Last Sunday morning dawned cold and clear with temperatures near 20F. The streets in Columbia had been cleared of recent snow, but small patches of ice remained at key turns on the Penguin Pace 5k, a very hilly race that started and ended at the Florence Bain Senior Center. Jeff Olenick, last year’s winner, and Mike Styczynski, Howard County Junior runner of 1999, found themselves locked in a close duel from the beginning until a sharp left-hand turn near the half-way point. “It was neck-and-neck until I slipped on the ice,” said Styczynski about his tumble that skinned his left knee and left Olenick, who runs for Goucher College, the leader of the field. “It was just dumb luck that he [Mike] fell down and I didn’t,” commented Jeff. Styczynski bounced right up after his fall, but neither runner regained his speed on the last, mostly-uphill part of the race. Olenick cruised the final mile and won in 16:11, 15 seconds ahead of Styczynski.
In the women’s contest, local favorite Robyn Humphrey assessed U.S. Team Duathlete Marjan Huizing at the start line with a “she looks pretty fast,” which turned out to be true. Humphrey’s own fast start did not phase Huizing, who normally runs a (flat) 5k in under 18 minutes. After the first downhill mile, Huizing overhauled Humphrey and, on the final uphill mile, put nearly a minute between herself and her competition, winning the women’s race in 19:29. “I don’t like the hills until after I’ve run them,” Marjan said about the terrain.
Among the older runners, Dr. Bobby Gessler annihilated the over-40 runners, with a time of 19:06, about a minute ahead of the second master, Gary Prada (father of the well-known Mike Prada). Robin Goodwin of Timonium surprised Columbia’s own Dorothy Beckett to win the women’s masters title. Second-place finisher Mike Styczynski seems to have been the only person in the race to fall down on the ice, which had been thoroughly sanded and salted. “We were going too slow to fall down,” said Al Greuter about the rest of the field. Barbara Walters and Ralph Massella agreed that, aside from the ice, the course was too hilly to set a personal record, so they didn’t try. “The experience [of running the course] was humbling,” said Ralph.
The main attraction to the Penguin Pace was probably not the challenging hills, but the lavish brunch enjoyed by all participants after the race at the cafeteria of the Senior Center. The brunch included muffins, sweet rolls, fresh fruits, fresh vegetables with dip, bread, croissants, coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and orange juice. The Elkridge Furnace Inn, which has been in business since 1744, catered the affair and replenished the food trays as soon as supplies diminished. The Banjo Buddies Dixieland Band entertained the runners while they ate and provided drum rolls when the winners received their prizes.
The 2000 Penguin Pace drew a field of 311 finishers, which included a significant contingent of actual “penguins,” or followers of the “Penguin Chronicles” feature in Runner’s World. Columbia’s chief Penguin, Jeannette Lampron, estimated that about 40 of them showed up for the race. Some of them wore characteristic pink caps in the race, but none of them figured in the scoring. “After all, we’re penguins!”
Arleen Dineen directed the Penguin Pace, a Howard County Strider race that benefits the Howard County Department of Aging. Race and age-group winners received, appropriately, heavy knit caps appropriate for the season, and many others also won random awards. Principal sponsors of the race included Howard County General Hospital, the Lazarus Computer Foundation, Feet First of Wilde Lake, the Rouse Company, the Colosseum Gym and Fitness, the Manekin Real Estate, Comcast, and, of course, Team Penguin.