CHARLOTTE, N.C. (BY Theoden Janes/Charlotte Observer) - Will Volkmann wasn’t really on anyone’s radar going into Novant Health Charlotte Marathon.
Frankly, many of the people who pay attention to this kind of thing just assumed that someone running as part of the event’s newly established elite athlete program would be the one to break the tape in the men’s race on this chilly, gray and windy Saturday morning.
And yet 2 hours, 30 minutes and 59 seconds after the starting gun went off, Volkmann — a former Division I college runner who signed himself up for his first marathon ever practically on a lark — crossed the finish line next to the Charlotte Knights’ BB&T Ballpark to take the 2019 men’s title and the $700 prize for first place.
“A bunch of my friends from Lafayette have run marathons ... and I just thought, ‘Why not give it a shot?’” said Volkmann, 28, an analyst at Barings who ran at Lafayette College in Easton, Pa. “I trained over the summer a little bit and I was getting into pretty good shape, and eventually — about six or seven weeks ago — I was like, ‘Let’s just go for it. Let’s just ramping up the mileage and start really training for it.’”
Volkmann said his longest training run was 20 miles, and that he had never even raced a half marathon before Saturday’s win.
For more than half of the 26.2-mile course, he ran in a pack with two runners who were officially part of the event’s elite athlete program: Jesse McEntire and Mike Mitchell, both also of Charlotte.
“I just tried to wait as long as possible to make a move,” Volkmann said, “because I knew it was advantageous to stay in the pack as long as possible with the wind and the conditions. ... At around Mile 20, that’s when I kind of went (ahead on my own).”
McEntire and Mitchell finished second and third, respectively, in times of 2:32:40 and 2:35:50.
“When we heard that someone out there who hadn’t signed up was in the lead pack, we were quite surprised — and even moreso when he ended up being the eventual winner,” said Christo Landry, coordinator of the marathon’s elite athlete program. “It was a happy surprise, though, because ... the more people who can be in the mix for a longer period of time makes for a better race and a more exciting race. So we’re really happy to see that Will came out, and hopefully next year he’ll be in the elite athlete program.”
Shortly thereafter, Amanda Morris of Pineville broke the tape in 2:59:19 to take the women’s title, collapsing to the asphalt seconds later with a huge smile on her face. As she climbed back onto her feet, Landry wrapped her in an American flag that she spread behind her back like wings.
She characterized the winds as being “super-tough,” but said she was well-prepared for the course’s famed hilliness.
“I’ve been doing a lot of mountain ultra-marathons the last few years, and that’s really put me at a huge advantage for just being able to hit the uphills pretty hard,” she said.
Morris, 34, had finished third in the Charlotte Marathon in 2013, and then was the race’s runner-up in 2017. It’s her third marathon victory; she won two last year — Charleston (S.C.), in 2:59:07, and Peak to Creek (near Morganton), in 2:54:39.
But Saturday’s win was almost certainly the sweetest.
“Winning the marathon in my hometown was always a huge goal for me, so I’m just really grateful to finally hit that mark,” said Morris, who also won $700 for her efforts. “It was amazing. I mean, that’s the moment I’ve been hoping for all season long.”
And her season’s not over. In fact, Saturday was a very brief day on her feet compared to her next event: Next weekend’s Lake Haigler 12-Hour Trail Race at the Anne Springs Close Greenway in Fort Mill, S.C.
That one, though? “I’ll be going a lot slower,” she said, laughing.
Rounding out the top three on the women’s side were Ashleigh Griffin (3:07:07) and Rebekah Read (3:09:16).