MARCO ISLAND — Nearly 250 runners came out and braved a cold morning the Saturday before Christmas to experience some ups and downs. The Hill Run takes participants over Indian Hill and the estates area, where ancient Native American shell mounds create the only actual hills in Southwest Florida.
With the temperatures dipping well into the 40s, it was a great morning for running, clear and sunny, but quite chilly for those working the race rather than running it. Spectators and family members stood bundled up waiting for their runner, and even some of the participants wore gloves and earmuffs, along with the ubiquitous iPod earbuds.
Some of the runners sported Santa hats, which for once served a purpose of warmth as well as seasonal decoration, as well as Christmas stockings, and even a few pairs of reindeer antlers.
Another piece of apparel was what has become the high tech standard in cross country running, electronic chips on ankle bracelets that automatically recorded each runner's time crossing the start line, and then the finish, correlating the elapsed time with the number, also displayed on their gear. Speaking of cross country, proceeds from the race, organized by the Gulf Coast Runners, went to benefit the Lely High School cross country team, and members helped out, directing runners along the course, and handing out cups of water as the runners swept by.
With 18 different groupings for the men, and 16 for the women, finishing first in your bracket was possible even for those who ran well behind the leaders. The whole group started at 8 a.m. in a tightly packed mass, but trickled over the finish line in ones and twos as the stronger legs and lungs opened up a lead.
The fastest time overall was turned in by Davis Filippell of Shaker Heights, Ohio, age 23, new to the Hill Run, who completed the five-mile course, hills and all, in 27 minutes, 4.2 seconds. Behind him by 20 seconds was Alejandro Pedraza of Naples, age 17, with a time of 27:24.9. James Meyers, another Neapolitan, came in third at 28:06.
The female open winner was Lisa Bouhler of Lehigh Acres, age 43, who finished in 32:31.2 A local favorite, she has run the race before but had to sit out last year's outing after being hit by a car. Jo Melnyk of Washington, 30, came in second at 34:07.1, and the third place female was local Marco Island runner Vonnie Smid, 36, with a time of 34:10.2.
Runners ranged in age from Micah Evans, a 10-year-old from Naples, and 11-year-old Michael Robert Poling, a Marco Islander, to 80-year-old Don Pratt. While the fastest six runners finished under 30 minutes, running five under-six-minute miles up and down hill, runners and eventually a few walkers were still straggling in as the one hour mark approached.
The MIPD provided an escort for the leaders, and roads through the estates had orange cones restiricting vehicle traffic to one lane, but with the number of runners on the road, it was easy for them to forget that occasional cars could pass by, and hard to hear through the tunes on the MP3 players.
Everyone got cheered as they crossed under the inflatable finish line arch, had their time read electronically, and then stood or crouched panting as volunteers retrieved their electronic ankle bracelets. Then they stood around rehydrating with bottles of water, putting on a warmer layer or two and comparing notes.
"I had nothing left." "Those hills are tough when you're 54." "This is great weather if you're running." "Can we go stand in the sun?" and "I've got to get a better playlist" were a few of the comments in the after-race conversations.
Top finishers in all divisions received commemorative goblets, and every runner was handed a ribbon noting their participation and declaring them a winner.