For most of the 48 participants, the Festival of Leaves 5K a was an enjoyable jaunt through the hilly streets of southwestern Front Royal, Virginia. But for the fastest folk, the race quickly turned into a disappointment, as a confusing intersection less than a mile into the race caused the top runners to go off course.
Things started off well enough, with runners gathering at Warren County High School for the second edition of this 3.1 mile race. Although the temperature hovered around an uncomfortable 70 degrees, it was a bright morning as everyone lined up in front of the school steps for the start. Eyebrows were raised, however, when thick tape was stretched across the starting line-- a custom usually reserved for a race's finish line. Volunteers yanked the tape aside as the "G" word was shouted, but the tape still managed to delay the start of a few runners on one side. Winchester speedster Mark Vann reportedly resorted to tossing the tape over his head so that he could proceed-- and the tape promptly stuck to the shirt of a runner behind him!
Start of the 5K race
No mishaps occurred during the first few minutes of the race, as everyone sped down Luray Avenue and made a couple of turns onto side streets. But seven-tenths of a mile into the course, runners were supposed to turn right off of Prospect Avenue onto South Royal Avenue (Route 340), where the Front Royal Police Department had blocked off a lane of traffic just for the race. A volunteer who was supposed to be posted at the Prospect Street/South Royal Avenue intersection had mysteriously vanished, and the only indicator of which way to go was a small yellow sign which was virtually out of sight over on the sidewalk. And the police did such a good job of blocking traffic that it truly appeared as though runners were supposed to continue straight through the intersection.
Five runners did-- Sam Shipp, Eric Chandler, Fred Franklin, Mark Vann, and a bandit runner. Luckily the sixth one to reach the intersection, Neal Riemenschneider, was the man who had certified the course for USA Track & Field. Even Neal was fooled for a few seconds, crossing the intersection along with Raymond Bollock, before realizing his mistake. Neal and other runners behind him attempted to call back the five who were speeding down Prospect Street, but only Mark Vann heard them and turned around.
Sam Shipp & Eric Chandler
The other four wound up heading all the way to Commerce Avenue (Route 522), at which point they realized they were off course. Reportedly they turned right, turned right again on South Street (Route 55), and were relieved to see the traffic cones when they got back to South Royal Avenue. This little detour added an estimated 1.15 miles to their run, but they all continued following the course, turning the race into a training run. Although they were undoubtedly steamed regarding the confusion, they all displayed a commendable amount of sportsmanship after the race. As Eric Chandler told your author, "There are worse things that could happen to a person."
Given that the runners who went off course undoubtedly would've ended up taking the top spots in the results, the men's race was suddenly up in the air. 56-year-old Jason Page took an extremely brief lead on South Royal Avenue until Neal Riemenschneider and Raymond Bollock came back from the Prospect Street intersection. Mark Vann, who had lost at least twenty or thirty seconds, worked very hard to catch up, but Neal had opened up a decent lead after a mile and a half-- and then the hills came. It was all over when Mark, Jason, and Raymond all slowed to a walk on the hill on West Main Street near Randolph-Macon Academy, about two and a half miles into the course. Neal cruised to a victory in 18:56, though I'm sure he would've rather seen everyone remain on course. The top local finisher was your author (Karsten Brown).
Men's winner Neal Riemenschneider
The women's race was unaffected by the course problems, and Winchester's Katie Kerr-Hobert had little problem dashing to a victory in 22:48. Her only real challenger was 12-year-old Becky Stewart of Manassas-- Becky managed an excellent time of 23:36. Third went to Anna Moser of Delaplane, and not too far behind her was local doctor Barbara Bernard, the top Front Royal women's finisher. Also finishing well was the local teen trio of Amanda McHale, Danielle Bunce, and Heather Presley, who tied for 34th overall and first in their age group! Unfortunately, the women's turnout was typical for Shenandoah Valley races-- just 29% of the 5K finishers were women, and only four of those 14 women were SVR members.
Women's winner Katie Kerr-Hobert
Lest we forget, there was also a "1 mile family fun run/walk", and all four of the participants this year were women. 6-year-old Tara Owens sped to the front, while her 8-year-old sister Christan hung back with 75-year-old Anne Schwartz. The Owens' mom, Heather Kremer, was also in there somewhere. The fun run was more like 1.3 miles, heading down to the Shenandoah River and back via Luray Avenue.
Christan Owens w/ Halloween mask
A number of small prizes were distributed at the post-race awards ceremony, including Halloween-themed items, large vegetables, and candy. No 5K age group awards were given out, but the winners of each age group were acknowledged and
applauded, and certificates will reportedly be mailed to each winner. Everyone, however, was eaten alive by swarms of gnats in front of the high school during the wait for the awards. The Webmaster's ankles still itched like crazy four days later!
Sam Shipp, surrounded by gnats
Many thanks to race director Patrick Farris and his crew of volunteers (including the SVR's Terry Leckie) for their enthusiastic efforts! The race was sponsored by the Warren Heritage Society, Warren County High School, and the Shenandoah Valley Runners. Hopefully the Festival of Leaves 5K will return in 2002 for its third running, presumably on Saturday 12 October 2002... and we promise we'll have the course marked very well!