BELLINGHAM - Approximately 550 people burst from the entrance to Marine Park, starting the 7-mile trek along the Interurban Trail for the 48th annual Chuckanut Foot Race Saturday, July 12, hosted by the Greater Bellingham Running Club.
Conner Johnsen, a 2013 Sehome High School graduate, was first to the finish line at Larrabee State Park with a time of 39 minutes, 41 seconds. Bronwyn Crossman finished first for the women, placing fifth overall with a time of 42:42.
Mark Burke took second for the men with a time of 39:58, and Bryce Hoefer placed third with a time of 41:52.
Courtney Olsen crossed the line at 43:17 to place second among the women and Lydia Carrick ran a 46:17 to take third.
Johnsen ran cross country for Sehome and now runs for Washington State University. He grew up hearing about the race but had never competed until this year. He said he did not know what to expect and was running to train for the cross country season starting in the fall. The trail sometimes makes steep inclines and quick dips along the way, making a variety of running conditions for participants, he said.
"It's not something you normally race on, but it makes it unique and fun," Johnsen said.
Nineteen flaggers were placed along the route to guide runners and two water stations were set up for runners to grab a quick drink as they passed. One group giving out water included members of the Sehome cross country team, who had a little fun when Johnsen ran past by drenching him from head to toe with cups of water around the third mile, Johnsen said.
Gale Pfueller, 71, finished with a time of 1:07.02, 218th overall. Pfueller was one of the original runners when the race started in 1967. He has participated in almost every race since, missing only two, and it has become his favorite run each year. Pfueller almost missed the race this year due to a stress fracture in his left foot that kept him from running for May and June, but he was determined to run, only taking it easy going down hills.
"It's a beautiful thing," Pfueller said. "That last three-quarters of a mile along the trail when you can hear the music is great."
Though ribbons are awarded, race director Kelly Krieger said the main focus of the race is for the average runner and the community as a whole.
Vicki Griffiths, 71, finished with a time of 1:13:19. She has been running the footrace since 1993 and enjoys the camaraderie between community members at the race. She spread her arms, gesturing over the crowd of runners and family members relaxing after the race, dancing to the music played by band Maggie's Fury from the Larrabee amphitheater and eating the fruit and bread provided to the racers.
"I'm older and I'm slower, but there are just as many cheers from the first runner to the last runner," she said.
Sam Alexander was at the finish line providing many of those cheers. Alexander, a board member for the Greater Bellingham Running Club, stood clutching a megaphone to welcome runners as they rounded the final turn to the finish.
Alexander won the footrace in 2006 and 2008, though hasn't been able to run since. He ran cross country for Bellingham High School in the late '80s and was the state champion in the 3,200. At that time, though, Alexander said running was not common, and he was made fun of for running. He is excited that people are now getting the same satisfatction from running as he did in high school.
"It doesn't matter how fast you go, it's just good we're all getting out there and pushing ourselves," he said.
The top five times for the men were Johnsen (39:42), Burke (39:58), Hoefer (41:52), Martin Ranney (41:54) and Roberto Aguilera Jr. (43:06).
The top five times for the women were Crossman (42:42), Olsen (43:17), Carrick (46:17), Lainey Lesh (47:13) and Amelia Bethke (47:55).