CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- A year ago, Jeff Weiss discovered at the last minute that a 15-mile race would take place in Charleston on Labor Day weekend.Indeed, the Charleston Distance Run has been an annual fixture on the Saturday before Labor Day since 1973. It's a race that's distinctive for its 15-mile length, 5 miles of steep hills and, more often than not, high humidity.Weiss, who had recently moved from western Pennsylvania to Ravenswood, quickly registered and, without having seen the course, sped to victory in 2012.He'll try it again beginning at 7:30 a.m. today on Kanawha Boulevard at the Capitol, knowing full well what to expect and offering his hearty endorsement. "It's a nice little local race,'' said Weiss, a teacher at Ravenswood Middle School. "I'd like to make it a tradition.''Despite another year of hot, muggy conditions, about 1,700 participants are expected for either the 15-miler, the accompanying 5-kilometer run or the 5K and 10K walks.Although participation is down from the race's heyday of the late 1980s, the numbers are no longer in decline as they were in the early 2000s. Today's totals, in fact, should be a third straight year of improvement."Our numbers are an increase this year over last year, which was an increase over the year before,'' said race director John Palmer. "In the last three years, we've shown an increase in our numbers. So I'm very, very pleased from that standpoint. Our numbers are really looking good.''
Last year, 1,498 people signed up for the four events, including the three-person relay in the 15-miler."It looks pretty clear that we're going to exceed that nicely this year,'' said Palmer. "I'm guesstimating that we'll exceed 1,700 total participants for the various events.''Weiss covered the 15 miles in one hour, 21 minutes, 14 seconds in winning last year's race and, as an experienced marathoner who hopes to compete in the 2016 Olympics, is expected to again run strongly.But he's likely to face a challenge from Bryan Morseman of Addison, N.Y., and Michael Capriolo of Akron, Ohio, who placed second and third last year, respectively.
Another contender is likely to be Jared Abuya, a native of Kenya who has been training in in Colorado. Abuya placed third in the 2011 CDR in 1:24:52 but did not run here last year.Like Weiss, both Morseman and Capriolo hope to run as marathoners in the 2016 Olympics and say they've upgraded their conditioning over the last year. Morseman, who finished one minute, 45 seconds behind Weiss here last year, has intensified his speed training this summer and expects to run better in today's race.
"I've never been as confident as I am right now,'' he said. "It's a whole different complex that I'm throwing out there to see how my body adapts.''Capriolo, who placed more than four-and-a-half minutes behind Weiss, has been averaging more than 100 miles a week for more than a month - an increase over last summer's training."I'm in better shape than I was last year,'' said Capriolo. "I'd like to finish a little stronger this year.''Last year's female winner, Esther Erb of Richmond, Va., also returns. She ran a 1:36:07 and placed eighth overall but admits she struggled on the hills."This year I will kind of forget about the hill and run up it as best I can,'' said Erb, who's also a 2016 Olympic aspirant. "The rest of the time I want to focus on pace because the rest of the course is flat.''BRIEFLY: All runners and walkers will finish at Laidley Field. ... Participation reached an all-time high of more than 1,800 runners in the 15-mile run of 1988. The 5K run and the two walks were not part of the activities in those days. ... Participation in the 5K and 10K walks is expected to be up this year, said Palmer. Last year, just 66 walkers did the 5K and 56 the 10K. ... First prize for the male and female winners is $595. Nearly $12,000 in prize money will be given away.
Reach Mike Whiteford at firstname.lastname@example.org.