On a morning when temperatures hovered just above freezing, nearly 700 runners heated up the trails off McKellars Road as they took part in the Joint Special Operations 10K, Saturday.
Some participants walked or ran the 5K portion of the race. Though challenged by off-road conditions that runners said were muddy, sandy and wet, many said the race was fun and they hoped to return next year.
“It’s really a cool course — a lot like cross country,” said Joseph Cotto, who was the first runner to cross the 10K finish line with a time of 35:58. “It’s my first time running (it). I’ll probably be back next year.”
The 5K runners were not timed, said Pat Stasiak, who helped keep time for the race with the Precision Race company.
“It’s not bad for a trail run, a sandy trail,” said Daniel Cantu, who was the first 5K finisher. “It was actually really good when it comes to hills.”
For some, the off-road terrain did not seem challenging enough.
Participants Dan Knouse, a Marine, and his friend, Jon Woosley, a Fort Bragg Soldier assigned to the Joint Communications Unit — an all-volunteer unit made up of communicators in the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines — individually carried 45-pound weights throughout the course. Each man was joined by his wife; Kathi Knouse (who also toted their child, Kimber, 11 months) and Dannielle Woosley, (who is nine months pregnant).
“I’m a Marine, but I have a lot of Army friends,” said Knouse, who previously served at Fort Bragg. “Those relationships that we built back then keeps us coming back,” he explained.
Shane Simpson ran the race alongside twin sons; Ethan and Zachary, 9 years old.
“We do this every year,” Shane said.
For the Simpsons, it’s a Family event.
So, how did the boys feel about finishing the race with their father?
“I felt proud,” said Ethan.
“Great,” Zachary said.
Staff Sgt. Erica Gonzalez drove down from Andrews Air Force Base, Maryland with her daughter, Laura, 11, to run the 10K.
The staff sergeant’s favorite part of the race, she said, was being able to encourage a female Soldier who was challenged by the terrain.
“(It was) tough,” Erica said. “But, it was a lot of fun, so I enjoyed it very much.”
While she tackled the race, Laura sat, wrapped in a blanket to keep warm, near the finish line.
She seemed to be impressed by her mother’s tenacity in conquering the road conditions, as well as encouraged to participate.
“It looked pretty cool,” Laura said. “I think I want to do this next year.”
Held annually, the race is facilitated by the Special Operations Communicators Association.
In addition to encouraging patriotism, the mission of SOCA, according to its website, is to honor those who have served or are serving with the Joint Communications Unit and the memory of deceased JCU members and veterans, as well as to provide assistance to JCU members, veterans and their dependents in need.
For more information about SOCA events, visit their website at www.thesoca.org.