LINVILLE — A 15-year-old from Tallahassee, Florida, won the third-annual Grandfather Mountain Critter Crawl 5K on Saturday.
Matthew Cashin finished the grueling uphill race in 23:07, followed by Paul Jones, Apex, in 23:49 and Matt Campbell, Matthews, in 25:40.
The top female finisher was Annette Bednosky, Jefferson, in a time of 25:56, good enough for fourth overall. She was followed by Emily Wolfe, Boone, in 26:24 and Sarah Jones, Apex, in 29:51. All three top female runners surpassed the previous women’s course record of 30:13.
Unlike traditional cross-country 5K runs, this race ascended up the mountain with a 1,000-foot elevation gain.
Cashin blazed up the mountain a full 42 seconds ahead of his closest competitor, but he was well short of the event record, set two years ago by Surry Central track coach Jason Bryant at 21:29.
A total of 70 runners ranging in age from 6 to 63 completed the 2014 Critter Crawl, an annual race hosted by Grandfather Mountain that funds projects for the betterment of the habitat animals. This includes black bears, otters, cougars, deer and bald eagles. Proceeds from the 2014 race are earmarked for otter habitat renovations begun this spring.
“We were really pleased with the race. It being our third year, everything went very smoothly,” said Emma Schlagal, assistant habitats curator for Grandfather Mountain. “It always impresses me the amount of people who come out here and do these events, especially running up a mountain like that.”
Cashin, a high school cross-country and track runner, said he and his father always look for a race to run while visiting his grandparents in Lenoir. With his father sidelined this year, Cashin took on the challenge alone.
“It just seemed pretty tough, and I knew I’d have to pace myself all the way up … and just fight through,” he said.
The Critter Crawl begins in MacRae Meadows before starting up the Grandfather Mountain entrance road and looping through the Woods Walk Picnic Area and Animal Habitats. Runners pass by Forrest Gump Curve, where scenes from the 1994 motion picture were filmed, and climb the switchbacks to finish at the Mile High Swinging Bridge.
Cashin said he drove the course beforehand, but everything was different when he experienced it on foot.
“The uphills seem a lot longer, and the downhills seem a lot shorter,” he said.
For Bednosky, the top female finisher, the switchbacks were familiar. A seasoned ultra marathon runner, Bednosky said she had run The Bear footrace three or four times and previously biked the Bridge to Bridge, a 100-mile ride that used to end at Grandfather Mountain.
Bednosky said she was returning to running after some time away and did the Critter Crawl “for fun.”