivia Ross, a 13-year-old seventh-grader at Dalton Middle School, paced the females to victory in 27:09.
“I took the lead about two miles into the run,” Ross said. “I felt pretty good. I liked the course.”
There were some 70 finishers in the 5K, while 10 completed a one-mile run for which no awards were given.
Landen Little, an 11-year-old Dalton resident, was among those participants glad to be doing just one mile. His father, Kirk Little, said with a chuckle, “He told me, ‘Thanks for not having me run the 5K.’ I’m taking him right now to play in a baseball game tonight at Varnell.”
The youngest known finisher was Ellis Robinson, a 3-year-old girl from Dalton who negotiated the mile.
Construction work — including one huge dirt mound — at the Lakeshore Park track might have appeared to pose a problem for the 5K, but that was not the case.
“Hey, this is cross country,” Renz said with a shrug moments before the race. “I’ve also added three creek crossings about halfway through the course at Al Rollins Park.”
The diversified course included pavement, gravel, dirt, grass and the creeks. Ricky Harrison, a veteran runner who is employed as facility and operations manager at Bradley Wellness Center, was among the participants.
“I think that it’s a great course,” said the 44-year-old Harrison, who finished in 23:14. “Adding the water was a nice touch.”
Renz hopes others agree with Harrison.
“I really believe that we’ll have 150 people next year,” a confident Renz said. “We introduced the one-mile this year, and we should have a lot more in that run next year. As much as anything, I have a goal of having more people using this park.
“I grew up running and playing in this park. I still run through it.”
Renz also mentioned the possibility of the new Dalton State College cross country program having home meets at Lakeshore. That would require an additional 1.6 miles of trails to make it the 8K the men’s team would need for competition.
Another area off-road race is scheduled for Saturday with the 8 a.m. Grizzly Trail Run at Raisin Woods. The event, which benefits Cross Plains Community Partner, will include both a 5K and a 10K.