The Pelham Parks and Recreation Maximum Physical Therapy 5K was one for the record books. Pelham native Erica Speegle defended her 2020 win and also sets a new state 5K record. Speegle’s winning time of 16:51 made her the official state record holder because the Pelham Park course was recently certified by the USA Track and Field organization.
The race also featured two repeat winners. Along with Speegle, Marcus Harris won the men’s division. Harris was the overall inaugural race winner in 2018.
According to D. Tyrell McGirt, Director of Pelham Parks and Recreation, the 5K race is the brainchild of Kevin Washburn, a local running coach, and a recently appointed member of the Pelham Parks and Recreation Advisory Board. “He continues to be the driving force of pulling off the event,” said McGirt.
A 5K does not come together without community support. When organizing the 5K, Washburn thought of the perfect partnership immediately. “When the opportunity to approach a potential title sponsor came up, Maximum Physical Therapy was my first thought. I love their team and knew they had connections to Pelham. I was thrilled when, without hesitation, they said they wanted to be involved with the 5K. It is a great partnership as they not only support the race, but they also show up each year to cheer for the runners and even supply refreshments in the finish area. Combined with the team at Pelham Parks and Recreation, we have a solid group of people working to make the event successful.”
Washburn’s goal in creating the 5K in 2018 was to develop an event for serious runners, families with young children, and everyone in between. “This year illustrates the diversity of every year’s field of participants. At the start (in 2018), we had a state record-breaking runner and previous race winners alongside individuals whose goal was to walk the full length of the course. We also draw a large percentage of runners who are completing their first 5K races each year.” Washburn gets a thrill from working at the packet pick-up the day before the race because he gets to hear the participants’ stories. “We always have an accomplished and inspiring group who come together in one event for a variety of reasons and with a wide spectrum of individual goals. But they all cross the line and earn their finisher medals. I love our race because of the wide diversity of our participants. Seeing them finish makes all the work it takes to put on the race worth it.”
Washburn said the lush, natural surroundings of the course are a natural draw for running enthusiasts. “People are amazed that we have a course that fits in City Park and the streets that surround it. I warn runners that it is a bit quirky as we have some 180-degree turns and some stretches that are in unusual places. However, participants have embraced the course.” Washburn said he received many positive comments following the race. “They (participants) appreciate being able to encounter their spectators multiple times. From the start/finish area, you can see the runners start, see them again at about the one-mile mark, near the second-mile mark, and then watch them run the final yards into the finish. The other common comment is about the beauty of the greenway portion. Especially this time of the year, that stretch is stunning. Of course, the fact that our course is flat and fast is appreciated, too.”
The major win for the Pelham Parks and Recreation Maximum Physical Therapy 5K came when the course was recently certified by the USA Track and Field organization. According to the USAFT website, the purpose of the course certification is to produce road race courses of accurately measured distances. Washburn has worked with Pelham Parks and Recreation to obtain the certification for the course, something he’s proud to tout as a tool to build on in the future. The fact that Erica Speegle set a state record is proof of the most obvious benefit of the certification. “Any records that are set at our race will count. We hope that this added recognition of our race will be an appeal for serious runners,” said Washburn. The certification also means organizers can apply to be the host race for future state, regional, and even national 5K championships, something Washburn will be researching in the next few months. He adds, “The certification also allows runners of all abilities to compare their results with their previous finish times, knowing that our course is a true 5K. We are a great place for runners to set and feel confident in their personal records.”
Erica Speegle is happy her winning time came after the certification. “I really appreciate Kevin having the course certified this year so that I had the opportunity to chase the record.” Last year, Speegle first entered the Pelham Parks and Recreation Maximum Physical Therapy 5K for the first time. She signed up after seeing a sign advertising the race while she was out on a run. Speegle loves to run the trails in Pelham’s City Park, usually while pushing her two-year-old son in a jogging stroller. “I have pushed him many miles around the park,” she said.
Speegle also reminisces about her days as a member of the track and cross country teams at Pelham High School. “We used to run cross country workouts around the baseball fields (at Pelham Park) when I was in high school.” After she graduated from PHS in 1998, Speegle went on to Auburn University, where she was an All-SEC track star multiple times.
Since her college days, Speegle focuses mostly on road racing, and has recorded back-to-back top finishes in the Chicago Marathon, and placed 10th in the 2013 California International Marathon with a time of 2:41:17. That finish qualified her for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
However, Speegle bettered her personal record and achieved her second 2016 Olympic Trial qualifying time by finishing 10th at the 2015 Grandma’s Marathon with a time of 2:39:34.
Speegle says her life has changed so much since she started running in the spring of 1994, but in the past 27 years, her love of the sport has been the common thread. She mused, “I know I have more fast days behind me than ahead of me, but I’m not ready to quit chasing fast times!” She said when she finished the Pelham Parks and Recreation Maximum Physical Therapy 5K, she guessed that any time below 17 minutes would be fast enough for a category record, given her age. “I’m kind of a unicorn; old and fast!” For the record, Speegle competed in the 40-49 age group. She was the only female runner to finish in the top 17.
Kevin Washburn said the 2021 race had the most age-diverse group of participants in the history of the 5K. “We gave away more age group awards than we have in the past years.” Washburn hopes next year’s 5K will draw twice as many participants as this year’s race. “We have room to grow, and I’d like to see us become an event that draws people to discover Pelham.”