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At first Banana Split 5K, Wakefield Valley location praised

The long-distance runners walked past an awards stand, spotted the banana-themed trophies and laughed.

The top male and female finishers of the Banana Split 5K would receive a trophy with a smiling cartoon banana as the centerpiece.

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Tom Yinger, of Westminster, and Meg Thomas, of Eldersburg, walked away with the unique awards as the inaugural winners of the Banana Split 5K benefiting the nonprofit FR Mobility Foundation Inc.

The 5-kilometer race was held Sunday morning along the paved trails at the former Wakefield Valley Golf Club in Westminster.

About 50 runners participated in the 5K run, which raised money for families in need of wheelchair-accessible vehicles. Thanks to donations from the community, almost all the race event costs were covered, meaning nearly all the money raised will go to future grants said Larry Appel, executive director of FR Mobility.

"Our charity is a little bit different because we think — in order for people to appreciate our military — we need to educate people, and the best way to do that is to educate the children," she said. "We wanted to bring education into the schools to teach children mostly about Memorial Day and Veterans Day and the differences between those days, and patriotism in general."

"We were pleased, but we were definitely not surprised by the generosity from the Westminster community," said Appel, who indicated he received support from everyone from the City of Westminster to area businesses for the run.

The unique 5K race forced participants to make a choice. At the "banana split," runners could choose one of two loops. They could either turn right or left at the split before coming back together for the final sprint to the finish.

Race participants Donna Cogle and Kathleen Hanson, embracing the morning race's theme, dressed up in banana costumes.

One chose to turn left, the other went right, in a literal banana split.

Appropriately enough, runners received bananas for post-race treats.

In recent months, community organizations have used the former Wakefield Valley Golf Club trails for distance races. It's an advantageous place to hold a race, said Banana Split 5K official timer Steve Moore, of Let's Run Moore.

Runners leave the starting line at the 5K Banana Split and Wheelchair Peel at the former Wakefield Valley golf course in Westminster on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016. The event is a fundraiser to provide grants to wheelchair users to purchase wheelchair-accessible vans.
Runners leave the starting line at the 5K Banana Split and Wheelchair Peel at the former Wakefield Valley golf course in Westminster on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016. The event is a fundraiser to provide grants to wheelchair users to purchase wheelchair-accessible vans. (Alan White / Carroll County Times)

There's ample parking. No roads need to be shut down, meaning police do not have to direct traffic. And because the Banana Split 5K organizers did not blast music before the race, it's likely most of the neighbors who live near the former golf course were unaware the race was even happening.

"We love having this venue," Moore said. "We're not disturbing traffic. We're not disrupting their mornings. Instead we have this beautiful, self-contained facility."

Aside from a long-shuttered snack stand and clubhouse, it is now difficult to tell that the facility was ever used for golf.

The greens are overgrown with weeds. The water hazards simply look like tiny lakes. But the paved trails are usable and accessible for runners and walkers in the community.

Yinger, 46, the top male finisher with a time of 19 minutes. 2 seconds, said he often jogs with his dogs along the trails. It's a far better option than the alternative, which is running along roads nearby that lack sidewalks.

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After a recent jog along the rolling hills of Uniontown Road, he grew weary of dodging cars. He's far happier to run along the quiet trails, where deer occasionally gather to graze on grass.

Yinger, a devoted runner for 15 years, said he enjoys the community aspect of 5K races and said he would participate in future Banana Split 5Ks.

"It's just a great course," he said. "We're lucky to have the trails here."

Gordon Bickerstaff, an Anne Arundel Community College student from Crofton, placed second in the male division with a time of 19 minutes, 45 seconds. After breaking his leg in a short stint of playing rugby, Bickerstaff is back to running. He is a member of the Annapolis Striders running group, which had strong representation at the Banana Split 5K.

In Crofton, he runs at a park with paths similar to the ones provided at Wakefield Valley. He said this course, while not as hilly as he would prefer, is a community resource.

"I usually run on the road," Bickerstaff said, "but I like running in the fresh air and weeds."

The course earned positive reviews from runners, and Appel said he would like to use it again for future events. He was encouraged by the turnout of 50 runners.

"We learned a lot in our first year," he said. "Now we know how we can make it even better for future events."



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