One by one, the past champions filed in. Eight-time champ Ben Myers, two-time winner Jason McVey, and finally last year’s winner Ray Bishop. By the time Thursday’s 38th annual Stars and Stripes 5K began, it was a who’s who of top local runners.
Bishop proved to be the best.
The 23-year-old blistered the local course with a time of 17 minutes, 43 seconds, topping last year’s winning time by 52 seconds.
Matt Bratcher, who won the event in 2016, knew right away it was going to take an elite time to win. His prediction was right.
“This was a stacked field – probably one of the best I’ve seen in a while,” said Bratcher, who finished second with a time of 18:45.
It took everything Bishop had to take his time under 18 minutes, though his hope was to finish in less than 17 minutes. Shortly after crossing the finish line, Bishop collapsed to the ground, getting some much-needed rest time to restore his energy.
The past champs swept the top-four spots, with Myers (19:05) coming in third and McVey (20:02) in fourth.
Not too long after, Anne Hunter Myers cruised through as the top female finisher. Myers, who finished with time of 21:29, has won the female event three times in the last five years and seven times since first winning in 2005.
Others in the field weren’t as focused on finishing first. Some, like Blaine Wilcher, just wanted to prove they could do it.
Wilcher, a multiple-time master’s champion, completed the course just a day after his 50th birthday. His final kick was unique. Most runners hit the boosters in the final few feet. Wilcher leapt into the air, doing a heel touch just before crossing the line.
“It was my way of saying I’m still above ground,” said Wilcher, who completed the race in 21:35. “If I can muster up enough to do that, I’m good.”
Matt Feno crossed the line and could have grabbed three cards – one for himself, and two more for his daughters Piper, 1, and Millie Kate, 2. Feno was one of many parents who pushed strollers during the run, an added challenge that came with some benefits.
“We were fast on the downhill, but slower going uphill,” said Feno. “Everybody stayed in a good mood though.”
Fun family time was a theme.
The Bryant family had four competing, with Mickey Ralph and his son Bryant Ralph leading the way. It may not be long though until the family’s youngest daughter, Brit, is with the pack.
“It’s a good thing for the family,” said Mickey, who looped back to root on his wife Erica as she completed the race. “Training is tough sometimes. The kids want to sleep, but we’ll get them to go for a run.”
Nearly 200 competitors took part in the event, which also included a 5K walk and one-mile fun run. It allowed for a wide age range of competitors to complete the course.
Two-year-old Scout Freeland walked the one-mile event, while several walkers in their 70s took part.
Walker Slaughter took a different approach from the rest of the field. Slaughter strapped on his helmet, pads and training wheels and biked the entire 5K course. The brakes may have been a little worn at the end, when Slaughter blitzed through the finish line and skid toward the tent.
A small crash didn’t faze the young biker, who quickly bounced up with a smile. He was greeted by his father Chris Slaughter, who was running behind his son the whole race.
A few of the past winners gathered at the finish line after the race, comparing their techniques and training. Bishop's top time, the fastest since McVey won in 2014 with a time of 17:35, had people pondering how long the young runner could dominate the event.
"If he keeps improving, we may have to try to get Jacob back for a race to see who would win," said Wilcher, referencing Jacob Carrigan, who won the event several times, the last coming in 2011.
For now, Bishop stands alone atop the list of top local runners.