Steve's Sweet Summer Run


WINDBER, PA--A hazy, hot, and humid sun tortures most road runners. The hot sun bakes the running pack. The black macadam reflects the brutal Summer sun up into the weary runner's body. The runner's shoes slap the hot pavement. Personal course records are but a delightful, cool dream. These warm conditions hinder the road racer's performance. So, why are 162 athletes gathered on Windber's historic streets?

July 5, 2003 dawned hot and humid. The early morning haze obscured the sky. This was ideal weather for the July 4th holiday weekend but not for a major road race. Or, is it? Perhaps, Nature was testing the road athletes yet again.

A lively crowd had gathered at the Windber Community Building located on Graham Avenue. The 24th Annual J. Irving and John Whalley Memorial 5-Mile Run and Fun Walk was scheduled for this warm Saturday morning. The 2-Mile Fun Walk was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. The Whalley 5-Mile Run would start shortly thereafter at 9:00 a.m.

The 5-Mile race is conducted on beautiful rolling Borough streets. The course traverses various streets through Windber and Paint Borough. The Scalp Level and Windber Volunteer Fire Departments patrol the race course. The road athletes are well protected. Volunteers manned several water stops along the Whalley route. Many Windber residents also offered the weary runners a cool drink or a refreshing spray from their garden hoses. The neighbors at 4th and Somerset have provided water and water sprays since the very first Windber race in 1980. The runners truly appreciate their great race-day efforts.

The Whalley race field was very small this year. One hundred and ten runners completed the 2003 race. Ninety-one male runners and 19 female runners toured the Windber streets. Fifty-two walkers finished the 2-mile event. A smaller than normal group competed in the various age-group lollipop runs.

Despite the outstanding race management, the many race-day amenities, and the excellent traffic control, many runners were amazed at the poor turnout. The 2003 Whalley 5-Mile race was the second lowest turnout. The 1987 event sported the smallest field. The 1987 race was moved from the traditional third July weekend to a July 5th start. This move proved a fatal error. Fewer then 80 runners lined up for the 1987 race.

Steve Gonzales, 18, won the 2003 Whalley 5-Mile run in 27:19. Windber native Connor Mulcahy, 20, finished second in 29:14. Dillsburg resident and Johnstown native Jim Honchar, 39, ran third in 31:12.

Steve Gonzales' sweet Summer Whalley run actually began in 1997. Gonzales, then an 8th grade student, ran the July Windber race for the first time. Gonzales enjoyed his Windber race experience. He has come back numerous times and run some outstanding times. Gonzales and veteran runner Steve Molnar are the Whalley 5-Mile race record holders. Gonzales tied the course record last year with his outstanding 26:15 run.

Gonzales is a recent graduate of the suburban Johnstown Westmont High School. Gonzales will attend the University of Pittsburgh and run on the cross-country and track teams.

The warm weather didn't hinder Gonzales' race-day effort. Gonzales stated that he knew the other runners were facing the same brutal conditions. Gonzales realized that the eventual Whalley race winner must simply "suck-it-up" and do it! Gonzales attempted to break the running pack right at the start.

The Summer training and mileage were very good. Gonzales felt strong. So, Gonzales took off hoping to demoralize the front pack. The uphill first mile aided the defending champion's effort. Gonzales ran the hills hard. Gonzales separated from the race field and built an impressive two minute lead. Gonzales ran the last miles alone. Gonzales stated he would attempt a third straight win in 2004.

Windber native Connor Mulcahy, 20, placed second in 29:14. Mulcahy, a 2001 Windber Area High School graduate, is a student at Gannon University.

Mulcahy stated after the race that despite the heat problems, his 29:14 effort was his personal best on the Windber course. Mulcahy indicated that his road training had progressed very well this Summer. Mulcahy also revealed that he added bike riding as a cross-training tool.

Mulcahy felt shortly into the race that no one could stay with Gonzales. Gonzales established a sizeable lead by the first mile mark. The race was for second place. Mulcahy intended to keep that position.

Mulcahy regularly runs a portion of the Whalley race. He has run this race five times. Mulcahy plans to run the 25th Whalley road event in 2004.

Jim Honchar, 39, finished third in 31:12. Honchar also has run the Whalley 5-Miler numerous times. Honchar estimates that he missed only five races. Honchar has run the Whalley race well. Honchar placed second in 1996 in 29:03. He also was third in 1997.

Honchar flew across the Whalley course despite having completed his July 4th annual tradition. Honchar's July 4th features a two hour run on the Northern Central Trail.

Honchar experienced no problems along the race course. Honchar stated traffic control was very good and the water stops were well manned. He also appreciated the water and encouragement offered by the Windber residents along the streets. Honchar further stated the Windber 5-Mile race is a tremendous bargain. The road racers are treated very well. The postrace food and beverage feast is great! Honchar also plans to be on the 25th Whalley Race starting line.

Eighteen-year-old running sensation Leanna Nastase was the overall female runner in 31:47. The Forest Hills High School graduate was 38 seconds from breaking Anne Nash's 1989 31:09 course record. However, Nastase did set a new female Whalley 5-Mile record. Nastase placed 4th overall in the 5-Mile run. This is the highest finish by any female runner in Whalley history. Nastase is attending Bucknell University this Fall. Her plans include both track and cross-country running.

Daniel Pozun, 16, from Johnstown was second in 36:07. Pozun is a hard working Westmont High School runner.

Third place was captured by 37-year-old Paula Bridges. Bridges, a Cumberland, MD resident, finished behind Pozun in 36:07. Bridges along with her sister Lynn and father Marvin are frequent visitors to the Cambria-Somerset County road-race scene.

Michael Adams, 18, executed another outstanding Whalley 5-Mile race performance. Adams shattered the 1997 Emil Branas 40:38 wheelchair course record. Adams toured the Windber streets in 26:06. The heat and humidity did not slow this determined athlete.

Craig Baer, 44, won the 2-Mile Fun Walk in 16:49. The Fort Hill resident also won the 2002 Whalley Walk. Baer's goal is to break Steve Bence's 1999 16:30 course record.

Some minor controversy occurred during the Fun Walk. This event featured athletes walking, running, and others doing both. Yet, Craig Baer still beat everyone racewalking to the finish line. The second place finisher ran the course in 18:04. Baer finished nearly two minutes ahead racewalking. Baer's winning effort was another excellent Whalley race-day performance.

Dave and Tim Mapes did another outstanding job timing the race. Their race-day efforts guarantee Whalley competitors an accurate time and finishing place.

Gayle Ankeny's Community Building staff provided an excellent, well-organized road event. Ankeny did mention that the race committee would give serious thought to an earlier 5-mile start next year. She mentioned that the Race Committee welcomes ideas and suggestions on improving the 5-Mile run. The 25th Whalley 5-Mile Run and Fun Walk is tentatively scheduled for Saturday, July 4, 2004.

Perhaps former Johnstown resident Bob Krentz uttered the best postrace comment. Krentz stated that all is right in the world when one sees John Hess running along the road heading to the Windber starting line. Hess is known for running from his Westmont Borough home to the Windber starting line and then running a good 5-mile race. Hess' pre-race trek is hilly and quite long. It's no wonder that Mr. Hess enjoys a cold beverage after completing the Windber 5-Mile tour!