BELLINGHAM -- The Bellingham running scene suddenly became more competitive for both men and women in the ninth annual Fairhaven Runners Waterfront 15K.
Lydia Carrick and husband Kyle Carrick moved to Bellingham only a few weeks ago, but they are far from newbies to running, as they demonstrated in a race that has become a treasured local tradition celebrated by hundreds of participants.
Lydia, who was an NCAA Division III cross country All-American at Calvin College, won the women's race in 55 minutes and 56 seconds, only 5 minutes and 6 seconds behind Kyle's fifth place for the top local finish in a rousing men's race.
Race founders Steve and Genevie Roguski of Fairhaven Runners and Walkers couldn't have been more enthused to see the top two runners -- U.S. Army First Lt. Gregory Leak of Steilacoom and former three-time Western Washington University All-American Bennett Grimes of Seattle -- shatter the course record in 46:35 and 46:46, respectively.
Likewise, Kyle Carrick, 32, said he couldn't have been more thrilled to see Lydia, 28, win the women's competition as locals gave her a typical Bellingham running ovation even though many folks didn't yet know who she was.
"It's pretty exciting. If only one of us is going to win (a given race), that's the way I like it," said the affable Kyle, who met his wife in college and helped Calvin to a pair of Division III national men's cross country titles.
The Carricks, who have been married nearly five years, can scarcely believe their good fortune to have moved to a running Mecca like Bellingham.
"People here definitely have a more relaxed attitude toward life," said Kyle, who came to Bellingham from Delaware and had long since become accustomed to the hurly burly of the crowded East Coast lifestyle.
Lydia, whose top national finishes were 20th in cross country to earn All-America honors and 11th in the steeplechase during track, enjoyed making new friends and received warm congratulations from a multitude of locals.
"Everyone has been so welcoming," said Lydia, a mental health therapist who holds a master's degree and is looking for full time work.
Grimes, last year's Waterfront 15K champion, was thrilled to discover that his fitness level is on the way back to the top after two years of struggling with hamstring problems.
"I absolutely loved the competition (from Leak)," said Grimes. "I feel good about it. I've been getting over being super, super injured with a torn hamstring. I'm just happy to know where I am, fitness-wise."
Leak, who was a Division III cross country All-America at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., used his first Waterfront 15K as a training vehicle for the Army 10-Miler Oct. 20 in Washington, D.C.
Representing the Tacoma City Running Club, the 25-year-old officer, who works at Joint Base Lewis McChord, was impressed by the beauty of the course despite the unexpectedly overcast weather.
"It's a great course," said Leak, who earlier this year qualified for the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships in January with the only half-marathon he has run. "That last 5K is really demanding with those hills and corners. You really have the attack the corners."
Third went to Tacoma's Andrew Fuller in 47:33 and fourth went to Lakewood's Alex Crabill in 48:57.
In the women's race, Fairhaven Runners employee Julie Scheele of Bellingham was runner-up with a personal best 1:00.51.
Lori Buratto, a 43-year-old high school teacher in Spokane, was third in 1:01.17 to claim the master's division title, followed by Bellingham's Jen Gallant in a personal best 1:01.31. Gallant finished 10 seconds ahead of Canadian Margreet Dietz of Squamish, B.C.
"I'm just really thrilled to get a PR (personal record) by three seconds," said Gallant, a popular standout in the local master's running community.
Scheele, 32, has rapidly improved in the past year since going to work at Fairhaven Runners.
"This is pretty wonderful," said Scheele, who credited her "awesome shoes" (from Fairhaven Runners, natch) with helping to create her good fortune. "I've been chasing those two ponytails of Jen Gallant and Alma McMurtry (another local standout) for a long time. I've been mixing company with some awesome runners."
Buratto reacted favorably to her first crack at the 9.3-mile course, which took the runners to Zuanich Point and back.
"It's so beautiful here in Bellingham," she said. "I love the trails. It felt like I was going downhill all the time, except of course when I was going uphill. I absolutely will return."
Before she returns to Bellingham, however, Buratto will go back to the Boston Marathon in April. She said she finished about an hour before the bombings last April and was already out of town when she heard the shocking news.
"I just have to go back to be a part of it," Buratto said, praying for a memorable race in 2014.
Another familiar area runner, Keefer Whan of Mount Vernon, won the men's masters title in 54:33.
The Roguskis and the other race committee members were delighted to have a Bellingham-based band, The Prozac Mountain Boys (who include a woman), adding to the party atmosphere with bluegrass.
"I think most people feel this is great running weather," said Steve Roguski, who estimated a record 850 runners signed up for the race and nearly 700 ran.
"I don't think anybody's bummed out (about the lack of the normal September sunshine)," he said. "It's still a great party."
And now local runners have two more standouts to celebrate with.
FAIRHAVEN RUNNERS WATERFRONT 15K
TOP FIVE MEN
Gregory Leak, Steilacoom, 46:35
Bennett Grimes, Seattle, 46:46
Andrew Fuller, Tacoma, 47:33
Alex Crabill, Lakewood, 48:57
Kyle Carrick, Bellingham, 51:50
TOP FIVE WOMEN
Lydia Carrick, Bellingham, 55:56
Julie Scheele, Bellingham, 1:00.51
Lori Buratto, Veradale, 1:01.17
Jen Gallant, Bellingham, 1:01.31
Margreet Dietz, 1:01.41, Squamish, B.C.
MEN'S MASTERS CHAMPION
Keefer Whan, Mount Vernon, 54:31
WOMEN'S MASTERS CHAMPION
Lori Buratto, Veradale, 1:01.17
MEN'S GRANDMASTERS CHAMPION
Jerry Crofoot, Stanwood, 1:01.29
WOMEN'S GRANDMASTERS CHAMPION
Catherine Dilworth, Vancouver, B.C., 1:09.10