Forty-four runners came to Tsalteshi Trails on Saturday morning in search of the fountain of youth.
What they found is that it may be genetics, and not some mythical spring, that turns back the clock.
Kenai’s Mark Blanning, 53, was the runaway winner in the first running of the Fountain of Youth Pursuit. The 10-kilometer race sends runners off in waves according to age and gender.
Saturday, the first runners to start were men 77 and up, and women 63 and up. Terri Cowart, a 64-year-old woman, was the first runner to take off.
Two minutes later, Maria Sweppy, 61, hit the course.
When Blanning hit the course in the 15th wave, the head starts of the other runners would make little difference.
By the top of the hill that starts the second, five-kilometer lap, he had already taken the race lead. He would finish at 55 minutes, 9 seconds — a time that takes into account the 14-minute head start he gave Cowart.
What’s the secret to the fountain of youth?
“It’s probably genetics. We just celebrated my mom’s 90th birthday,” Blanning said of Beverly Blanning of Soldotna. “She still exercises five days a week.”
If your mom is 90 and exercising five times a week, why not run a few races in a day at 53?
Blanning also was signed up to compete in the invitational mile at the rededication of Ed Hollier Field at Kenai Central High School on Saturday afternoon. He finished in a not-too-shabby 5:15.
“I was trying to take it a little easy in this race, but I wasn’t able to do it,” Blanning said. “I guess my competitiveness got the best of me.”
Finishing second was Reuben Sublett, a 1998 graduate of Skyview High School and a former standout runner for the school.
Sublett, 34, now lives in Fort Collins, Colo., but was back in the area for 10 days to visit his mother, Bobbie.
He said he does not run a lot anymore, but decided in the day leading up to the race he’d like to do a race on his old stomping grounds.
Sublett started five minutes behind Blanning. He made up some of that time, finishing at 59:13 and also running the fastest overall time of the day.
Sublett said the race was a good opportunity to reflect back on coaches that helped him in running, like Allan Miller and Kent Peterson.
Peterson, 42, ran the race from the 18th wave, getting a two-minute head start on Sublett, but getting caught late in the race and finishing 49 seconds behind him. Peterson did pick up third.
“When I saw he would be starting behind me, I knew I would be seeing him eventually,” Peterson said. “I’m happy I was able to hold him off as long as I did.”
Peterson was able to out-kick Kenda Blanning for fourth place. Blanning, 51, was the last person to lead the race other than her husband. She started in the 10th wave.
Mark passed Kenda at the top of the hill that starts the second lap of the race.
“I was just hoping to keep him from passing me on the first lap,” Kenda said.
While many in the running community had Mark Blanning marked for a victory when the pursuit format was announced, Kenda said she showed up not knowing who would win.
“You never know what’s going to happen when they do something like this for the first time,” she said. “It was a fun, new experience.”
The pursuit format was the brainchild of Adam Reimer. Reimer said he got the idea from The Annual Dipsea Race in California, which also employs a handicapping system.
Reimer said his wife, Carly, and the Tsalteshi Trails Association put in all the work it took to pull off such a unique format.
“For the first year, I was pleased with the response,” he said.
He said the tables used to create the waves were based on times on a track. There were then further adjustments to account for the rolling hills of Tsalteshi.
“We’ll have to look at the results and see how we did,” he said.
The top 10 featured five men and five women. Reimer said Blanning’s victory probably had less to do with the tables and more to do with the fact that Blanning is a great runner. At 53, he did post the second-fastest overall time of the day — a 41:09 10K on a challenging, hilly course.
“In the Dipsea, they give you a minute penalty for the next year if you win the race,” Reimer said. “That’s how we’ll get him eventually, but it may take a few more wins.”
Fountain of Youth Pursuit
Saturday at Tsalteshi Trails
1. Mark Blanning, Wave 15, 55 minutes, 9 seconds; 2. Reuben Sublett, 20, 59:13; 3. Kent Peterson, 18, 1:00:02; 4. Kenda Blanning, 10, 1:00:11; 5. Carl Kincaid, 15, 1:00:25; 6. Sean Goff, 18, 1:01:37; 7. Alice Anderson, 8, 1:03:45; 8. Patti Berkhahn, 6, 1:04:22; 9. Tracy Pitts, 16, 1:04:44; 10. Mary Fischer, 12, 1:06:02; 11. Mike Campbell, 20, 1:07:27; 12. Duncan Allen, 21, 1:07:49; 13. Laura Pillifant, 9, 1:07:55; 14. Jamie Nelson, 20, 1:08:48; 15. Autumn Ball, 16, 1:08:49; 16. Angie Brennan, 15, 1:09:17; 17. Julie Litchfield, 15, 1:09:39; 18. Tom Rhyner, 11, 1:10:09; 19. Terri Cowart, 1, 1:10:52; 20. Ariel Mercier, 16, 1:11:02; 21. Amy Baxter, 15, 1:11:25; 22. Marian Werth, 9, 1:11:29; 23. Kale Blankenship, 21, 1:13:30; 24. Ben Hanson, 20, 1:13:49; 25. Jane Fuerstenau, 10, 1:14:25.
26. Miriam Freas, 15, 1:14:26; 27. Johni Blankenship, 13, 1:14:40; 28. Kristin Morrow, 14, 1:15:11; 29. Maria Sweppy, 3, 1:15:12; 30. David Martin, 21, 1:15:32; 31. Jeff Perschbacher, 17, 1:17:01; 32. Christine Moerlein, 21, 1:17:52; 33. Katie Ring, 16, 1:17:59; 34. Mary Rhyner, 5, 1:18:11; 35. Brianne Steed, 16, 1:18:18; 36. Leah Allen, 21, 1:18:41; 37. Jason Warfle, 20, 1:19:40; 38. Julie English, 16, 1:22:31; 39. Patsy Marston, 11, 1:31:15; 40. Kelly Hicks, 7, 1:31:17; 41. Violet Zerbe, 16, 1:34:46; 42. Janee Postma, 16, 1:43:52; 43. Monica Mullet, 16, 1:48:01; 44. Yvonne Oren, 14, 1:52:31.