By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
When Nick Whited woke up on Saturday morning in preparation for the 16th Annual Beckley Half Marathon, he expected the cool and frosty autumn weather for which southern West Virginia is known.
Instead he got temperatures in the 60s and plenty of sunshine.
“It’s a lot warmer than it should be,” Whited said. “They said it’s going to be 80 degrees today.”
But the weather mattered little to Whited’s run. He finished the marathon with a time of 1 hour, 19 minutes and 51 seconds, to cross the finish line a full 8 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Aaron Walker.
It was Whited’s 10th victory of the year.
“I’ve ran this race before, but the last time I ran it was in 2009,” he said. “They’ve changed the course since then. I was sick that year and finished second. So this year, I thought I’d come out here and win it.”
Whited overcame several obstacles on his way to winning the race, many of which he wasn’t expecting.
“This is a very, very difficult course,” he added. “They didn’t have Gatorade or sports drink out on the course, only water and that really hurt me.”
Whited said he was fine for the first half of the race, but after the six-mile mark, he started to feel the fatigue set in.
“If someone would have been close to me, they would have mopped the floor with me,” he said. “This course just keeps going up and up. It goes up Eisenhower and then to the Paul Cline Complex, which is great and shaded, but when we came back out on Eisenhower and went up toward Woodrow Wilson, the sun started popping out. When we went across the bridge, it’s all up hill from there. I started struggling and was just holding on.”
Luckily for the 35-year-old Bluefield, Va., native, no one was near him but a police escort.
“It got a little lonely,” he said with a laugh.
Whited is preparing for the Rock N’ Roll Marathon in Savannah, Ga., on Nov. 9, but his love for running may not have come had it not been for something that happened to him in high school.
“My first sport of choice was baseball,” he said. “I went to Richlands High School and was great in baseball, but it was political and it was all who you knew. I didn’t really like that. So I started doing track and liked it. The results were all on you. I started doing to road races in May of 1995, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
“I give all the glory to God though,” he added. “That’s why I run.”
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While Whited may have won the overall first place, it was a school teacher from Lewisburg — by way of Rhode Island — who placed first in the women’s division.
Gretchen McDonough finished fourth overall with a time of 1 hour, 28 minutes and 20 seconds.
But while most would be absolutely thrilled to finish in the top five of a half marathon, McDonough was a little disappointed.
“It was a pretty good race,” she said. “Not as fast as I had hoped, but I won.”
What was McDonough looking to achieve?
“I wanted to break 1 hour 28 minutes,” she said. “I finished just a little longer than that.”
McDonough crossed the finish line well ahead of second place Missy Taylor from Ashland, Kentucky.
“It was challenging,” Taylor said of the race. “I did the Amish Marathon in Adams County. I thought it had a lot of hills, but I think this was a little worse. It was hilly and challenging.”
While the hills may have taken the 45-year-old Taylor — who just started running five years ago as a way to beat stress — by surprise, they were no match for McDonough.
“It’s not hilly,” she said with a smile. “I actually really like this course, but I don’t consider it hilly. I’m from Lewisburg. That’s hilly. I consider this to be gently rolling.”
McDonough will be running in the first Run United Half Marathon in Lewisburg on Oct. 26.
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He may not have finished as high as Whited, but UC-Beckley president Dr. Jerry Forster had reason to celebrate following the half marathon, anyway.
The long legged president crossed the finish line 1 hour and 50 minutes into the race, proudly wearing a UC-Beckley shirt.
UC-Beckley is in its first year as a partner for the race.
“I loved to do it,” he said of the race. “I loved to connect to the community. Some of these runners I know from civic and other activities, so it’s just awfully fun to add to Rocket Boys and Chili Night and everything else we’re doing in Beckley.”
The run gave one of Beckley’s newest residents a chance to take in some of the scenery that makes the city so great.
“It’s a great course,” he said. “It’s beautiful, as you would expect with the Piney Creek Watershed and all that. The volunteers were great. It was a smooth run. I believe everybody enjoyed it, and we look forward to doing it for years to come.”
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Along with the half marathon, runners and walkers alike had the opportunity to participate in the Beckley 5K. This year’s 5K was won by 16-year-old Tyler Spence of Shady Spring.
Spence completed the race in 18 minutes, 41 seconds, just mere seconds ahead of second place Aaron Phillips.
— E-mail: email@example.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.