Wednesday, 02 October 2019 22:20

Runners come 'together as family' in 14th annual Hinson Lake event

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Nearly 400 runners take their first strides in the 14th annual Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic on Saturday. See more photos on the Richmond Observer's Facebook page. Nearly 400 runners take their first strides in the 14th annual Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic on Saturday. See more photos on the Richmond Observer's Facebook page. Betty Gallo McIntyre - Richmond Observer

ROCKINGHAM — Runners of all ages and from a variety of states as well as ethnic backgrounds began arriving Friday to participate in the 14th annual Hinson Lake 24-Hour Ultra Classic, which ran from Saturday morning until Sunday morning.

The 1.5-mile dirt trail is lined with trees and includes several bridges. The trees periodically provided shade for the runners, although scorching temperatures in the high 90s created an exhausting run most of the day. Tents also lined the lake as each participant set up camp to rough it out.

It was an enduring mind-over-matter run.

A total of 500 slots were available for sign-up, which all were initially filled— although all were not able to make it, with only 388 showing up the day of the run. 

Hinson Lake made history this year with its first female overall winner, 48-year-old Regina Sooey from Jacksonville, Florida, who ran an overall 102.1635 miles. Finishing second was 49-year old Kenneth Bell from Cary, with 101.1941 miles. 

Top Mangum Track Club winners were 41-year-old Jenny Wilson from Winterville with 85.8252 miles and 32-year-old Michael Guyer from Black Mountain with 83.697 miles. Both received a backpack cooler.

Top overall winners received a piece of pottery made by Irene Russell, who is a member of the Mangum Track Club and race participant; a $100 Visa gift card; and their choice of an RTIC 145-quart ice chest or soft-side backpack ice chest.

The Hinson Lake run was created by Tom Gabell back in 2006 with 62 participants. 

“It was the perfect venue for a 24-hour run,” he said.

Gabell, who now resides in St. Simons Island, Georgia, has been running for many years and is nicknamed “Gazelle.” The 57-year-old Gabell ran this year, completing 51.1088 miles. 

In 2012, the run was handed over to runner Jerry Lindstrand — “The Godfather” — who conditioned for the transition for two years prior to the handover. He continues heading it to this day. Lindstrand earned his nickname while supporting a friend who received his sacraments to join the Catholic Church. He didn’t run this year, but he and his wife Connie worked the entire run — before, during, and after. 

“Ever since taking over as race director, I have witnessed some amazing feats of determination, and this year was no exception,” he said. “We had less than ideal conditions with the heat, humidity, and dusty trails. I watched many runners dig deep and push through pain and injury in order to meet or exceed their goals.”

Lindstrand said he writes a grant each year for the Richmond County Tourism Development Authority to fund the event.

“We use the money to pay for the race to be electronically timed,” he said. “When the race began in 2006, volunteers were assigned to certain runners and would sit at a table with pencil and paper marking each lap completed. The race has grown so much, we now hire a company to come in and electronically time each runner.” 

There are also donations to help cover many other costs of the run. Any money left over is donated to local charities.

Bibs No. 1 and 2, 64-year old Ray “the K” Krolewicz and 75-year old Bill Keane have been “friendly rivals” for many years. They both are known to the running world as legends. Keane, of Winston-Salem, has participated in all 14 of the Hinson Lake Ultras. 

“Krolewicz won the first Ultra I ran in Atlanta, Georgia, 33 years ago,” Keane said. “Some of the best runners around are here today.” 

Keane has completed 383 runs to-date and cited the scripture Matthew 18:20 “Where two or three are gathered together, there I am in the midst.” He finished with an overall 55.3785 miles.

Krolewicz, from Pontiac, South Carolina, holds the record for the most miles run at Hinson Lake. He runs worldwide and has also run all 14 Hinson Lake Ultras, exceeding 100 miles several times. 

“I think this is a phenomenal event,” he said. “It was Tom Gabell’s brainchild and Jerry Lindstrand continues to grow the event, which has a small-race feel. I’ve ran worldwide, and Hinson Lake is one of my favorites.” 

Krolewicz mentioned his motivation was running cross country while attending high school. He ran six days in England in 1984 in which he totaled 463 miles and has a 40-year span of 100-mile runs; He holds the most Ultra wins by an American and finished Hinson Lake this year with an overall 60.4132 miles.

Runners 53-year-old Michelle Chauvin from Fenton, Missouri and 45-year-old Tram Pozzi from Winston-Salem accompanied Keane. Each spoke of how he was an inspiration to them. 

“I began running at age 46 after a car accident in which my neck had been broken,” Chauvin said. “I had always wanted to run a marathon, so after healing from the accident, I was motivated to begin running.” 

That is when she met Keane. 

This was her second Hinson Lake run in which she finished with an overall 51.1088 miles.

Pozzi, who formerly lived in Vietnam, also told of her encounter with Keane. 

She noticed him running, asked about it and he encouraged her to try it. 

“Keane is my inspiration and the best motivator,” she said. “He is a very humble man.” 

Pozzi, who began running seven years ago, finished overall 7th with 81.4451 miles.

“We engineers live in a balanced world,” Keane said. “My short-term goal is 400 finishes before something breaks and my long-term goal is 500.” 

He currently holds 30th position for Ultra runners in the world for finishes above 50K.

Lifelong friends Win Stephens and Paul Heckert, both 66, began running together at age 14 with the junior high wrestling team. This is Stephens’ fourth year running Hinson Lake and Heckert’s 12th year. 

Husband and wife team Chip and Kathy Long from Rockingham both ran.

Chip Long served in the U.S. Army for 25 years and is a retired sergeant first class. He has been running less than a year, suffering a stroke several months ago right after a finish. He was hospitalized for several days and released.

Chip Long, 49, is a member of the Mangum Track Club and was encouraged to enter the race to compete in the five-race challenge MTC has going. This was his and Kathy’s first Hinson Lake run; he finished 20th with 68.3953 overall miles and Kathy,47, finished with 25.5544 miles. 

“It is a challenge to enter a marathon,” Chip Long said. “You will gradually get in shape.”

Another world-wide runner, 37-year old Carissa Liebowitz from Suwanee, Georgia, recently ran Mount Everest. 

“It was one of the hardest runs I’ve ever done,” she said. “We started at Everest Base Camp, which took us 10 days hiking to get there. The altitude was 17,000 feet in which the body only works on 50 percent oxygen. 

“It was the longest marathon I’ve ever done, and it took me over eight hours to finish. You run down the mountain once you’ve hiked up.”

This year was Liebowitz’s fourth at Hinson Lake and she finished 39th overall with 63.7859 miles.

Returning runner 67-year old Jerry Rich is a teacher of gifted children who runs all across the country. He is from Lexington, South Carolina, and has been running for more than 30 years. This is his eighth year at Hinson Lake in which he finished with 50.4831 miles.

James Ingrassia, a 45-year-old runner from Roanoke, Virginia, had his two children with him — 10-year-old Pauly and 8-year old Josie — who also ran. Pauly’s goal was to complete 50K, which he accomplished as he outran his dad by finishing with a total of 33.3268 miles; Josie’s total was 15.032 miles. Dad finished with 31.825 miles.

Marine Ben Benjamin played taps at sunset on Saturday night, which is a tradition at the run. He volunteers for an organization called Bugles Across America and performs for military members’ funerals and memorials. This was his fourth year playing at the Hinson Lake run.

Denise Martin from Addor donated her time and was available during the entire event to offer massages to any runners or volunteers in need.

A few unique traditions make Hinson Lake stand out: the gnomes and the banana lap. 

60-year old runner Peter Asciuttlo from Albemarle was at the garden center in Walmart one year when he noticed the gnomes were on sale. He thought they may bring some distraction to the longevity of the run, so he purchased several and placed them along the trails to preoccupy the minds of the runners. 

During the first lap of the race that day he noticed some of the gnomes had been moved. Since then they increase in number each year as they have become part of the race and are known as the “Traveling Gnomes.”

Asciuttlo prints the Hinson Lake shirts and runs one complete lap with his famous Piggy-Back Gnome costume. This was his ninth year running at Hinson Lake, finishing with 30.1204 miles. 

Lindstrand explained how the banana lap came into being. During the last 15-20 minutes of the run, a banana is given to each runner who requests one. Their bib number will be written on it and when they hear the horn blow for the completion of the race, they drop their banana right where they are. The distance of the banana is measured, which goes into their overall finishing results.

Throughout the history of Hinson Lake’s 14-year run, there have only been two runners to make an accumulated total of 1000 miles. 

This year two more runners — 57-year-old Richard Lilly from Shelby and 45-year old David Solomon from Roxboro— met the accumulated 1000-mile mark, which made for another Hinson Lake historical moment. They were each presented with a specialized jacket.

“The volunteers are key to the success of this event, and I couldn’t do this without them,” Lindstrand said. “Many are there throughout the entire event and are always ready to step in and help wherever they are needed. No one appreciates them more than the runners.”

Hinson Lake is the biggest 24-hour run in the country based on participation. One could sense a special bond among the runners that pull them together as a close-knit community. The unity and encouragement from the runners was obvious to all attending. As it was heard over and over again: “This is not just a run, but a community of people coming together to encourage one another to endure to the end.”


Last modified on Wednesday, 02 October 2019 22:39