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Spence cleans more clocks on the towpath

August 29, 2004|by ANDREW MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

WILLIAMSPORT - Edmund Burke competed in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials earlier this year. Jason Bodnar is a three-time trials qualifier who ran the 1998 World Cross Country Championships as a member of the U.S. national team. And Steve Spence, well ... is Steve Spence, the Tri-State clock cleaner.

Even before the gun went off Saturday morning at the 23rd annual Gary Brown Memorial C&O Canal 5-Mile Run, the top three places in the men's division seemed fairly secure.

The order of finish, however, wasn't determined until the end.

Spence overtook Bodnar, who had led the race from the start, with about a half-mile remaining and opened a 19-second gap on the way to the finish line, defending his towpath title in Saturday's brutal heat.

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Spence, 42, of Shippensburg, Pa., who set the course record of 25 minutes, 8 seconds last year, broke the tape in 25:20. Bodnar, 33, who recently moved from Florida to Winchester, Va., was second in 25:39. Burke, 35, of Burtonsville, Md., took third in 25:51.

"I feel good about it," said Spence, the bronze medalist in the marathon at the 1991 world championships and 12th-place finisher at the '92 Olympics. "Last year was quite a bit cooler, and I only ran about 10 seconds slower today."

Spence trailed by as many as 50 yards near the halfway mark, but he never took his eyes off Bodnar.

"I think I had an advantage because this was his first time running this course, and I ran it last year and know this course doesn't run very fast," Spence said. "So what happens is you get out there and you're running a certain effort and expecting a certain split. And when it's slow, you start pushing and then you get anaerobic, and that's what I think happened to him.

"He kept pushing and then he really lost his turnover, and I started eating into his lead."

Bodnar had no response once he was caught.

"I'm younger than him," Bodnar said. "I feel like I should be able to outkick him, but ..."

But there's no shame in losing to a runner like Spence.

"Even if Steve's a little older, he's still a world championship medalist and one of the greatest American distance runners ever. He's a competitor," Bodnar said. "It's an honor for me to just line up with Steve Spence."

Last year in the women's race, training partners Susan Graham-Gray of Greencastle, Pa., and Maria Spinnler of Hagerstown crossed the finish line together, sharing first-place honors.

Laura Nelson's looming presence was the reason that didn't happen again. It was every woman for herself Saturday.

Graham-Gray, 36, won in 31:06; Spinnler, 42, was second in 31:18; and Nelson, 38, of Waynesboro, Va., took third in 31:25.

Chambersburg senior Regina Heiser (35:43) and North Hagerstown junior Hemu Arumugam (29:19) won the battles for new sneakers, awarded to the top high school girl and boy.

Overall, there were 160 finishers.

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