Besides the Grand Prix series for the three Hampton Roads running clubs (the Colonial Road Runners, Peninsula Track Club and Tidewater Striders), the Hampton Roads Super Grand Prix (a combination of the 21 best races of those three clubs), and the CRR age graded top 10, there is one more major way to evaluate excellence for the area’s leading runners. The Hampton Roads runner rankings were started by eight-time defending CRR Grand Prix champion Roger Hopper in 2019.
Hopper, also the seven-time HRSGP defending champion, ranks runners for the four seasons with the dividing times the first weekend in March, Memorial Day weekend, Labor Day weekend and the Thanksgiving Day weekend. Runners must finish at least two road, trail or cross country races per season, of any distance from 5K to ultramarathons, to be ranked. Hopper evaluates runners by formulas for their 10K equivalent times (the first evaluator), as well as the more commonly known age grading (secondary).
All races in the Hampton Roads races are used, as well as major races out of the region, basically any race Hopper can find on various running websites like Athlinks, the three area clubs, and the many area race timing companies, as well as personal running sites like Strava.
The rankings go 25 deep each season in three categories for men and women, overall, 40+ (Masters) and 60+. For the annual rankings, runners must have been ranked in at least two of the four seasons. All runners in the Hampton Roads region are eligible, plus selected runners who regularly run CRR, PTC or Strider races.
To ensure fairness while ranking himself, and others, Hopper’s rankings are edited and analyzed by CRR president and Virginia Gazette running columnist Rick Platt.
Not surprisingly, since he’s a multiple CRR and HRSGP past champion, Chesapeake’s Hopper is the #1 ranked runner for 2022, but was followed in the top three by two Williamsburg runners, Adam Otstot and Forest Braden. For the women, the top three were Maria Spady of Hampton (formerly of Yorktown), Jo Reihner of Virginia Beach, and Ida Oesteraas of Virginia Beach. The leading Peninsula ranked runner was multiple CRR Grand Prix champion Emily Honeycutt of Newport News in fifth place.
For the Masters category Otstot, who turned 40 last April, was the overwhelming choice, followed in the top three by Ryan Carroll of Chesapeake and Tidewater Striders president Thomas Hicks of Virginia Beach. Ed Rietscha of Williamsburg was fourth. Female Masters had Jenny Moran of Virginia Beach first over Renee Merchant (formerly Renee High) of Chesapeake in second and Christine Fernandez of Virginia Beach (coached by Hopper) third. Deelyn Robinson of Williamsburg, at age 57, was fifth for the 40+ crowd.
The oldest ratings category is for 60+ runners and Pete Gibson of Murfreesboro, N.C. won that category in a close battle with Rob Whitaker of Yorktown. Gibson had also won the 2022 CRR age-graded title in a very close competition with Otstot, with Hopper third, Whitaker fourth and Deelyn Robinson fifth. For 60+ men, Vincent Ortiz of Chesapeake was third, and oft-injured Steve Chantry of Williamsburg was fourth. For the 60+ women, Joey Hallock of Virginia Beach was an overwhelming first, followed by Mary Jo Blackmore of Virginia Beach and Marie Shay of Williamsburg.
Hopper also listed the cities for all 135 runners who were ranked for 2022. The most surprising statistic that jumps out is that Williamsburg, with a relatively small population compared to the other Hampton Roads major cities, was second only to Virginia Beach. The city totals had Virginia Beach first with 40 runners, followed by Williamsburg (26), Chesapeake (19), Norfolk (13), Yorktown (8), Newport News (6), Suffolk (5), Hampton (4), Poquoson (2) and Portsmouth (2), with 10 cities or towns with one each.
What is it about Williamsburg that leads to such an outsized proportion of road racers who excel? Otstot emailed, “I think we have a very strong and supportive running community in Williamsburg. There are so many scenic and safe places to run, and the Colonial Road Runners organization and leadership works really hard to provide so many events, group runs, etc. Competition breeds excellence. There is rarely a race on the CRR Grand circuit that doesn’t have multiple runners ready to run 80%+ age graded. And for those who are not quite at that level now, the goal is there, and the social support from this community to move the needle close to that spot. There has been a tradition of excellence in the CRR for a while now. I’m continually motivated to not only age-grade higher than some of my more experienced peers, but I’m also highly motivated to match or surpass their times when they were my age. They have set the bar incredibly high, and in chasing them in that way, I’m putting out some good performances as well. Hopefully there will be those in the next generation who will aim to take down my age group performances as well.”
Steve Kast, ranked ninth for the Masters, at age 57, emailed, “I really enjoy the Hampton Roads Runner Rankings. It has been a huge motivation for me as it allows me to compare my performances with runners in Hampton Roads. However, the rankings are secondary to age grading. The moment Roger Hopper shared age grading, it flipped a switch for me, which allowed me to focus on age-appropriate training. Before I was aware of age grading, my competitive side had me trying to train like a 25-year-old, which of course led to injuries and a lack of success. I credit age grading and the rankings for continuing to add motivation and for keeping the age-appropriate competitive edge.”
Whitaker emailed, “I prefer the CRR age-graded and I always like competing in the CRR Grand Prix. Roger’s Hampton Roads Runner Rankings is like a competition within all other competitions, and it’s great to see how we compare to runners from the entire region. Williamsburg has a history of attracting fast runners. They know where the more serious competition is with some great race courses. I hail from Yorktown and have always been a member of both CRR and PTC, but I focus my racing on the CRR races. The CRR community has shown they’re willing to coach and share the knowledge for those who want to race/run faster. This is how and why I got as fast as I am. All the serious runners just feed the machine, both Adam and Roger are coaching CRR members, and their students are running fast times. This is also why CRR does so well in the rankings.”
CRR and area runners ranked for 2022, and their 10K equivalent times for the overall men include Hopper (first, 31:14), Otstot (second, 32:02), Braden (third, 31:40), Isaac Lamprecht (sixth, 32:45), Jacob Warner (11th, 33:44), Blaine O’Reilly (12th, 34:08), Sean Bush (13th, 34:20), Clark Pederson (15th, 34:35), Jonathan Torres (20th, 36:44), and Kast (24th, 37:48).
For Masters men, it was Otstot (first, 32:06), Rietscha (fourth, 36:42), Jason Miller (sixth, 37:17), Kast (ninth, 37:48), Tim Suhr (12th, 38:28), Greg Lynn (15th, 39:09), Joe Calkins (18th, 40:05), and Kyle Aulenbach (19th, 39:55). For 60+ men, it was Gibson (first, 39:39), Whitaker (second, 39:51), Chantry (fourth, 40:43), Kelvin Anderson (fifth, 41:59), Tony Perez (seventh, 44:22), Anthony Kowalski (eighth, 44:45), Ken Alberg (ninth, 44:51), Jim Duffy (10th, 45:15), Will Murray (16th, 47:05 ), Tom Robinson (18th, 47:15), Tom Barry (19th, 47:19), Chris Abelt (20th, 47:36), Ed Elmore (22nd, 47:42), and Dale Abrahamson (23rd, 47:51).
For the women, CRR and area runners ranked for 2022 include Spady (first, 37:08), Honeycutt (fifth, 38:46), Sika Henry (sixth, 39:07), Lauren Pegher (10th, 39:47), Thorin Jean (13th, 40:53), Amber Kuszak (14th, 41:37), Megan Schulze (15th, 41:59), Deelyn Robinson (20th, 43:27), Svitlana Honcharova (23rd, 44:01), Karen Grabowski (26th, 44:59) and Sorenna Jean (27th, 46:06). For Masters women, it was Deelyn Robinson (fifth, 43:27), Marjorie Friedrichs (seventh, 44:57), Jessica Anderson (11th, 46:44), Karen Sanzo (13th, 46:56), May Carlson (16th, 47:40), Tricia Murphy (23rd, 48:51) and Megan Buckley (26th, 49:42). For women 60+ it was Marie Shay (third, 51:24), Carol Hansen-Vessa (ninth, 56:36), Jan Barry (13th, 58:29), Helen Worthington (14th, 58:36), Patricia Travis (15th, 59:20), Christine Williams (16th, 1:00:10), Shirley Stephens (19th, 1:02:16) and Thea Ganoe (20th, 1:04:09).
Besides the reasons quoted above for the supremacy of Williamsburg runners, there are many other factors. Williamsburg is blessed with many great running training and racing locations, including the Virginia Capital Trail, Powhatan Creek Trail, Greensprings Trail, New Quarter Park, Freedom Park, York River State Park, Colonial Williamsburg, Carter’s Grove Country Road, Jamestown Island, Yorktown Battlefield tour roads, Warhill Nature Trail, etc.). There are two dozen CRR Grand Prix races each year, and a dozen or more non-CRR races, a local race most every weekend.
Runners start early with one-mile fun runs, elementary schools have the SHIP (School Health Initiative Program) program and school running clubs, then up to age 14 the Greater Williamsburg Distance Running Club (GWDRC) youth training and racing group, strong high school distance programs for Jamestown, Lafayette, Warhill, Bruton and Walsingham, and a tradition of excellence for the William & Mary collegiate distance program. For older runners, there is motivation for CRR Grand Prix awards for all ages up to 70-and-over, five-year age group records in every Grand Prix race for all age groups up to 90-and-over, the age graded competition, etc. So no matter what their age, there are ways to motivate runners to strive for excellence. And most every day there are group runs at Billsburg, Spoke and Art, Jamestown High School, Colonial Williamsburg, Yorktown, etc.
And not least is the support of the Virginia Gazette, which has published running articles and results since 1976, and every issue now has the CRR Grand Prix race schedule, the CRR Grand Prix standings, and race and age-graded results.
The CRR earned a Runner Friendly Community designation from the Road Runners Club of America (RRCA) for the years 2020-2024, thanks to extensive application work by then CRR vice president Terry McManus. All that makes Williamsburg one of the best small city running locations in the nation.
Rick Platt is president of Colonial Road Runners.