Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Runners work hard, party harder

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There are certain words that generally go hand-in-hand with road races. Long. Exhausting. Endurance. Water.

Then there are the words affiliated with the 22nd Rockville Rotary Twilight 8K Runfest. Celebration. Party. Beer.

No, really.

Rockville Town Center was a festival this past Saturday night, with people from all over the world competing in the road race put on by the Montgomery County Road Runners Club. The main attraction was the course, which trekked racers all over the city, from Mannakee Street to Montgomery College, around Route 355 and finally finishing at North Washington Street.

But it’s the after-party that makes the race unique, complete with a live band, a smorgasbord of food and seemingly unlimited cups of Michelob Ultra. The block party, accompanied by a township of fans to go along with 2,145 runners, is quite a sight to behold. And that’s why so many people keep coming back year after year.

‘‘This is my absolute favorite race to run,” said Kit Noonan, 38, of Potomac. ‘‘I usually get a group of my friends to do every year, but this year I ran myself. Out of everything I run, [including] the Boston Marathon, this is the one I don’t miss.”

Though the party is what makes the Runfest memorable, the race was serious business for the top finishers. The male winner was 30-year-old Daniel Too of New Millford, N.J., who broke ahead of the pack halfway through the run, coasting to victory and the $350 winner’s paycheck in 23 minutes, 51 seconds, 13 ticks ahead of second-place finisher Abraha Asefa of Washington, D.C.

Even more amazing then his relatively easy victory was the fact that it was his second race of the day. In the morning, he warmed up by competing in the 2007 Teterboro Airport 5K (finishing third) in Moonachi, N.J., then made the drive south with his younger brother, Solomon, who finished third at the Runfest with a time of 24:09.

‘‘I wasn’t too tired,” said Too, who often times took glances behind to find no one close during the final two miles. ‘‘I’ve run this many times, and I know what to [expect].”

The women’s side was also dominated by an out-of-towner who ran in the New Jersey competition earlier in the day, one even more serious about honing her craft. Twenty-year-old Meskerem Legesse came all the way from Tucson, Ariz. to ‘‘get some practice,” and simply blew away all other women in the field 9also winning $350 for her efforts). Her time of 27:15 was a full 36 seconds ahead of Takoma Park’s Teyba Nesby, the second-place finisher.

But it’s no surprise that Legesse was so dominant. An Ethiopian native, she competed for her country at the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens running a time of 4:18.03 in the 1,500 meters. She also formerly specialized in the 800 meters.

While the event’s winners bore serious faces while discussing the race, most of the runners appeared happy and relieved upon crossing the finish line. 43-year-old Rockville resident Trey Kinkead first ran the course two years ago on a night marred with heavy rainfall.