By Rick Sheek
The annual Covered Bridge 5-kilometer road race rolls around this Saturday, and defending winner Josey Weaver returns.
Weaver scorched the 3.1-mile USATF-certified course a year ago, breaking the tape in 15:54. Scott Higginbotham was a distant second place in 18:28.
“I’m actually having a much better summer than last year,” Weaver said on Wednesday from his home of Weaverville, N.C. “This summer my training has been going pretty well. I haven’t been running any races, but I feel pretty good. I plan on going out and running fast.”
Indeed, Weaver pointed out he was injured last June. In fact, he was sidelined the following two month after this race.
“It’s a great course, especially for runners,” Weaver said. “It’s mostly flat. It has got a little bit of incline up on the interstate, until you make the turn.
“Then it’s gradually downhill. You can’t really complain about that flat hill at the beginning.”
Elaine Hitch is the defending women’s winner, crossing in 21:26 last fall. Holly Sansom was runner-up (21:50).
“It is a flat, fast course,” race promoter Oscar Wagner said. “People like it for that reason. The race goes through a very scenic area. That ‘s a lot to recommend it.”
There are 115 runners pre-registered. The gun sounds at 8 a.m.
“I expect a pretty good crowd to register,” Wagner said. “On race day I expect about 200 people. I think we had 202 finish last year.”
Weaver dominated last summer when he was 20. The 35-year-old Higginbotham didn’t have a chance.
“I don’t really know about this year’s field, and it doesn’t really concern me most of the time,” Weaver said. “But I like it when there are a bunch of fast guys in. Hopefully the times will be fast, with fast guys coming in. It’s better to run fast and have some fast competition.”
Wagner was extremely impressed by Weaver’s blazing performance.
“That’s fast,” Wagner said. “Just awfully fast. We were lucky the second place guy didn’t get lost last year.”
As far as Weaver’s challengers, that is questionable.
“I don’t see anyone I recognize as being dominant for the guys,” Wagner said. “For the ladies, I don’t see any favorite.”
Weaver has mixed emotions about running up front alone, or with company.
“It’s tough to run by yourself, but at the same time it allows you to be a little bit gutty,” Weaver said. “You go out hard and challenge yourself on how you go about the race. It’s definitely easier to have somebody to race against.”
Hitch, 20, is not yet signed up.
“That’s not hard to beat,” Wagner reflected on Hitch’s winning run of 2011. “That is not hard to beat at all.”
One problem as far as entrants is likely a conflicting date with a half-marathon in Tazewell, Va. But the racers who participate in his event seem to be loyal.
“It’s an old traditional race,” Wagner said. “What I like best is they always have the best after-race refreshments of any race in the area. There is a lot of fresh fruit.”
There is also a 3-kilometer walk which begins at 8:15.
“It seems like what always happens in these races is the people who win, the fastest people, wait until race day to register,” Wagner said.
Registration fee for the State of Franklin Track Club event is $25.
“You get an awful lot of folks,” Wagner said. “This is the home town foot race in Elizabethton. If you run in Elizabethton, and want to get out and see all your buddies who run, this is the place to see them. It is certainly the biggest race in the county every year.”
Weaver’s connection to the area is through his mother, from Hampton.
“Last year it was very organized,” Weaver said. “It’s great, the way they put together the race. After running there last year, I plan on trying to come back as many years as I can.”