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10K elite runners return to Shelter Island

JULIE LANE PHOTO Former Olympians Joan Benoit_Samuelson and Bill Rodgers during Friday afternoon’s WLNG radio interview.
JULIE LANE PHOTO Former Olympians Joan Benoit_Samuelson and Bill Rodgers during Friday afternoon’s WLNG radio interview.

Kenyan Eliud Ngetich might be forgiven if he thinks he’s in Seattle or London because the winner of Shelter Island’s 2015 10K race ran it for the first time during a torrential rainstorm.

He returned to the Island Friday in another torrential rainstorm, but is hoping Saturday will bring dry weather.

Invited back this year and participating in a pre-race WLNG radio interview show Friday afternoon, Mr. Ngetich was faced with rain so heavy that he could barely be heard above the sound of the pounding on an protective awning outside the American Legion Hall.

Show host Dr. Frank Adipietro, the voice of the Island’s 38th Annual 10K, admitted he could barely concentrate on his questions or hear the answers he was getting from Mr. Ngetich, Olympians Joan Benoit-Samuelson and Bill Rodgers and Dr. Adipietro’s wife, race director Mary Ellen Adipietro.

Mr. Ngetich’s goal, of course, is to win Saturday’s race on the same course where he posted a time of 28:49 two years ago.

For both Ms. Benoit-Samuelson and Mr. Rodgers, this was also a return to Shelter Island where both have run the 10K many times.

“It’s got that small community feel to it,” Mr. Rodgers said.

He’s the winner of four New York and four Boston marathons and Ms. Benoit-Samuelson is the first woman to win an Olympic Gold Medal in the first year the marathon was opened to women in 1984 in Los Angeles.

Both said they return here year after year to be with old friends and to visit a town they’ve  come to love.

The heart and soul of the race are the unheralded volunteers who work behind the scenes to ensure all are welcome and well attended to during their stay here, the runners agreed. The former Olympians have organized races and know the work that goes into running such an event.

Ms. Adipietro paid tribute to Edie Petry, a long-time volunteer who always brought positive energy and a wonderful sense of humor to the race. Ms. Petry died on June 9 and her funeral was Friday.

When they started running, the sort lacked the attention it has today, but came into its own in the 1980s, Mr. Rodgers said. For Ms. Benoit-Samuelson, it was Title IX legislation that opened the world of running to females. She recalled being in school where she had to wear a skirt or dress to class, but one day was allowed during a field event to wear pants and compete with boys, many of whom she beat.

When she was growing up, people thought females shouldn’t run more than a mile at a time for fear they would be unable to bear children. She is a mother and recalled that when she started raising her children, she lost track of the meticulous records she once kept of her races.

“Runners are kind of explorers,” Mr. Rodgers said about the sport as it exists today.

“I tell people all the time, you don’t have to be a marathoner to be a runner,” Ms. Benoit-Samuelson said. “Running is for all the people; you don’t have to be an elite,” she said, referring to other sports where athletes shine.

While both Olympians say most of their best race moments these days are in encouraging young people to pursue the sport, they continue to run. Having just turned 60, Ms. Benoit-Samuelson is looking ahead to the Chicago Marathon where she hopes to be the first woman over 60 to run the race in less than three hours.

“I don’t have any rhyme or reason to my training,” she said. Nor does she pre-plan her races, but takes each course as it comes on the day of the race.

Mr. Ngetich, on the other hand, is only 23, and looking ahead to what he hopes will be the best part of his racing career. He hasn’t yet competed in a full marathon, but said, “It’s something that definitely will come later.”

Dr. Adipietro told Mr. Rodgers he inspired him to become a runner. Watching Mr. Rodgers run and win so often, Dr. Adipietro followed his father’s advice and began running.

“You guys changed everything,” Dr. Adipietro said to the two Olympians.

Members of Shelter Island School’s Running Club came by with questions for the runners, asking about race preparations, pre-race meals and even how the elites got over bad races.

“We’re not robots, we’re people,” Mr. Rodgers said, admitting there were races he dropped out of because he was doing so poorly.

Mr. Ngetich said he tries to think about his training and make changes for future races.

Everybody experiences some bad races and while you can try to figure out the reasons, what’s most important is to “run your own race and not think about what anybody else is doing,” Ms. Benoit-Samuelson said.

“It’s all about passion,” she told the young runners. “If you don’t have passion, you don’t have fire and if you don’t have fire, you can’t light anything,” she said.

Race time Saturday at 5:30 p.m. For those who haven’t pre-registered, you must do so between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m.

If you don’t pre-register, you can still run, but won’t get a race number and will have to track your own time, Ms. Adipietro said.