An enormous leap of faith and an ongoing tradition came together at this year’s Amish Country Half Marathon in Berlin on Saturday, Sept. 8. While a rainy day greeted runners and stayed with them all day, the race itself was a huge hit.
With former organizer Mark Fowler stepping down and a new group taking over the promotion and organization of the race, it made a move from Hiland High School to Grace Church near Bunker Hill. The course itself was brand new, and it took on a new look while maintaining all of the positives from the old race.
One of the biggest changes was the date of the race, moving from its former spot on the Saturday after Thanksgiving to Saturday, Sept. 8.
“We felt we needed to move the date earlier, but we wanted to maintain a lot of the same things the race has always represented, and a big part of that was showcasing Amish Country’s beauty,” said Brent Miller, one of the organizers. “Once we got everything in order and posted the race, and runners saw there was a cap on the number of runners we were allowing, we sold out in about three weeks. We had runners from 20 states, and we had a terrific crew of organizers who are very experienced in the world of running. That really helped us design a great race.”
With event organizers capping the race at 1,000 runners, each of the half marathon, 10k and 5k races filled up quickly as the event saw a bump up in participation from the former day-after-Thanksgiving date.
“With this being a new venue, we wanted to cut off the number of people because we didn’t want to get overwhelmed, and that worked out well,” said Derrick Miller, one of the event organizers who boasts the Boston Marathon on his resume.
“Mark Fowler and the former organizers did a great job with getting it started, and the amount of work they put in is admirable,” Derrick Miller said. “As he had been doing it for awhile, he was ready to step aside, and Brian Polen came to us about taking over the race to benefit Pure Gift of God, and that makes this a win-win for everyone.”
One aspect of the race this new crew did keep was involving the East Holmes Fire and EMS, whose members helped direct runners and traffic and keep the course safe. They also received a portion of the funds from the race.
Derrick Miller said the fire department and EMS would receive about $10,000 while Pure Gift of God would receive around $30,000.
Supporting Pure Gift of God, a local organization that supports families looking to adopt children, was one of the main reasons this group took over the reins of the race.
“One thing this community has is strong families, and if we can take those strong families and the love of Christ those families have and give that to children in need of a family, it’s a great win, which is why we love the adoption agency and everything it stands for.”
While it was a lot of work, it was very rewarding for the new committee members and volunteers. The race went off with very few glitches, and the runners all felt great about the new venue.
Teresa Bonifant was in her first race, and she said her inaugural experience in the 5k was well worth it.
“Everyone was so joyful, and I didn’t really know anyone here, but they were all so friendly, and everyone cheered each other on, and that helped a lot,” Bonifant said.
Jared Hochstetler, a local runner who placed fourth overall, has run both the old course and the new track, and he said he enjoyed this version much more because it wasn’t quite as demanding.
“It was not quite as hilly and still had the beauty of our area,” Hochstetler said. “The cooler temperature and rain actually suits runners pretty well.”
Like many runners, Hochstetler said he runs because he finds a certain peace in it, and he loves the camaraderie of runners with the group of runners that has formed.
The new course was designed by several local runners who are both adept at running and knowledgeable about what runners look for in a long-distance route, and Kendrick Mullet and Derrick Miller helped create a course that was both challenging and fun.
Derrick Miller said creating a course that combines the challenge and joy of running with great scenery and safety issues were all at the heart of the course that was designed for the Amish Country Half Marathon.
“You’re not going to be able to go anywhere around this area without hitting hills, but that does always add to the scenery,” Derrick Miller said. “We felt this was similar to the old course. Both of them are beautiful and hilly. But the one thing we wanted to accomplish was to create an atmosphere where there was a lot of joy, from the prerace to the end when everyone was done. It felt really good to see everything come together.”
With finishers medals, a piping hot bowl of noodles at the finish line, plenty of live music from the Polen Band and the joyful spirit that all runners seem to share, the event may have changed date and location, but the spirit of the race continued, and the chance to support important organizations remained at the heart of the race’s accomplishments.
Two-man race sees Stack, right, edge out Mitchell for the Amish Country Half Marathon win.
Most athletes get a cool day with persistent rain, and they think to themselves, “What horrible conditions.” However, distance runners are a different breed, and for them lower temperatures and rain are a welcomed addition to a run.
On Saturday, Sept. 9 in Berlin, the Amish Country Half Marathon took place on a new venue in a new part of town, and more than 1,000 runners in the half marathon, 10k and 5k rejoiced that the weather did not look like it did five days prior when it was over 90 F with abnormally high humidity.
“Had we seen weather like that, we would have experienced an entirely different race,” Derrick Miller said. “Runners will take this kind of weather any day over those kinds of temperatures.”
Had it remained that hot and humid, the East Holmes Fire and EMS volunteers who lined the course would have been kept quite busy, but instead the temperatures dropped and the rains came and kept runners refreshed. That led to a good race, especially at the front, where two men put some distance between themselves and the field and fought to the finish for the win.
Eventually Eric Stack of Dover fended off Kentuckian Dustin Mitchell for the win.
For the most part, Stack and Mitchell ran side by side or at least within a few feet of each other as they battled for position throughout the race. Eventually Stack would surge ahead late but not by much. At 5.2 miles the two were neck and neck, but at the 9.2-mile marker, Stack had pushed out to a 26-second lead as he tried to shake Mitchell. He couldn’t, and that led to a tight finish.
As they rolled down County Road 77 toward the finish line at the church, the two had to weave their way through 5k and 10k traffic, but Stack would maintain the small lead he had built and finish first in 1:17.04, seven seconds ahead of Mitchell’s 1:17.11. Jason Bumb established himself as a front-runner early on and ran pretty much by himself in finishing third in 1:23.02 while local Jared Hochstetler took fourth in 1:28.34, narrowly ahead of Craig Simpson, who finished out the top five in 1:28.37.
Running right with Simpson was the women’s champion, Mckinsie Klim-Gliha, who finished strong in a time of 1:28.39 as she held off runner-up Teresa Ferguson, who ran a 1:332.48. Third- and fourth-place finishers Catherine Slayman and Ann Black ran together and finished just seconds apart at 1:41.18 and 1:41.41.
“I loved the course. It was beautiful countryside, and it was challenging, and I love running in the rain,” Stack said. “I’ll take this every day.”
Stack ran distance in high school at Midpark and then ran at Ohio Northern before stress fractures cut his collegiate career short.
Stack said his time was decent, but his main concern was trying to fend off the hard-charging competition from Mitchell.
“Having someone like him there to push me makes all the difference,” Stack said. “It keeps you mentally sharp and involved the whole way.”
Stack said he didn’t entertain thoughts of emerging victorious coming into the race, but rather he was hoping to post a strong run because he was battling some injuries as of late. He said the ultimate goal is always to compete at the front of the pack, but he was a bit surprised to find himself in the winner’s circle.
Mitchell, who hails from Lexington, Kentucky, found out about the run in Amish Country because his parents came up to participate. They asked him if he wanted to come along, and he figured why not.
It turned out to be a great decision.
“I don’t feel like speed is an asset, so I concentrate on a lot of ultra marathons, marathons and halfs,” Mitchell said.
Being from Kentucky, one might think Mitchell would be used to plenty of big climbs and steep descents, but he said the rolling hills of Amish Country presented a very unique challenge.
“There were a couple of downhill stretches here that were super-steep that I am not used to, and [Stack] was destroying me on those,” Mitchell said. “I kept thinking, ‘He’s flying away from me and there is nothing I can do about it.’ He is so smooth and effortless, and I am stomping down the hill. Fortunately I was at least able to stay fairly close and push him.”
Mitchell felt coming in he had a chance to run near the top, and looking at times from the past events, he felt his time would be competitive.
“I really enjoyed the course, and the people here were absolutely amazing,” Mitchell said. “This is a fantastic event.”
Hochstetler, who has run in this event several years, said this year’s new course was easier than the former track because it wasn’t as hilly.
Hochstetler began running in earnest four years ago, and he said it keeps him in shape mentally and physically. He was looking to beat 1:30 and did so with relative ease.
“I enjoy the challenge, and I also enjoy the camaraderie of running,” Hochstetler said. “It’s fun getting to run at a quality event like this so close to home.”
CrossFit crew enjoys the benefits of a run in Amish Country to create some girl time.
Good friends Hannah Sackett, Megan Francis, Amber Dille and Brynn Hoffman are used to crushing crunches, lifting heavy stones, exerting themselves to the max on mats, workout weight benches and the other challenges presented in a CrossFit workout.
They got a new challenge recently when they participated in the 10k portion of the Amish Country Half Marathon, 10k and 5k.
The quartet of friends from Fairfield County, south of Columbus, found the run in Amish Country on Facebook and decided to challenge themselves in a new way by participating in the run.
On the cool and rainy day, not even the steady rainfall could dampen the spirits of these four women, who got exactly what they wanted out of the weekend.
They all jokingly blamed one person in particular for enticing them into tackling this rugged challenge.
“Brynn made us do it,” the other three women chimed in together. Then all four joined in a hearty laugh.
“I am the pusher. I won’t deny it,” Hoffman said. “I’ll take the blame.”
While some people run to compete and others to better their times, these four simply set their sights on two things: challenging themselves to complete what is a rugged and hilly course and to have a ball doing it together.
While the world of CrossFit is where they are all more comfortable, calling CrossFit 740 their home, they agreed to take on the challenge of running in Amish Country because they wanted to visit the area and spend time together.
When Mark Fowler created this event several years ago, one of the underlying reasons was to bring people to Amish Country. While the race is now under new leadership, that goal hasn’t changed, and many people like this quartet came into Berlin and the surrounding area to stay for a day or for the weekend.
Many of them were even fortunate enough to finish the race and head into town, where the annual Berlin Harvest Fest Rib Cook-off was taking place.
The women split up into pairs because two of them are more experienced runners and two had not participated in a 10k before.
For the quartet of ladies, Amish Country and the race provided a perfect weekend getaway.
“It’s just a big a girls’ weekend out,” Sackett said. “It’s a fun time for us just to spend quality time together in a different setting.”
Dille said one of the most joyful parts of the event was the way people came out and encouraged them along the way, but she also liked the way all of the race participants were so gracious and encouraging to one another.
“There were little kids at the water stations, and people were all along the race just cheering us on and smiling and waving,” Dille said. “That was a lot of fun, and waving to the people and interacting with them was fun.”
And for the record, Hoffman, the experienced runner in the group, finished 78th overall in a time of 1:08.58. She paired up with Sackett for much of the run, running a 1:12.17. Francis and Dille, the rookie runners, stayed together and ran 1:22.15 and 1:22.18, respectively.
However, the times and placements were a distant last place in terms of what the quartet of women accomplished on the day.
“This whole experience was about enjoying each others’ company, spending time together and having a blast,” Hoffman said.
Sometimes coming in first isn’t the most important thing in the world, and the CrossFit 740 women certainly proved that as they laughed and rejoiced following the 10k race as they anticipated the rest of a joyous weekend of camaraderie yet to come.
Many participated in the race, but the proceeds raised for two great organizations brings the most joy.
“East Holmes Fire and EMS does an incredible job of keeping people safe in our community, and they are very selfless in their work, so we are excited to be able to help them,” Derrick Miller said. “But we were very excited about taking over this race and being able to use the funds to support Pure Gift of God. That was one of the main reasons we all felt very led to take on the responsibility of continuing this race after Mark Fowler stepped down this past year. Pure Gift is such a tremendous organization that has helped families through the process of finding a home for children. We are thrilled to be able to donate toward two great organizations.”