There were smiles all over the course at the 31st running of The Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler on Saturday morning as 3,500 females and their families celebrated being a part of Central Virginia's largest footrace and fundraiser.
No one’s smile may have been any broader than that of legendary Albemarle High cross country coach Lance Weisend, who watched as four of his former athletes took first, second, fourth and sixth, repectively.
Rachel Ward, who brought home two Group AAA state titles to Albemarle under Weisend’s tutelage, covered the famous Garth Road course in record fashion. Her 21:39 blazing clock-stopper bested Suzanne Girard’s 30-year-old record by a solid 11 seconds. Ward, who earned her fourth blue ribbon at this popular community event, took it out hard as she rocketed through the first mile in 5:02, almost 20 seconds ahead of the chase trio of Emily Potter, Jennifer Owens and Sallie Ford. By the time Ward blazed through two miles, she had opened what turned out to be an insurmountable lead of almost 300 meters.
“I feel so blessed to be a part of this special event,” gushed the champion. “I absolutely love this race, having run it since I was kid, and it felt awesome out there today. I love to run so much and I feel so alive whenever I race and today was extra special because so many of the other racers cheered for me on the other side of the road. It meant a lot to me and it really helped me race that much faster as this cause personally means so much to me [Ward lost both of her parents in the past year]."
And run fast she did. Ward crossed the finish line by close to a minute over her closest fellow competitor and topped her own previous best time by 36 seconds.
“We basically said ‘Bye, bye, Rachel' from the start!” laughed Owens, who also won a state title under Weisend’s guidance. “We [Potter, Ford and Owens] were basically racing for second place after the first half mile.”
Owens passed former Albemarle teammate Potter, who recently had her first child, at the halfway point and held off Ford for the rest of the race, to take the runner up spot in 22:27. Ford took third in 22:49. Potter, who raced in the last two Olympic Trials as the Army’s top marathoner, finished fourth in 22:58. Potter’s fourth-place time was significant in that it represented the first time in race history that four women broke the elite 23-minute barrier on the same day.
In fact, according to longtime race director Cynthia Lorenzoni, the field was one of the most competitive in the race history. No less than 11 women broke the 25-minute mark.
“To put it in perspective, Emily Potter’s fourth-place time today would have won the race in 16 of the last 19 years,” Lorenzoni said.
Weisend’s fourth former Albemarle runner, Lauren Brady, took the sixth spot by topping her previous best by 90 seconds, which easily vaulted her to the top of her age group.
Each and every participant from the fast runners all the way to those walking their first four miles, seemed to have a special story to tell over their four-mile journey along beautiful Foxfield.
Natalie Krovetz, who has recently been successfully treated for breast cancer at UVa, had no less than 38 friends, family and co-workers run in her honor as “Nat’s Ninja’s”. They all ran in Krovetz's honor and raised dollars for the UVa Breast Care Center, where all of the race funds are donated.
“I can’t think of a more appropriate cause as the care I received from UVa was absolutely wonderful!” said a beaming Krovetz. “And this was extra special today, as it was my first race back from cancer and to run it with so many friends and my daughter Tess meant the world to me.”
The race has always had a distinctive local flavor and this year’s edition was no exception as the vast majority of the record field and all 400 of the race day volunteers come from within the Central Virginia area. Even the top spots were dominated by local runners, as 13 of the 15 age groups were won by local speedsters like Beth Shifflett, Melissa Rittenhouse, Zen Mackenzie, Amy Martin, Andrea Wright, Hosni Haghighian, Bonnie Wilfore and Nancy Fraser.
“We feel honored to be a part of this legendary local event,” said Charlottesville Track Club president Deb Gilbert, who also ran in the race. “We are so proud of all who participated and how much we all raise for the cause.”
Co-directors Cynthia and Audrey Lorenzoni were also pleased with the record turnout.
“We were so happy to have so much support for this most special cause.” said Cynthia Lorenzoni, who was at the helm of her 20th Four Miler on Saturday. “We think with everyone’s continued support we can top last year’s record of $340,000.”
More than 40 teams participated in this year’s event and many of them, like Krovetz’s team, were running in honor or memory of someone touched by cancer. Staff and family showed up in force from schools like Meriwether Lewis, Henley, Greer, CHS and Jack Jouett.
There were also a pile of mother-daughter teams running alongside one another along this rolling country course, including blue-ribbon winners Susan and Erin Heald.
And fittingly Weisend, who had been out at Foxfield since 5:15 a.m. helping to park more than 4,000 cars, had even more folks to cheer for than his former athletes, as his wife Kathryn and their daughters Dava and Astrid all raced together on this record-breaking, memorable day.