BRUNSWICK — Although it started and finished like a cross-country meet, Saturday’s inaugural River’s Edge Endurance Challenge had a lot more in store for its athletes than the usual mix of flat areas, hills and dips.
The course, which worked its way between the campuses of Brunswick High School and Brunswick Middle School, also featured most of Brunswick’s River’s Edge Trails, covering about five miles.
For the nearly 100 athletes who signed up for the event, a fundraiser for Brunswick High School’s track and cross-country programs, the challenge lived up to its name — a test of endurance.
Elaine Griesbach, of Mount Airy, won the event by going around the course seven times in a six-hour span (5 hours, 17 minutes, 17.6 seconds). For an experienced ultramarathoner, she had little difficulty mastering this course.
Her running schedule in the past has included the John F. Kennedy 50, a long-running, popular ultramarathon held in Washington County. But Greisbach, 48, said she won’t be running in it this year.
“The course was nice,” Greisbach said of the Brunswick layout on Saturday. “I especially enjoyed the trail part of it.”
For runners who didn’t want to do the six-hour challenge, there was a three-hour challenge that ran at the same time.
The rules of this race were simple.
“Whoever made the most loops on the course in the least amount of time was the winner,” said Kevin Ropp, a race official. “In other words, the first person across the start-finish line wasn’t the winner. This was just what the name implies — an endurance test.”
Runners could go around the course as many times as they wanted, at any pace they wanted, but after six hours, they had to stop.
“If a runner started their lap, then the six hours was up, they were allowed to complete that final loop but no further,” said Lee Zumbach, the Brunswick High school boys cross-country coach and a race official. “We made it kind of a fun thing to do.”
The challenge featured runners of all ages. Even a few high school cross-country runners decided to take on the course as part of their regular-season training.
“It was different,” said Kierston Ropp, a senior on Brunswick’s girls cross-country team. She ran in an early 5-mile event before the featured races. “It had a good mix of hills, turns and downhills. It was fun. I enjoyed it.”
The idea of Saturday’s challenge began last year with Kevin Ropp, Zumbach and a group of volunteers exploring the idea of doing a fundraiser for the school’s running programs.
“About six months ago, we began actively planning the event,” Kevin Ropp said. “We wanted to include the River’s End Trails as part of the course, make it interesting and a pleasure to run or walk on. We also wanted something that would be beneficial to the Brunswick-area community as well.”
Registration for this first-year event went better than anyone expected. Kevin Ropp said 92 pre-registered.
Barbara Meely, who lives in Knoxville, opted for the three-hour event Saturday.
“The course had some hills, but it wasn’t too technical,” said Meely, who decided to make just two loops on the course. “It was very easy to run the full course. We liked it.”
Stephen Dobson was the men’s winner (5:48:30.6).