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Hundreds turn out for Run Thru History

Runners begin the 10K Run Thru History race in front of the Memorial Arch in the Vicksburg National Military Park Saturday. Joe Curro, number 324, won the 10K race for the fourth time. (The Vicksburg Post/MELANIE DUNCAN)

[03/05/01] Under overcast skies and the threat of rain, more than 600 runners and walkers participated in Saturday’s 22nd Annual Run Thru History. The number was far less than the 1,025 people registered for the event, race officials said.

“It hurt late registration,” race treasurer Hays Latham said, adding that many walkers didn’t show up.

At least one runner didn’t mind the dampness. “The weather was perfect. It was a good day, really,” said Marvin Hemphill, 53, of Louisville, Miss.

The Run Thru History not only attracted Mississippi residents, it also brought walkers and runners from across the nation to brave the hills of the Vicksburg National Military Park.

“Running takes you all over the United States,” said Sue Bengart, 48, of Evansville, Ind., as she stood on the soggy ground by the 10K run finish line Saturday morning. “This is what makes running so fun.”

Bengart, who has participated in races in Boston and New York, came to Vicksburg with seven friends she met at the Andy Palmer Running Camp in Bar Harbor, Maine, last year. The group three from Indiana, three from Texas and two from Georgia wanted to arrange a March reunion, so 45-year-old Jeane Geurin, also of Evansville, got on the Internet and found 15 races. Because this weekend was a good time for everyone, the group decided to come to Vicksburg. They all participated in the 10K run, which is 6.2 miles.

“Their enthusiasm is unreal,” said 72-year-old Chicago native Warner Byrum, founder of the Run Thru History and owner of Battlefield Inn, as he stood in the hallway of the hotel Saturday morning. “The tremendous interest it’s something for you and I to be envious of.”

Mack Varner, race director, said the Run Thru History Web site, which has been on the Internet for about three years, has been a tremendous asset to attracting newcomers. “If we didn’t have that Web site…”

The eight friends agreed that their stay in Vicksburg has been a pleasant experience, and they may come back next year.

“The hospitality has been wonderful,” Lisa Armstrong, 35, of Houston, Texas, said.

Scott Goodman, 41, of Atlanta, agreed. “I like the people. It’s a nice change of pace from city life and a good mix of folks.”

However, the warm, Southern hospitality wasn’t the only thing about Vicksburg that impressed Goodman. He was also intrigued by the Vicksburg National Military Park.

“It’s cool; I’m a history buff,” he said. “The reason I wasn’t running fast was because I was envisioning the battles.”

Fifty-three-year-old Tommy Steele, also of Evansville, made an interesting discovery during his stay in Mississippi. “Blue Bell is the best ice cream,” he laughed.

The group flew into Jackson International Airport Thursday, has been staying at Battlefield Inn and will leave Vicksburg today. They plan to visit the Old Court House Museum, the USS Cairo and a couple of Vicksburg’s casinos before they say farewell.

“The experience is not over,” Atlanta resident Cindy Trahan, 43, said.

Other group members are Kevin Armstrong, 40, and Tom Chandler, 41, both of Houston.

Robbie Ward, 22, a senior at the University of Southern Mississippi, was encouraged to participate in his first 10K run by Vicksburg native and friend Lee Franco, who works with him at O’Charley’s restaurant in Hattiesburg.

“The park is absolutely beautiful,” he said. “The hills were pretty, but they really tested me.”

Rich Hajek and his 16-year-old son, Ian, left their home in Meridian at 5 Saturday morning for Vicksburg. Hajek, a 40-year-old U.S. Navy commander who moved his family to Mississippi from San Diego last year, said the Run Thru History was recommended by his pastor and by the Meridian Athletic Association.

“They said it was a real good, tough course,” he said. “It was pretty not boring.”

When asked if he would come back next year, Ian, a sophomore at Meridian High School and second in Mississippi for Class 5A cross country running, shook his head emphatically and said, “Oh, yeah.”

Forty-seven-year-old Donna Day of Vicksburg, who participated in the 5K race walk, said the course was a challenge. “I took it very easy on the hills and reminded myself that it’s just a walk in the park,” she said.

Day is a third-year participant in the Run Thru History and plans to come back next year.

“I’m not an athlete, but I like to do it,” she said. “It lets me know I can still get out of bed on Saturday and do something hard.”

The Run Thru History was established in 1980 and features a 10K run, a 5K walk and a one-mile run for kids 15 and younger.