Bluegrass Half Marathon draws record crowd as Penny, Culley win titles



Runners stream past the ETSU footbridge over State of Franklin Road for the start of the
Bluegrass Half Marathon.

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – The fourth annual Bluegrass Half Marathon crowned a new champion and also a familiar one on Sunday morning, as J Penny captured his third title at the event while U.S. Olympian Julie Culley cruised to a women’s race record.

For the first time, the half marathon served as a fundraiser for Niswonger Children’s Hospital. It was a full weekend of Bluegrass activity for the whole family, with Kids’ Run and Walk ’n’ Roll events and a Family Activity Day held Saturday at East Tennessee State University.

“It was a great event for the area and for Niswonger Children’s Hospital,” said Cookie McKinney, one of the race organizers. “We had a record number of runners, including people from across the country. We had bluegrass bands playing and the weather was wonderfully kind to us.

 “Our dollars are still being tabulated as for how much we raised for the children’s hospital, but we think it was a big success.”

The half marathon had 801 participants – combining relay teams plus 556 individual finishers.

Penny, 26, clocked a 1:15.12 to claim the half marathon win by more than three minutes over Joshua Mermilliod. Culley placed 10th place overall in a women’s course record 1:27.20.3. She is the women’s U.S. Olympic Trials 5,000-meter champion and placed 14th in the finals at the London Olympics.

Culley, from New Jersey, was the featured speaker at the pre-race pasta dinner fundraiser on Saturday at The Millennium Centre and she used Sunday’s 13.1-mile race as a training run.

Second among the women’s finishers was Tracy Brooks of Tazewell, Va., in 1:30:50. Brooks was the Bluegrass women’s champion in 2011 when she set the course record of 1:27:40 that Culley eclipsed.

Penny, a former standout runner at David Crockett High School and ETSU, won Bluegrass in 2010, was third in 2011 and then set a course record last year of 1:11:37. This year, his winning pace was 5:45 per mile.

Foot Rx was the champion in the 4-Person Relay, with Foot Rx Runners combining to run the fastest team time (1:23:28) followed by the Foot Rx Lady Runners in 1:36:00. There were 46 teams participating.

The fastest Family Relay team was Roadrunners, while NFS BAMM won the Corporate Challenge Relay.

The course, which started and finished at The Millennium Centre across the street from ETSU, included the Veterans’ Administration campus, the ETSU campus and the Historic Tree Streets Neighborhood. A slight course revision in the first couple of miles took the runners past Niswonger Children’s Hospital for the first time.

“I think that was a very meaningful part of it, to run through Niswonger Circle,” McKinney said. “Former patients, families and friends were there cheering and high-fiving the runners, saying ‘Our patients thank you, and WE thank you.’

“A lot of people, even the locals, had never seen our hospital before, but that’s the cause we were supporting.”

For additional photos, contact Teresa Hicks at 423-431-1313.

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