A new date for the Black Bear 5K meant the Harlan County High School track and cross country athletes were able to participate this year — and they made the most of the opportunity.
Harlan County runners claimed four of the top five female spots and three of the top five male positions in Saturday’s fifth annual event, which moved to the Looney Creek Trail in Benham this year after previously being in Lynch as part of May’s Black Bear Festival activities.
“The May date was always very close to the regional track championship meet, so we couldn’t permit our kids to run it,” race organizer and Harlan County assistant coach Jarrod Sherman said. “This year, 13 of our runners participated in the 5K, and several more in the kids color run.”
Harlan County junior Alex Lewis was the top overall finisher, posting a time of 20:00.08 on the converted railbed which was converted last year to a crushed gravel trail. Freshman Zackary Carmical placed second, and Matt Yeary came in seventh.
Junior Breezy Epperson was the top female finisher, posting a time of 26:50.47 to edge out sophomore teammate Phebe McHargue by .05 seconds. Senior Allison Cornett and sophomore Katie Graham also finished in the top 10 overall. The win was Epperson’s third in the race; she previously won in 2012 and 2013.
The race didn’t only feature local prep athletes, Sherman said.
“We had a total of 44 runners in the 5K and nine in the kids race,” he said. “That’s the biggest turnout we’ve had so far; it grows a little bit every year. We had runners from as far away as Nickelsville, Va., and Frankfort.”
The event was hosted by the Cumberland Tourism Commission, and the cost of the race was underwritten by several area businesses. The kids fun run was just under a mile, with volunteers spraying participants with color spray. Drawings were held after the awards presentation, with winners receiving prizes including free food and lodging in local cabins.
Race proceeds benefited the Harlan County track and cross country programs.
With preseason work slated to begin July 18, Sherman said the race was a good tuneup for the school’s runners.
“As a unit, they have worked so much harder this summer than in previous years,” he said. “Races like this are a good opportunity to stay competitive in the offseason. I think several of them are planning to run an 8K night race in Kingsport in a couple of weeks as well. They’re hungry, and I expect their hard work to pay off this fall.”