By Erin Conway
Despite the high humidity and heat, history was made at the 46th annual Virginia 10 Miler on Saturday when Vicoty Chepngeno broke a long-standing record.
Chepngeno crossed the finish line first among women runners with a recorded chip time of 53 minutes and 39 seconds, breaking Anne Audain’s 1984 record of 53 minutes, 47 seconds. Audain, a former Olympian runner, served as the special guest for the event last year.
“I’m happy. I had a good feeling,” Chepngeno said as she drank water on the sideline.
Chepngeno said she has God, her trainers and all of her support to thank for her success.
“The last mile was very hard. I’m so happy,” Chepngeno said.
The Kenyan runner ran the Virginia 10 Miler in 2018 for the first time and finished first among women and 15th overall. During the award ceremony Saturday, she told the audience it was not easy to break the record on the challenging course.
“I’m happy today to win and to break the course record set many years ago,” she said. “We struggle and struggle and at long last we break it.”
The new record holder for the first time in 35 years was 20th overall, out of 1,646 registered 10 Miler runners.
Raymond Magut finished the race in first place overall with a time of 47 minutes, 28 seconds. Magut beat Julius Kogo by about 10 seconds, with both men sprinting nearly neck-and-neck to the finish line in front of E.C. Glass on Langhorne Road. Had Kogo won, he would have been the only person to have won the Genworth Virginia 10 Miler six times.
The battle this year for the runners was the weather.
As the first of the more than 1,200 volunteers began arriving at E.C. Glass High School at about 6 a.m., the outside temperature was almost 70 degrees.
“This year we added a new water station at Riverside Park,” said Shannon Watts, volunteer coordinator.
Watts said despite varying temperatures from year to year, they are always prepared with plenty of water and Gatorade as well as fully equipped medical staff to stand by for the about 3,800 participants Saturday.
“We always take the same precautions to be extra cautious,” Watts said.
For Linda Neighbors, 68, from Winston-Salem, the heat is something she’s been preparing for.
“I’ve been running in the heat and humidity at the beach,” Neighbors said.
Neighbors began running in the Virginia 10 Miler in Lynchburg in 1977, when her brother told her about it. In the years following she ran with her brother and father, who both since have passed away.
“My goal is always to enjoy the race and finish,” Neighbors said.
The sun began creeping through the clouds, the temperature passed 70 degrees and the humidity registered at 88% when the first of the runners began making their way up the last punishing leg of the race — Farm Basket Hill — less than an hour into the 10 Miler. Farm Basket Hill is the last mile of the course and a major challenge, because the road is a straight-uphill run.
“I feel great, but wow that last mile!” David Brown, a participant, said. “Nothing can prepare you for it. No amount of training.”
William Smith ran the course for the sixth time, he guessed, Saturday morning.
“I’m exhausted. The humidity; the weather isn’t right for running,” Smith said.
Smith, 57, began running to get in shape and lose weight when he was 46 years old. At 220 pounds, he started his journey running 5K races. Now, 11 years later, Smith is between 135 and 140 pounds, he guessed, and an avid runner. Priscilla Smith, his wife, said she loves supporting his passion.
“I always say, ‘Here comes my husband!’” she said. “We enjoy coming here.”
The heat didn’t stop 9-year-old Gavin Clewley from completing the race in just a little over an hour. Gavin said Farm Basket Hill was challenging, but overall the race was good.
“I like hills,” Gavin said when asked to name his favorite thing about running.
By 10 a.m. the sun was out in full force and the humidity registered at 82%. For local Pastor Virgil Hurt, the heat didn’t make him back down from running the 4-mile race. Each year, Hurt usually runs in the 10 Miler, but on Sept. 21, 2018, he had a heart attack that caused him to go into cardiac arrest while at home. A neighbor preformed CPR until a medical unit arrived and transported him to the hospital, but on the way over his heart stopped three more times, he said.
“I was basically dead, laying on the floor,” Hurt recalled.
Hurt pulled through and was released from the hospital the day before the Virginia 10 Miler last year. He was able to watch the race go by, but missed running in it. Hurt said he believes he recovered so well because of God and his passion for running.
“It was quite a miraculous thing,” Hurt said.
This year, despite limited training ability due to plantar fasciitis, a inflammation of tissue that connects the heel bone to the toes, he didn’t want to miss out and signed up for the 4-mile race.
“I’m really fortunate to be out there, from being where I was one year ago to actually participating,” Hurt said.
The end of the morning concluded with an award ceremony, a lot of food and a lot of smiles. Runners took photos together, enjoyed bagels, pizza, fruit — and plenty of water.
For the more than 1,200 volunteers who helped to make the annual event possible, many of them enjoy participating in something the community loves, even if they aren’t on the road running. Gloria Berkley has been volunteering for 12 years with the Coalition for HIV Awareness and Prevention.
“It’s amazing; to see the volunteers and the city come together in all aspects with people from all over the country and world,” Berkley said.
Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.