The 42nd running of the Charleston Distance Run today will have some local flavor as it winds its way through downtown streets, hillside neighborhoods and along the Kanawha River.
The Kenyans who dominated last year’s edition aren’t expected to participate, leaving the field wide open for the 15-miler that begins at 7:30 a.m. on Kanawha Boulevard at the Capitol. The 15-miler and accompanying 5-kilometer run and the 5K and 10K walks will all finish at Laidley Field.
Last year the Kenyans finished 1-2-3 in the men’s race and 1-2 in the women’s division. Kiprono Kurgat turned in a winning time of 1 hour, 16 minutes, 29 seconds in the men’s division while Susan Jerotich won the women’s race in 1:31:05 and was 10th overall.
Of the top five overall men’s and women’s finishers, only Jeff Weiss and Tammy Slusher return. Weiss, a Ravenswood Middle School teacher who won the event in 2012 in 1:21:14, took fifth last year. Slusher of Monroeville, Pa., placed fourth in 1:44:05.
Jason Pyles of Charleston, who won the men’s event in 2010 (1:25:44) and took fifth in 2011 and 2012, will be another contender in the men’s division. He sat out last year’s race.
“I think it’ll be a competitive field,’’ said Gary Smith, who handles runner registration for the CDR. “I’d be just as happy if the best West Virginia, Ohio and Kentucky runners showed up.’’
Weather conditions won’t be conducive to a fast pace with high humidity and morning temperatures expected in the 70-degree range and climbing throughout the race into the 90s.
“It just won’t be a record-setting year,’’ said Smith. “It’s going to be a hot, humid day.’’
John Palmer, the Distance Run race director, said volunteers along the route will be ready to assist any runners in distress.
“We’ll have a lot of the water stations on the 15-mile course,’’ he said. “We’re expecting a good crowd. We’re thinking it’s going to be a great event. We’re excited. It’s a great time of the year for us.’’
The entry numbers for either of the runs or walks are comparable with last year, which was around 1,500. The 15-miler, which began in 1973 and is billed as “America’s only 15-mile race,’’ saw 562 runners completing the demanding course, which features 5 miles of steep hills.
The CDR participation numbers seem to be in good shape after declines during the 2000s. A few years ago a three-person relay to the 15-miler, in which each running a leg of either 3, 5 or 7 miles, was added to spice up the event.
“All along we’ve been running a hair ahead,’’ Smith said. “If you’ve been running in Charleston for a long time you just feel like you need to do the Distance Run. We get a lot of returnees from all over the state and out of state, too.’’
This year will mark the final Distance Run for SportMart, which has been one of the mainstay sponsors of the 15-mile race for more than 20 years. SportMart announced this summer it would be closing after 80 years in the Kanawha Valley.
“We’re a little bit concerned with the loss of SportMart because they were a big sponsor for us,’’ said Smith. “We’ll find a replacement. We’ve got a year to work on it.’’
BRIEFLY: The male and female winners of the Distance Run will each pocket $550. ... Each succeeding men’s and women’s finisher will also collect prize money at intervals of $450 (second), $350 (third), $250 (fourth) and $150 (fifth). ... All age-group winners will receive $100 with $75 for second and $50 for third. ... The total race purse is $9,525, which is down from last year’s nearly $12,000. ... All finishers of the 15-mile and 5K runs and the 5K and 10K walks will receive medals. ... Walkers will also receive badges for completing the Spring Hill cemetery portion of the course. ... Pizza will be available for all who finish any of the races or walks.
Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at email@example.com or 304-348-4811.