After timing troubles, Cherobon-Bawcom paces way to record
by Bran Strickland, Star sports editor
Aug 07, 2011 | 2227 views |  0 comments | 6 6 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Runners — at least elite runners — don’t wear any more than they have to. The shoes on their feet, and a swath of spandex or piece of polyester to cover the necessary parts is about all they need.

But there is one luxury many allow themselves: a watch.

Janet Cherobon-Bawcom’s failed her on Saturday, but she managed to overcome that obstacle to win the 2011 Woodstock 5K, the RRCA National Championship, in 16 minutes, 20 seconds.

It was Cherobon-Bawcom’s second straight Woodstock win, besting last year’s winning time by 26 seconds to set a new course record for the second time in as many chances, giving her an additional $500 on top of the $500 first-place prize she took home.

Even though she could use the extra $500 to buy a new watch, Cherobon-Bawcom blamed it mostly on operator error. So with the money on the line, she took a page from Joe Cocker or the Beatles — she got by with a little help from her friends.

“I know Scott Strand (former Woodstock winner), and he was in front of me,” Cherobon-Bawcom said. “He told me was going to run a 15:30.

“I just decided to keep in touch with him. I’m glad he did, because it would have been a shame — just awful — if I’d missed out.”

For the record, Strand ran a 15:57, good enough to take the Masters title and good enough to pace Cherobon-Bawcom to the win.

Kenyan Lilian Mariita took third with a 16:52 and Justyna Mudy, a native of Poland and recent Berry graduate, was third at 17:01.

Cherobon-Bawcom, 32, noticed quickly she didn’t set up her watch correctly, but hoped she could rely on the timers on the course to keep her on pace. It wasn’t until she passed the 1-mile marker, she began to get worried.

“I kept thinking, ‘What am I running,’” she said. “It said 4:19, but that was totally off.”

And then the one at the 2-mile mark was, too. That’s when she spotted the highlighter-yellow shirt of Strand up ahead and tracked him like a dog track rabbit.

After gaining separation on Mariita — her only real competition — around the 2-mile mark, the win was hers; the only thing she was running against was her old record.

Cherobon-Bawcom said earlier this week she felt confident she could do it. She won last year’s event despite battling through a calf injury, which is healed now. In the past 12 months, she’s piled up wins in the Mercedes Half-Marathon (Feb.) and the Marine Corps Marathon (Oct.).

“I had to take time off,” she said of the calf injury. “The face that I could actually train in the summer, it made a huge difference.”

Among the top three finishers, Cherobon-Bawcom was the veteran of the elite trio. This was her third Woodstock in four years and her time has dropped in each race. In her first race in 2008, she clocked a 17:44, before breaking into the 16-minute mark after a year hiatus.

She attributed her growing swiftness to training more than familiarity.

“It’s not getting easier,” she said with a chuckle. “This course is always hard. It seems like it’s something new every year.”

For Mariita, not only was the course new, but running in the sweltering Southern summer heat is a still new experience.

Having only been in the United States since July 4th, the diminutive Mariita has ran only a handful of road races before the Woodstock. Before she left her native country, she was doing altitude training in drastically cooler climates.

“It was OK,” said Mariita through an interpreter. “It was just the humidity and all. Where I train, it’s cold.”

Despite the different elements, Mariita did manage to match her personal best in a 5K with Saturday’s finish. She said she was side-by-side with Cherobon-Bawcom 10:53 into the race.

Mudy, the last of the podium finishers, was new to the course, too, despite attending school in nearby Rome, Ga. Shortly removed from a 10-week absence due to injury, she said she was thrilled with the event — and her time, which was a new personal record — and hoped to come back.

But maybe with a training run worked in next time.

“I only saw the course in a car,” she said. “It’s a lot different when you’re running it.”

Bran Strickland is the sports editor for The Star. He can be reached at 256-235-3570 or follow him on Twitter @bran_strickland.

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After timing troubles, Cherobon-Bawcom paces way to record by Bran Strickland, Star sports editor

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