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Crandall repeats as Chill in the Hills champ; 12-year-old Eldridge wins women’s title

Ryan Crandall plans to get married later this spring. He and his bride can probably take bowls off the gift registry.

The 27-year-old from Madison crushed a field of 60 runners on Saturday to win his second consecutive Chill in the Hills 10K championship, and the large handcrafted chili bowl that goes to the winner.

Crandall finished with a time of 34 minutes, 10 seconds — more than five minutes ahead of runner-up Andrew Klock, and two minutes better than his winning time in the rain in 2020. Klock crossed the finish line in 39:15, and Samuel Terrett was third in 44:02.

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Crandall’s time was the second-fastest in the race’s 13-year history, and a record on the current course configuration through downtown Vicksburg.

“I can’t complain with how the course is,” Crandall said of his winning time.

Being so far ahead of the pack, he added, was a challenge in its own right.

“It’s more mental,” he said. “You’re working hard and you’re up front, but it’s more ‘do you have it in yourself to do it by yourself and give it all you’ve got?’”

While Crandall was dominating the field, a newcomer broke through to win her first women’s championship — or her first race of any kind.

Hendrix Eldridge, a 12-year-old sixth-grader at St. Francis Xavier School, posted a time of 50:22 to win the women’s title. She is the youngest women’s champion in the race’s history. Luke Beissel of Grenada won the overall and men’s title in 2016 as a 12-year-old.

Hendrix Eldridge

Eldridge runs cross country for St. Aloysius, and won her age group at a race in Shreveport last year. She said this was the first time she’s finished first overall, however.

Shannon Steele was second in the women’s division with a time of 52:08, and Rachel Cross was third in 55:01.

“It’s pretty nice,” Eldridge said. “Probably halfway through, people were saying ‘first female,’ and that kind of motivated me. It feels like you’ve accomplished something.”

In the 5K race walk, Larry Robinson returned to the Chill in the Hills for the first time in half a decade and looked like he never lost a step. The 51-year-old from Forest, who is considered the top race walker on the Mississippi Track Club’s statewide circuit, posted a time of 31:07 to win his fourth Chill in the Hills chili bowl trophy.

Steve Pranger was second in 32:58, and women’s champion Sonja Dufrene was third overall in 34:55. Pranger won the 5K race walk in 2020, and has finished either first or second four years in a row.

Larry Robinson

Robinson has won the Chill in the Hills four times, but had not come to Vicksburg to compete in it since 2015. His winning time that year was 31 minutes even, and he marveled at nearly matching it six years later.

“The last time I did this race was about four years ago. It seems like I did about the same time,” he said. “I dreaded coming up here. This particular race, I remember all the hills and stuff and all that cold weather, and I don’t like either one of them.”

Siblings Noah and Patty Lewis finished first and second in the children’s 1-mile fun run, with times of 9:58 and 10:22, respectively.

Race director Walter Frazier — who also competed in the 10K run and finished 34th overall — said about 125 people registered for the race and 96 were scored as having finished. Although that is about half than the race’s average attendance in the mid-2010s, Frazier said he was pleased with the number after two rain-plagued editions and many people’s reluctance to attend large events during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“I’m thrilled with it. This is COVID. There are races that have been canceled. There are races that have tried to do a virtual. To be able to actually do an in-person race, I’m thrilled about that,” Frazier said.

Frazier is also the director of Grace Christian Counseling, for which the Chill in the Hills serves as a fundraiser. Grace Christian Counseling provides low-cost counseling services on a sliding payment scale for residents of Mississippi and Louisiana, and Frazier said the race helps fulfill that mission.

“We’re going to make money. This is going to be a successful fundraiser,” Frazier said. “The money we collect goes to help people receive professional, quality counseling services regardless of their resources. It’s a thrill to be able to answer the phone and tell somebody yes, no matter what.”

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured sports reporters in the paper's 137-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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