The unofficial start of the cross country season is upon us with the running of the 19th annual “Classic At Mastick” 5K road race last Wednesday evening at the Mastick Woods Picnic Area in the Rocky River Reservation of the Cleveland Metroparks. The race gives out scholarship money to local high school runners to help out with college expenses.
The race was originated by former North Olmsted cross country coach Ken Neuzil. Neuzil, an avid jogger, began teaching at North Olmsted High School in 1966. When the coaching position opened up in 1980 he knew that with his love of running, he would be a perfect fit.
He said, “By then I was teaching for 14 years and so I started coaching the cross country team in the fall and assisting the track coaches in the spring.”
Neuzil wanted to set up a pre-season scholarship race for the North Olmsted runners. He was then approached by the Hermes Road Racing Company to take over the race at Mastick Woods on their regular race schedule.
“They told me, ‘You already do all of the paperwork and the registration for the race. Why don’t you just take it over?’,” he said.
He decided to take the race over and turn the proceeds of the race into scholarships. After teaching for 38 years and coaching for 24, Neuzil decided it was time to retire in 2004. That same year he decided to give up control of the race to former student, and current Avon Lake firefighter, John Nakel.
When Nakel took over the race he actively looked for the involvement of some major sponsors.
Nakel said, “The biggest thing that makes this go smoothly, other than the people that come out on race day to help, is the fact that I got a major sponsor involved.”
That sponsor is First Federal of Lakewood.
He said, “They let me run the show. They’re very supportive of everything we do and they’re very involved in the event. Their branch managers are down here scooping fruit and pouring drinks for the runners.”
When Nakel took over the race in 2004 there were between 200 and 225 runners registered, after that the registration spiked up to around 500 runners.
“How I did that, I have no idea,” he said. “People kept showing up, and showing up. I eventually ran out of numbers to give out. That’s a good problem to have because all of the money goes back out to scholarships.”
After that first year of running the event there was a huge learning curve and eventually it became extremely organized.
Along with individual runners that came out, there were whole cross country teams there to test the squads in competition.
“Different teams use it for different things, Nakel said. “Some use it for time trials. Some use it for a hard workout. Some teams just want to go out there and have a good time, and have a picnic afterwards.”
After three years of Nakel running the event, the Cleveland Metroparks became involved directly with the race. They put a strict limit on the number of runners allowed to be registered, and put the cap at 525 runners. The trail that is used for the race can only handle around 250 runners at a time without being a safety hazard. That gives enough space, after the initial start, for some two way traffic between the race leaders and the second and third packs.
“It keeps it manageable for parking, safety, logistics, and my own piece of mind,” Nakel said. “I do have to turn people away every year, and this race has a reputation that if you don’t sign up in time, you will be left out.”
The top 5 male overall finishers were:
1. Andrew Carnes, age 24, with a time of 15:19.5
2. Colby Alexander, age 20, with a time of 15:34.4
3. Kenny Sullivan, age 23, with a time of 15:54.4
4. Nick Pupino, age 17, with a time of 16:22.0
5. Lou Styles, age 16, with a time of 16:56.4
The top 5 female overall finishers were:
1. Beth Woodward, age 36, with a time of 19:32.4
2. Elyse Beirut, age 17, with a time of 19:48.7
3. Madi Connelly, age 16, with a time of 20:03.3
4. Stephanie Charnigo, age 23, with a time of 20:11.0
5. Emily Sweet, age 17, with a time of 20:12.7