GRANT BLANKENSHIP/THE TELEGRAPH The field of the Museum of Aviation Foundation Marathon/Half Marathon/5k after the 8am start Saturday in Warner Robins.
ROBINS AIR FORCE BASE -- Stephanie Freeman had to learn to walk -- again -- before she could run.
A car accident at age 14 left Freeman in a coma for two months. She spent the next two months in rehab, relearning to put one foot in front of the other.
On Saturday, Freeman was one of more than 1,500 runners in the 16th annual Museum of Aviation Foundation Marathon, Half-Marathon and 5K Run/Walk.
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“I remember being in a wheelchair and not being able to walk, and that makes me run,” she said.
Freeman, 30, of Rochelle has been running for 10 years. She has her sights on qualifying for the Boston Marathon but knows she still needs to knock off about a half-hour from her time.
“I figure it might take a couple of years, but I can do it,” said Freeman, who ran Saturday’s half-marathon in one hour, 46 minutes.
Despite race-time temperatures dipping into the 20s, the race drew an all-time high 1,501 registered runners, said Bob Dubiel, the museum’s director of marketing.
“We’ve run some races just as cold. We’ve run in rain and sleet. These runners will run in anything,” Dubiel said.
The run, which benefits the museum’s foundation, is organized by the Robins Pacers and is actually a qualifier for the Boston Marathon. Its course winds through Robins Air Force Base and is certified by the USA Track and Field organization.
“It’s a flat course. It’s fast. They get good times here,” said Dubiel.
The number of runners wasn’t the only record to fall. Chris Reis, 30, of Cincinnati, finished first in the marathon with a new course record of about 2 hours, 37 minutes.
That’s about two minutes better than the old record set in 2009 -- and about five minutes ahead Saturday of his college roommate, Matt Urbanski. The men also were teammates on the University of Cincinnati’s cross-country team.
They’re joining Urbanski’s brother on a quest to run a marathon in every state. They plan to be in Baton Rouge, La., on Sunday for another race.
“We wanted to bang out a couple of Southern races while it was warm down here,” Reis said minutes after crossing the finish line. “Then I was packing yesterday and checked out the weather forecast. I was planning on shorts, maybe a singlet. I was thinking in the 40s at the lowest.”
The chilly weather actually made for great running conditions, Reis said.
“You don’t have the dehydration worry. You still need to drink your water, but you’re certainly not sweating as much,” he said. “Gloves are important. A lot of runners’ hands get cold.”
Jacob Cooter, of Augusta, took up running 10 years ago -- at age 65. He’s run a marathon before but participated in the half-marathon Saturday.
“It makes me feel good,” he said.
At 75, Cooter was still five years younger than Saturday’s oldest participant, an 80-year-old in the 5K.
Dubiel said some of the larger groups included the Korean Running Club from Atlanta. Flint Energies put 30 runners in the race.
For others, the event was a family affair.
Tanya Roberts and brother Chad Wadford, Cordele natives who now live in Atlanta and Vienna, respectively, ran in their first half-marathon.
“The last three miles were tough,” said Wadford. “We hung in there.”
Andrea Reid, of Perry, ran the half-marathon with her pre-teen sons.
“It felt so good. I had brand new shoes, I was a little worried about my heels,” she said. “I got under two (hours). That’s been my goal this whole time. And I’m so proud of my kids, so proud of my boys.”
Her 13-year-old daughter Emily ran the 5K, finishing with an impressive dash to the finish.
“I don’t really like running too much,” she said. “My favorite part is sprinting. There’s this one moment where both my feet are off the ground, and it feels really awesome.”
Her father, James, said Emily only “acts like she doesn’t” enjoy the runs.
“I really don’t!” she shouted, having overheard.
Kristie Poole of Macon said running the half-marathon made her “feel proud I can have the endurance.”
“It’s definitely exhilarating to run a half-marathon, to get done and know that you did 13.1 miles as fast as you could, as hard as you could, and left everything out there,” Poole said. “It’s awesome.”
To contact writer Rodney Manley, call 744-4623.