In the wee hours of Sunday morning, Ryan Robinson began to wonder if his first half marathon as race director would end before it even started.
“It got pretty spooky,” Robinson said. “We were out setting the course, and lightning bolts were going around. At about 3 a.m., it sure didn’t look like we were going to have a race.”
But the lightning and rain in the Lawrence area dissipated before the 7:30 a.m. start time. And the Lynn Electric Kansas Half Marathon proceeded with few glitches, save for the cold and wind that beat down on the runners.
“We definitely had some hurdles to overcome with the weather,” said Robinson, who took over organizing duties this year after promoters discontinued the Lawrence Half Marathon last year. “We persevered, and so did the athletes.”
No runner persevered better than DJ Hilding, who won the half marathon in 1 hour, 17 minutes, 59.7 seconds. Hilding, a 2000 Lawrence High graduate and former member of the Kansas University cross country and track teams, narrowly clipped former KU track teammate Tyson Willoughby for first. Willoughby crossed the finish line two seconds behind Hilding.
Hilding, who still races competitively on occasion, said the weather conditions made it difficult even for him.
“I was just tired anyway, and then you add the hill and the wind to it, I was crawling up the hill,” he said. “It was tough.”
The half marathon race, which began at South Park at 12th and Massachusetts, wound through the hilly Kansas campus, passing the Campanile and Chi Omega Fountain. Runners then made their way to Iowa Street and Clinton Parkway, finishing up in the Lied Center parking lot.
“It was kind of cool to go through pretty much all of Lawrence,” Hilding said. “It went past my apartment, my parents’ house, so that was fun, too.”
Hilding and Willoughby completed their track eligibility at Kansas in 2005. They now work at Gary Gribble’s Running Sports on Eighth and Mass., with Hilding serving as store manager and Willoughby an associate.
Willoughby said he and Hilding made time to run together three mornings a week.
But running together on Sunday proved a much tougher task than Willoughby initially thought.
“DJ’s in a lot better shape than I am,” Willoughby said. “He really just dropped the hammer today. He just kind of let it go, and I let him do his thing. I knew I wasn’t quite in the shape that he’s in.”
The top women’s finisher in the half marathon was Ashley Thompson of Mission. She finished fourth overall in 1:20.50.
The event also featured a 10K run (6.2 miles) and a 5K run (3.1 miles).
In the 10K race, Josh Nygren of Lawrence won in 36:03.9. Rychel Johnson of Lawrence claimed the top women’s finish in 48:25.5
Bob McAnany of Hays won the 5K in 20:05.6. Kelsey Verhaeghe of Stilwell finished 11th overall and paced all women’s finishers in 23:24.5
Robinson estimated the final runner tally for all three races to be about 1,550, which included roughly 250 walk-ups on the morning of the race. Proceeds from the race went to Health Care Access, a charitable clinic for the uninsured.
“I’m very happy with the turnout,” Robinson said, “but I’m also very happy that people came out here on a rotten weather day, and they persevered and had a good time.”