AURORA — The first of what could become another major running event in western Kentucky appeared to be a big hit Saturday.
The inaugural Bridge to Bridge Trail Run incorporated the multipurpose lanes of both the Henry Lawrence Memorial Bridge over Lake Barkley and the Eggners Ferry Bridge that crosses Kentucky Lake. The reaction of many participants seemed to be overwhelmingly positive.
“This was pretty cool, actually,” said Cameron Cooper, a Calloway County High School track and cross country alum who resides in Puryear, Tennessee. He crossed the finish line at Kenlake State Resort Park in Aurora as the overall winner, covering the 13.7 miles in a little more than 1 hour, 47 minutes.
“It was tough,” he said. “I’ve biked part of this course before (that also included off-road trails in the Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area), but I had never done the whole thing and, (from) I knew about it, I knew it would be hard.
“I’d never run a half marathon before in an actual race. I’d done it training, but that wasn’t on a course like this. But I was really fortunate to have been in the first one, and I think it’s going to really take off.”
Organizers of the inaugural race were quite pleased with its debut on two fronts. First, they were able to reach their goal of having at least 100 runners register. Perhaps more importantly, the race attracted runners from well outside of far western Kentucky.
“You had Shreveport, Louisiana here. You had Indiana, Ohio, even Alabama as well,” said co-organizer Mike Wicker, coach of the Calloway track and cross country programs, which will be a primary beneficiary of proceeds raised. “I think it went really well, and yes, I could see this thing getting bigger next year. We could have 150 to 200 runners in here and perhaps 15 or 20 states represented. We actually had 10 people sign up between (Friday) and (Saturday morning) so I think this is only going to get better.”
This is now the fourth event to cover the distance of a half marathon (13.1 miles) to be created in the westernmost part of the commonwealth. Already, events in Paducah and Murray that have been in place several years are attracting between 700 and 900 athletes. An event later this month in Hopkinsville will make its debut and is already expecting strong numbers.
However, Bridge to Bridge is alone in one aspect. It is a race that sends its participants to the respective east and west gateways of LBL. The bridges are both new, modernized structures with paths for runners and bikers, and their now-demolished predecessors that were built in the 1930s likely could never have hosted such an event.
“Those bridges back then were pretty narrow,” said Murray’s Clint Norton, who finished second to Cooper by about four minutes. “I’ve been waiting for it. I had to run this one. You’ve been having people wanting to do this a few years.”
The multipurpose lanes that were included in the new bridge designs allow runners and bicyclists to cross the lakes without worrying about facing car and truck traffic. Until Saturday, a race like this had never been planned.
“That’s the thing that is so hard to believe for me,” Wicker said. “Nobody had done it yet, and I’m so surprised with that.”
“So we took advantage of it,” said Wicker’s co-organizer, Damon Eastwood of Murray, who said there were many hands that assisted in making the first race a success. “The U.S. Forestry Service did a fantastic job of preparing the trail for us. We couldn’t ask for better conditions with that. All of our sponsors have been great too. I think, after all bills and expenses, we’re going to end up with between $5,000 and $7,000. We’re just tickled pink with how this has gone for our first time.”
The race was personal for overall women’s winner Aviva Yasgur of Murray. She is the head of the Friends of LBL Group that advocates for the recreation area, and she said that when she heard that someone was organizing a race that would involve the bridges and the trails, she had to be part of it.
“I don’t know if I was one of the first ones registered, but as soon as I found out about it, I knew I wanted to do it,” said Yasgur, who finished the race in a little more than 1 hour, 54 minutes. “I run on this trail a lot after work every day. It’s just a great place to run and, to be out here with a bunch of other runners today who were enjoying it as well was a lot of fun.”
Six states were represented Saturday. That included Elizabeth Morgan of Evansville, Indiana, who came with her black Labrador retriever dog, Bela. Their presence added immediate clout to the event since Morgan and Bela are celebrities in the running world, having appeared in the popular Runner’s World magazine and, more recently, NBC’s “The Today Show.”
“This is Bella’s 22nd half marathon, and she’s run two full marathons with me and she’s training for her third next month,” Morgan said, explaining the attraction from such well-known establishments. “They saw us at one of our races and it seems like everywhere we go, we get a lot of media attention and it’s absolutely wonderful. I got her because I was getting burned out from running and, to this day, we’ve raised $9,000 for the Vanderburgh County Humane Society (in Evansville, Indiana).”
Morgan also said she is going to tell her running friends about the new event in western Kentucky. Dean Hart of Paducah said he would do likewise and expects to come back for it in the future.
He almost was not able to compete in the first one, but he had a good reason. Hart has been part of a medical mission team to the Bahamas in the wake of Hurricane Dorian that struck during the Labor Day weekend and left several parts of those islands shattered.
He had been in the Bahamas 12 days until his team was ordered out of the area toward the middle of last week as another tropical system was making its way to the islands.
“I had to borrow a couple of military helicopter rides, but we got out,” said Hart, who had driven from Nashville, Tennessee after his flight landed at Nashville International Airport in the early hours of Saturday morning. “I didn’t think I was going to be able to make it, but things worked out where I could.
“I’ve run in a lot of the inaugural races around here, so I would’ve been pretty disappointed if I couldn’t have done this one. The bridges are great. The trails are awesome and I think this will really take off because it’s a great run.”