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Bridge of Flowers Classic attracts young, old

Runners cross the Iron Bridge near the begining of the race Saturday during the 36th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10k. The August weather couldn't have beenmore cooperative.
Recorder/Paul Franz

Runners cross the Iron Bridge near the begining of the race Saturday during the 36th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10k. The August weather couldn't have beenmore cooperative. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

SHELBURNE FALLS — Vigorously massaging her hamstrings, Trish LaRocca stood in the shade of a building overlooking Shelburne Falls’ famous glacial potholes as the names of the winners of this year’s Bridge of Flowers Classic 10k foot race were rattled off, and as each of the victors took their place on the red, white and blue pedestal.

She’d just completed the 6.2 mile race and was starting to feel it, but the pain and soreness that accompanies such a feat didn’t stop her from running it Saturday for the third time.

“Each time it’s just a lot of fun,” said LaRocca, who came from Amherst to compete in the event, completing the course in just over an hour. “That’s a minute under last year, and I walked the hill (the infamous Crittenden Hill section) this year.”

On the pedestal, a 9-year-old boy was bowing to allow a race official to loop a medal around his neck, marking him as the second-place finisher in his division.

“I look forward to the music, and the community support makes it a bit easier. The scenery is great, and the people are great who organize the event,” LaRocca said.

The race, which was founded in 1979, is Franklin County’s biggest. This year saw 706 participants of all ages, according to the official results.

Race director and founder Michael McCusker said he was amazed by how many people came out to run the course, adding that the event shines a spotlight on Shelburne Falls. Many of the participants, he said, come from out-of-state and stick around after they finish running to shop and have lunch.

“This puts the village of Shelburne Falls and the whole region in a good light and I feel good about that,” McCusker said. “These folks, they talk and they will start coming back, and we feel really good about it. The village community and everyone really puts a good foot forward.”

McCusker said he’s particularly impressed by three groups of runners.

“The things that put a tear in my eye are the older folks, the younger kidd-o’s, and the people who take a bit longer than the average,” McCusker said.

“I’m touched by the people who have that kind of staying power.”

LaRocca echoed that sentiment.

“Some of the older people who run are really inspiring,” said LaRocca. “Some of them say they’ve been doing it for 26 years!”

One of those older runners, Judith Williams, 75, of Plainfield, finished first in the ages 75 to 79 division, crossing the finish line at 1 hour, 4 minutes — a time that announcers noted was considered to be “incredible by international standards,” as she received her medal and an ornamental glass globe, hand-blown by Shelburne resident Josh Simpson.

Those globes, Williams said, are one of the reasons she keeps running.

“They’re just beautiful, and I’ve collected four of them in the past. I have five grandchildren and I wanted to give one to each, so I have to keep winning for them. It’s my inspiration,” she said.

Simpson said the reason she is able to keep running, even at the age of 75, is because she didn’t get into the sport until she was in her 40s. To prepare for the race, she said she runs three miles each day.

“I didn’t wear my body out earlier in my life like some people do, so that’s why I can still do it. That hill, though, it’s the worst thing in any race.”

Amos Sang, 27, of Springfield, who finished first in the Men’s Overall division at 31 minutes and 55 seconds, agreed with her.

“That’s the toughest part, I wore out a little on that,” he said. “It’s where the race kind of separated.”

Sang edged out friend and training partner Glarius Rop of Palmer by one second to take the top men’s spot. Last year, he said, the situation was reversed.

“We train together most of the time, but when that last stretch is there, we hammer it out. It’s not a real rivalry, but it’s there a little bit,” he said, beaming.

For other runners, bragging rights weren’t the only thing that drew them to this particular race. Northfield’s Ted Lapinski said one of his favorite aspects of the Classic is its pastoral setting.

“It’s the only 10k I do. This one’s really nice, because of all the dirt roads and shade. It’s got a nice rural feel and there’s always lots of spectators,” he said. “Other races have a lot of blacktop and streets, and I don’t like that at all.”

Many of the other runners agreed with Lapinski’s assessment, also noting that the enthusiasm of the crowd helps keep them moving.

“The crowd is the best part,” said John Waite of Deerfield. “It was my first time running this and coming back into to town over the bridge, it was really helpful.”

One member of that crowd, Bob Bassett of Shelburne Falls, watched the race along with a group of his family members at Mohawk Regional High School on the far end of the course, cheering as each group of runners passed by.

“It’s a really good event,” he said.

“My son is running in it, so we come up here to watch and cheer them on. All the runners did really well.”

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