John Hughes, Roberta Groner capture titles at annual Brentwood Firecracker 5K |
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Two things that can be counted on to take place on the morning of the Fourth of July holiday are: 1) the Brentwood Firecracker 5K Run and 2) that it will be hot and humid.

It was more of the same in 2019 at the 5K race Thursday that annually draws more than 2,000 competitors.

“We had more runners this year than last year,” race director Kira Kellner said, “and it was a hot morning. We were excited to see such a strong showing and celebrated many PRs.”

It was a three-man battle in the male division, as Pittsburgh’s John Hughes, 22, took first place in 15 minutes, 35 seconds. Hughes, competing for the first time at Brentwood, edged runner-up Harley Moyer, 22, of Akron, Ohio, by four seconds; and Nick Edinger, 27, of Mars by a 10-second margin.

Hughes finished with a 5:01 mile pace; Moyer was right behind at 5:02, followed by Edinger at 5:05.

“I loved the race,” Hughes said. “It was a very well-organized event, and it was very cool to have the streets lined with spectators. The race atmosphere was great, competitive, but also very fun. I think the crowd helped make the event.

“I would say some of the challenges were the great field with a lot of people that could have won on any given day, and on the course itself the uphills could be deceptive.”

Hughes had hoped to make a good showing in the holiday event. He exceeded his expectations.

“My goal was for top three, thinking I could win on a good day,” Hughes said. “I always like to give myself a shot and put myself in a good position, and whatever happens from there happens.”

Last year’s male division titlist was Jim Spisak, who broke the 15-minute barrier with a time of 14:53.

The Firecracker 5K, held on a rolling Brownsville Road course, annually kicks off Brentwood’s festive Fourth of July parade. The race celebrated its 36th birthday.

In the female division, 41-year-old Roberta Groner from Ledgewood, N.J., captured first place in 17:10. Groner, who placed 14th overall, also won in 2016.

Pittsburgh’s Margo Malone, 25, corralled second place with a 17:46 effort, while Jordan Hamric, 29, of Morgantown, W.Va., secured third in 18:19.

“It’s always fun to come back to Pittsburgh over the holiday and run this race,” Groner said. “It’s always great to see all the people cheering along the course.

“Brentwood puts on a great race, and I enjoyed seeing all the people out celebrating the Fourth. It’s also fun to come back and see friends out on the course. This course is rolling so it can be deceptively hard.”

Groner, who moved from the Pittsburgh area to New Jersey in 2014, said she has big plans for the fall. She will be raveling to Doha, Qatar, to compete in the World championships.

“You never know who shows up at this race (at Brentwood), and it’s competitive,” Groner said. “I have no goals for races this summer. So each race is for fun and to keep the legs fresh.”

Amy Cashin of Morgantown, W.Va., was the top female runner last year. Cashin crossed the finish line in 17:23.

Rounding out the top five in this year’s male division were Steve Kirkland, 31, of Pittsburgh, and Kenny Goodfellow, 29, of Pittsburgh, with 15:49 and 16:10 times.

Billy Caldwell, 23, (16:22); Andrew Van Hoogenstyn, 35, (16:26); Mark Sheridan, 26, (16:26); Ryan Johnson, 29, (16:57); and Joey Zins, 40, (17:00), also finished in the top 10.

Among female runners, Gionna Quarzo, 16, of Vanderbilt, and Brittany Leuenberger, 32, of Pittsburgh, rounded out the top five at 19:07 and 19:10.

Amy Crain, 41, (19:16); Mary Malone, 22, (19:17); Jenna Lang, 13, (19:21); Erika Suhy, 36, (19:33); and Sylvi Kashak, 12, (19:38), also placed in the top 10.

Zins, from Export, and Crain were the leading runners in the masters (ages 40-plus) division.

Brett Mason (17:04) and Emery Strotman (17:59) ended up second and third, as did Katrina Kletzly (23:00) and Stephanie Teagarden (23:11).

The top Brentwood runners consisted of defending champion Neil Christopher, 24, with a time of 18:19, and Krystal McDonough, 34, who crossed the finish line in 24:53. Christopher has been the top Brentwood runner for four consecutive years.

Finally, a new feature was developed for this year’s event: 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.

Mark Tichenor, 21, reeled in first place among male runners in 22:21. Erica Brown, 43, finished first among female runners in 30:17.

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