Bellingham race produces family atmosphere


FAIRHAVEN - Greater Bellingham Running Club's Race Beneath the Sun didn't quite live up to its name.

The 5-mile race on Saturday, June 14, starting and ending at Fairhaven Park, was more like a race beneath the dark clouds.

The cool morning with very little breeze and the occasional sprinkle was to the delight of the runners, who much preferred the clouds over the sun.

"The weather is really nice to run in," Alma McMurtry, 34, said after the race. "I felt good."

McMurtry was the first female to cross the finish line - the eighth person overall. She finished in 33 minutes and 21 seconds.

As she came down the hill from C. Moore loop trail, McMurtry had some competition for the top finishing female.

Only feet behind her was Meridian High School's Lainey Lesh. McMurtry was able to finish with an excellent downhill burst, topping Lesh by six seconds.

"I started off too fast with the first guys in sight," McMurtry said. "I was just hoping to better my time from last year. Last year was 32. I did 33, so close enough."

Minutes before Lesh and McMurtry crossed the finish line it was 27-year-old Mark Burke who sprinted out of the woods all alone.

His pace was steady all the way to the finish line as he clocked a 28:55, only two minutes behind Ryuji Matsuma's course record of 26:57 set in 2004.

Burke thought he could challenge the course record, but after a late night in Canada the night before, he was fatigued.

"My plan was to run pretty fast but I was pretty tired when I woke up," Burke said. "I only had a couple hours of sleep, so I just used the first two miles as a warm up and try to see what I got left the last three."

But the steep hill on the fourth mile proved difficult and it turned into a good workout for Burke.

"Overall, I felt good about it," Burke said. "Time wasn't that important. I just wanted to get a good, hard effort in and just (use) it as a good, hard workout."

Finishing behind Burke was 31-year-old Derek Thornton, a race veteran competing in his "fourth or fifth" race. Thornton finished in 30:13, topping his 2013 time by 30 seconds.

"I keep getting faster every year," Thornton said. "It's a good barometer to be able to measure yourself."

Thornton was happy with his time considering he just got done with track season, training and racing the mile.

So the extra four miles were harder.

"I'm a little sore," Thornton said. "It was a bit longer than I'm used to."

Thornton, Burke and McMurtry all have one thing in common - they all had kids who ran in the half-mile race moments before the five-mile race kicked off.

The short kids' race that is accompanied with Race Beneath the Sun is what is so appealing about the event.

Burke raced on Saturday specifically because of the kids race. It was his daughter, Makayla's, first race.

"It's kind of special having both of us run the same race," Burke said. "That was the main reason I wanted to do this race."

Thornton keeps coming back to the race so his daughter, Grace, can run. Thornton is used to the family atmosphere of the race.

When he was younger, races used to be a family reunion of sorts. He would often have 20 or 30 family member competing in the same event.

"It's fun," Thornton said. "It's great to pass it on to the next generation."

For McMurtry, having her son race at the same event calms her down knowing her kids are close by and gives her a little extra inspiration before the race begins.

"It motivates me when I see my kids having fun with it," McMurtry said. "Then I can have fun with it. Sometimes when I'm racing I'm thinking about my kids, but with this I know they're around really close. It's nice."

Rounding out the top three in the for the men was Roberto Agulara Jr., who finished in 30:27 seconds. On the women's side, it was Alanna Steele that took third, coming in at 35:27.

Reach Joshua Hart by email at or by calling 360-715-2851.

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