Christopher continues hometown dominance at Brentwood Firecracker 5K |
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Christopher continues hometown dominance at Brentwood Firecracker 5K

Ray Fisher
Jeff Healy | For the Tribune-Review
Neil Christopher crosses the finish line in first place among Brentwood competitors at the Brentwood Firecracker 5K Run on July 4, 2019. Christopher, 24, has won the borough title four years in a row.
Competing at the Brentwood Firecracker 5K on July 4, 2019, in Brentwood were, in front, from left, Kyle Knouff, McKenzie Knouff, Ainsley Knouff (stroller); and in back, Krystal McDonough, Ashleigh McDonough, Tom Knouff, Tiffany Knouff and Nicole Novak.
Competing at the Brentwood Firecracker 5K on July 4, 2019, in Brentwood were, from left, Tiffany Knouff, Krystal McDonough and Ashleigh McDonough.

The final tally is in for the borough winners at the 36th annual Brentwood Firecracker 5K Run.

For the fourth consecutive year, Neil Christopher, 24, took first place in the male division. His time was 18 minutes, 19 seconds. His best mark (17:53) was attained in 2017 . He also posted times of 19:12 (’16) and 19:22 (’18).

“The race is always put on very well,” Christopher said. “It was definitely very humid this year, but I feel like I prepared hydration-wise very well. My performance was better than last year’s, so I was happy with it. I was able to decrease my time from last year.

“And the race atmosphere is always awesome. The competition is always there. I think every year we get more intense runners, which is great for the race. I like how intense it is.”

Christopher was determined to defend his borough title.

“It was definitely in the back of my mind before and during the race,” he said. “So it is something I would like to try to get every year.”

This past year, Christopher, a 2013 Brentwood graduate, was able to check off a “bucket list” item.

“Running-wise since last summer, I was able to get into the Boston Marathon and run it this past April. It was a true blessing to be able to run that prestigious race,” he said. “Right now I’m transitioning back into a new job and am going back to school in August for my master’s in clinical counseling. I’m looking to start a new job at a psych hospital while I’m at school. I’m really looking forward to it.”

The borough champion among female runners was 34-year-old Krystal McDonough, who crossed the finish line in 24:53.

“I’ve been running this 5K for about nine years,” McDonough said. “It’s one of the most-fun races that I’ve participated in because of all the familiar faces.

“My goal every year is just to improve upon my previous year’s performance.”

McDonough easily eclipsed her 27:32 performance from last summer.

“I beat my time from last year,” she said. “This was my best run (at Brentwood) so far.”

McDonough has lived in Brentwood since 2010. She works as a nurse at the V.A. Hospital in Oakland and said the Firecracker holds a special place on her running schedule.

“I love how this race is so family oriented,” she said. “I see lots of small children making this one of their first races because their families have always ran.

“We run most years with our close friends. It’s usually just me and my sister-in-law that run from our family. My kids are still young, but I’m hoping my 5-year-old will be ready in the next year or so, if she wants.”

McDonough’s sister-in-law, Ashleigh, 33, finished with a time of 25:27 to place third among female runners from Brentwood. She displayed dramatic improvement from a 38:02 effort last year.

The Firecracker 5K event takes place annually July Fourth on Brownsville Road.

Race director Kira Kellner was assisted in the planning process of this year’s race by committee members Jeanne Berk, Pat Cunningham, Steve Evans, Tina Famiglietti, Mary Lou Nees, Alicia Reece, Laura Wenger and Rich Wright, plus a host of other local volunteers.

“We love that this race attracts not just so many runners from around the region, but also the country,” Kellner said. “We try to highlight Brentwood in every aspect of this race and love to celebrate our neighbors with a division of their own.

“We are pumped that Neil Christopher continues to shine in this category, and our favorite part of this race is seeing the runners who return every year.”

Christopher set the pace for borough residents Philip Pegher, 14, (21:06), Mark Tichenor, 21, (22:21), Jayneil Latham, 17, (22:51), and Jason Rubinsky, 27, (23:59).

Latham is a three-sport standout at Brentwood, competing in football, basketball and baseball.

Like many area high school athletes, he trains for and participates in the Brentwood Firecracker as a way to stay in shape.

“I have run the race the past three years with my dad (Kevin),” Latham said. “I had my best time this year.

“The race was really difficult, especially with all of the hills, but I didn’t want to quit. I’m looking forward to next year already. I’m going to train to hopefully get below 20 minutes.”

In the female division, Krystal McDonough was followed by Lea Brendel, 36, (25:17), Ashleigh McDonough, 33, (25:27), Dorothy Rigby, 36, (25:39), and Kate Patterson, 29, (25:58).

Deanna Donovan, 47, (26:47), Christina King, 28, (27:37), Mary Grace Van Allen, 24, (27:41), Lacey Kovacik, 37, (28:04) and Nicole Bubash, 33, (28:05), rounded out the top 10.

A new race category was developed this year: GNC at Brentwood Towne Square sponsored a “Spartan” division, consisting of males weighing a minimum of 220 pounds and females weighing at least 165 pounds.

Participation in this category was optional. Weights were verified on race morning.

Tichenor, a Pittsburgh resident, captured first place among male runners with his 22:21 time. Erica Brown, 43, of Uniontown finished first among female runners in 30:17.

Christopher, like many contestants, looks forward to participating in the Brentwood Firecracker every summer.

“I just want thank everyone for cheering and supporting this race,” he said, “especially the race director and the volunteers.”

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

Categories: Sports | Other Local
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