By Wes Kerr
In a year of endless cancellations, postponements, and unknowns for elite runners, a new opportunity was born in the Lowcountry. And the competitors certainly made the most of it.
The Lowcountry Elite 5K, a brainchild of former USCB cross country coach Larry Kimball and fellow running aficionados David Crowell and Tim Waz, showcased talented athletes from across the Southeast on Saturday evening in Hardeeville, with some local competitors joining the mix, too. More than 20 runners took to a flat road on a calm 80-degree evening and put up some blazing times.
The women’s race saw a potentially record-breaking result. After pulling away from the pack in the first mile, Annie Rodenfels displayed flawless mechanics on her way to a phenomenal time of 16:08.143. The mark matched the previous South Carolina “all-comers” record of 16:08 and possibly broke it. The Centerville, Ohio, native was a two-time steeplechase national champion at Centre College. A member of the Greenville Elite track club, Rodenfels built off her PR of 15:49 last month at the Music City Track Meet in Nashville. N.C. State graduate student and Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier Kate Sanborn finished second with a time of 16:42, and former Sun Belt champion turned Appalachian State assistant coach Tristan Van Ord took third place with a time of 16:52.
After the first mile, it looked like the men’s race was going to be an epic duel between Eddie Garcia and Victor Pataky. But only Garcia was able to keep the intensity into the turnaround, as Pataky fell off into fourth place, passed by Matt McClintock and Josh Izewski. It looked like Garcia’s race to lose going into the final mile. McClintock emptied the tank and began to close in, but the gap was just a little too large to overcome, as Garcia kept a solid pace all the way to the finish.
The former SEC 10K champion at Florida and U.S. Virgin Islands representative in the 2019 Pan-American Games clocked in with a time of 14:16. McClintock, a former winner of Europe’s Ras na hEireann cross country race and Olympic trial qualifier, crossed the line in second at 14:28. Izewski, another Olympic Marathon Trial participant and Florida Gator, took third by just breaking the 15-minute barrier at 14:59.
In order to mitigate the risk of COVID-19 exposure, the pair of races were run without spectators. Coaches and families of the participants were allowed to attend, and all non-athletes were required to wear a mask.
Kimball hopes that this successful event will lead to a variety of exciting showcases featuring the most talented runners in the area and region. He plans on expanding the amount of elite races hosted, especially when the pandemic comes to an end, when cross country fans can once again pack the trails to root on their favorites.
Kimball came up with the idea just a few weeks ago. Now, the dream has been realized. And for the handful of star runners who visited the Lowcountry, it was a much-needed opportunity to test their talents against a strong field and push themselves to their limits. Hopefully, in a year where nothing can be taken for granted, it’s just the first of many.