As he cooled down following this morning’s Bridgeport Benedum Festival Challenger League 5K, Zach Williams reflected on his winning effort. Ironically, as he thought about what motivated him to such a showing after the race he said it came from what he heard before it.
“The gentleman that did the invocation before the race was amazing. I’ve been in a lot of events, but that’s probably the best invocation I’ve heard before one of these,” said Williams. “We’re blessed to be out here and run on our two feet. I thought of that and made me realize that when I’m down about something I can get out and run later and some people, some children, can’t even get out of bed. It’s really important.”
The words were from Father Hilarion “Larry” Cann. His pre-race prayer focused on the race’s beneficiaries – the Challenger League participants and how blessed runners were to have the opportunity to be of able bodies and help those less fortunate.
“It was a good reality check for me today,” he continued. “Anytime you get down, you know to stay positive by thinking about others who are struggling. Those words motivated me.”
It would be hard to argue that wasn’t the case. Williams was one of 146-registered runners that took part during a somewhat cool, but very humid, race that began and ended on the track at Wayne Jamison Field. He posted a time of 16 minutes, 41.2 seconds. That time was nearly 40 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor, Matthew Stadelman.
At the race’s outset, Williams and Stodelman were part of a group of four runners that broke away from the pack by the time the race left Jamison Field and reached Johnson Avenue in front of Bridgeport Middle School. By the time the race turned from Johnson Avenue onto Philadelphia, it was a two-man race between Williams and Stadelman. Then, when the race turned from Philadelphia onto Worthington, Williams began pulling away.
The 25-year-old Williams managed to take a 10-yard lead when the race hit Worthington. And by the time Williams hit the Bridgeport Baptist Church, he was more than 20 yards ahead of the field and no one seemed to have a prayer.
By the time the Williams turned onto Pearcy and then headed down Stout Street, the gap had grown significantly larger. In fact, the nearest runner that came into view – Stadelman – when Williams re-emerged onto Philadelphia Avenue came only after Williams had gone past the Greer Law offices. And once he was back onto Johnson Avenue, Williams was between Bridgeport Middle School and Bridgeport High School at the time Stadelman came into view on Johnson.
Stadelman still posted a strong showing. The 18-year-old finished with a mark of 17 minutes, 21.8 seconds. Keffe Kiser was third with a time of 17 minutes, 44 seconds. Rounding out the top five were Josh Weekley at 17 minutes, 52.5 seconds and Austin Zorick at 17 minutes, 56.4 seconds.
The top female finisher was Erika Rucker. The 25-year-old Rucker won the women’s division with a time of 20 minutes, 30.4 seconds. The second place female finisher was Bridgeport High School standout Morganne Phillips, with a time of 21 minutes, 23.1 seconds.
Although not from Bridgeport and having never participated in the Challenger 5K, Williams is no stranger to running in the city. He recently participated in the Derek Hotsinpiller Fallen Stars 5K and is a friend of Bridgeport’s Grant Burton – as well as the entire Burton family – from their track and field days at West Virginia Wesleyan College.
“I ran the Hotsinpiller race last summer. This course is similar, but this doesn’t have the hill by Compton Park so I was trying to visualize that,” he said. “It’s still really tough. When you get out on the second mile there’s some inclines. Really, I found out on Stout Street that the downhill, once you make the turn, it’s tough. It’s nice to have the momentum, but it’s tough on the core. It gave you a little shock.”
Williams, a native of Richwood, graduated from Wesleyan in 2009, but still runs competitively when time allows.
“Grant mentioned there was a 5K this weekend and I haven’t raced since the Pittsburgh Half (Marathon) so I thought I should get it in. I didn’t really have anything to do so this was a nice thing to do,” Williams, who helps with WVWC coach Jesse Skiles and works at the Buckhannon College, said.
Race Director Jack Spatafore was thrilled with the turnout. He was hoping to get around 150 runners, and that’s exactly what happened. He said with the Friday rain storms, an up-and-down forecast, the recent heat and other items, that the final total – which may have been higher than 150 when non-registered runners were included – was impressive.
“It was great. It was humid, but the weather in comparison to recent weeks was good for running,” Spatafore said. “I was worried that we may not get near 150 because we have a big baseball tournament up at the Recreation Complex that drew some of our runners away and there’s a lot going on in the area.
“Really, it turned out great. I’m happy with it,” he continued. “We had a little different setup with the timing and the course, but it’s been awesome.”
The course change was only at the beginning and inside Jamison Field. The slight modification was made necessary due to the planned installation of a new scoreboard at Jamison Field. Because of that, a land bridge has been constructed over a small portion of the track that used to be utilized by the runners.
This morning’s race drew runners of all ages. The youngest competitor was seven-year-old Anthony Spatafore, while the oldest competitor was 76-year-old Albert McQuain.
Complete results of the race, or a link to them, will be posted on Connect-Bridgeport once received from the race’s official timer.
Editor's Note: Inside top photo shows Zach Williams and Matthew Stadelman, right, heading up Philadelphia Avenue, while Keffe Kiser (35) and Austin Zorick (125) are a few yards behind. Bottom photo is of Race Director Jack Spatafore encouraging runners as they cross the finish line.
Here is a link to the second of two photo galleries from this morning's race:
Here is a link to the results from Saturday's race: