PIPESTEM — The running community of Mercer and surrounding counties got its just desserts last weekend.
After concluding the 43rd annual Pumpkin Run at Pipestem Resort State Park on Saturday morning, the athletes — and dozens of family members and friends — munched down on desserts, some of which contained pumpkin, to celebrate the unofficial end of the local running season.
This year’s race profile was markedly younger than past few years, with 23 runners age 11 and under registered for the 5-kilometer run.
“Boy, that’s good to see,” said race co-director Tom Davis of Athens. “Very seldom have we had that until this year.”
The first female finisher in the 10-kilometer portion of the race was Princeton resident Kaylin Kessinger, a PikeView High School graduate who is now a senior at Concord University.
Saturday’s weather conditions were to her liking.
“It was a little bit rainy and cooler than typical, but it was good running weather — perfect running weather,” said Kessinger, who posted a time of 46:37.
She ran cross country and track at both PikeView and at Concord. On the college level, she attained all-Mountain East Conference second team honors last fall. She also competed in last spring’s MEC track championships in the 5,000- and 10,000-meter runs.
She said she’d tackled the Pumpkin Run in previous years, but only the 5K race.
“I decided to change it up a little bit and try the 10K,” she said.
Having completed her collegiate competition, she is scheduled to graduate on Dec. 14 with a degree in education. She’s currently doing her student teaching, which involved teaching health at Princeton Middle School for the first part of the fall semester.
Just last week, she began a new placement, teaching physical education at a couple of Princeton elementary schools, Melrose and Mercer.
“Half of the day I go to Melrose and the other half, I go to Mercer. It’s really fun,” she said.
She is not done with the sport to which she devoted thousands of hours, however.
“I just love running,” she said. “I love the way it makes you feel, afterward. It’s a great stress reliever. And I love racing.”
The top 10K finisher was Colton Meadows of Daniels with a time of 42:06. The overall winners of the 5K race were Aiden Kneeland (18:43), a middle school student from Mount Hope, and Colette Lindley of Beckley (22:42).
Meadows said, “It was challenging, for sure. It’s a lot more mental — definitely a mental run.”
He said of his first-place finish in his first try on the course, “It’s pretty cool.”
It was Kneeland’s first attempt at the Pumpkin Run. He said he decided to run “so I could get a little bit of competition.”
The winner of the children’s Fun Run was 10-year-old Devin Totten of Bluefield, a student at Bluefield Intermediate School.
“It was fun,” he said. “I wanted to represent my school.”
Brooklyn Vestal of Princeton was the first female finisher in the Fun Run.
The top times in the 5K Walk were turned in by Rob and Kris Jones of Philippi, W.Va. Their son Carter Jones won the annual award for best costume among the racers. He ran garbed as the movie villain “Jason.”
Some veteran runners and longtime members of the Southern West Virginia Road Runners Club were greeted warmly by their friends after returning from “time off” and finishing the 2019 race.
Donna Akers of Narrows, Va., said this was her 775th race. “I’m back, after all these years,” she said. She recalled, “I got hooked (on racing) 38 years ago,” when she finished the 1981 Pumpkin Run and received a third-place award that consisted of a ceramic pumpkin.
Hank Burnley was back on course after recovering from surgery that put multiple stents in and around his heart.
“Everything worked out and the good Lord was with me,” he said, smiling.
Chris Parrish of Athens, who finished fourth in the 10K, said that the atmosphere around a local race is one of “community.” He said that during a race, runners who are elbow-to-elbow will often share uplifting comments and advice.
“It’s all about encouraging each other to do our best, even though it is an individual sport,” he said.
The race is organized each year by the runners’ club and the state park. The park’s recreation director, Julie McQuade, and her staff assisted in last weekend’s event. Paul Hodges of Athens, one of the founders of the race, again served as co-director.
This year’s edition was assisted financially by First Community Bank, Sheetz, Pipestem One Stop, WalMart, Par Mar Stores and Grant’s Supermarket.