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Bennett adds flavor to C'burg Half

March 13, 2005|by ANDY MASON

andrewm@herald-mail.com

There's nothing vanilla about Erik Bennett.

"Most distance runners are kind of boring, so I have to bring a different flavor to the game," said Bennett, 24, of Chambersburg, Pa.

He's bringing his flavorful brand of confidence to this Saturday's 26th annual Chambersburg Half Marathon. Despite having never run a race longer than 10 miles, Bennett has guaranteed a victory on the hilly 13.1-mile course.

"There's no way I can lose," he said. "I have no fear of anyone around here. I just have to run smart, and there's no way anyone can run with me at the end."

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Bennett, a former standout runner at West Virginia University, has the credentials to back up his talk. He was All-Big East in the indoor mile and outdoor 10,000 and has PRs of 3:47 for 1,500 meters and 14:24 for 5K.

The Chambersburg Half likely will have a field of more than 300 runners (there were 344 finishers last year), representing every nook and cranny of the region. Bennett's top competition, however, might come from his own back yard.

Justin Gindlesperger, 25, also of Chambersburg, who won last year's race in 1:14:25, is back. But in Bennett's eyes, Gindlesperger is more of a challenger than a defender.

"Justin and I have been running together, and we have a side bet going on for bragging rights on who's who," said Bennett, who's been logging 80 to 85 miles per week since the beginning of 2005. "We've been training together, but I'm more talented.

"He's the defending champ, and he's got the experience of having run the course. My whole goal is just to run with people and when they make their surge, go with it and don't ease up. I'm pretty confident that when it comes down to the last 5 or 3 miles, I can pull away from everyone pretty easily. ... I hope Gindlesperger runs with me the whole way, and then I want to put him to shame."

Gindlesperger hopes it's the other way around.

"I'd like to win. But if he beats me, he beats me," said Gindlesperger, a former standout at Shippensburg University who now competes for Inside Track, south-central Pennsylvania's elite racing team. "I'm not that worried about it, but I'd like to beat him ... pretty bad."

After realizing his race predictions might have made him sound a bit overly confident, Bennett quickly brought himself back to earth - where a runner of his "flavor" can only stay for so long.

"I'm only being half-serious. I know it's not going to be a walk in the park," he said. "But I know I can outkick anyone."

Of course, Bennett, with his new deal with Saucony, might be willing to say just about anything to get some ink.

"I get free gear," he said. "But I don't get paid unless my name's in the paper."

While neither Bennett nor Gindlesperger said the men's course record - 1:08:12 set by Steve Spence is 2001 - is in any jeopardy, Susan Graham-Gray said the women's mark is.

It's hers anyway.

Graham-Gray, 36, of Greencastle, Pa., the defending champ, owns the course's top two times - 1:24:04 in 2004 and 1:28:31 in 2002.

"I did 1:24 last year, so I'm hoping to do a full minute better," said Graham-Gray, who competes for Hagerstown's Cumberland Valley Athletic Club. "You always want to better yourself and you always want the course record. And there's some money incentive there."

A course-record victory would be worth $200. Overall, there's $850 in available prize money.

For more information about the race, contact Suzanne Eyer at 717-263-9426 or info@chambersburgrrc.org.




Andy Mason is assistant sports editor of The Morning Herald. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2334, or by e-mail at andrewm@herald-mail.com

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