LUMBERTON — For the last five years, Jack Brunecz has made the Rumba on the Lumber’s Southeastern Health 5K race an annual stop.
It’s about the competition it brings together.
“For me, it’s not just all about the money and placing well, it’s the people that come here and bring out the best in everybody else,” said Brunecz “I take it real seriously, so I’m just trying to continually get better.”
In Saturday’s 14th-annual race, the Fayetteville resident not only hung with the competition, he won for the first time, posting a time of 16:20 on the newly revamped course. He averaged a pace of 5:16 and beat the second and third place finishers by 51 seconds and 1:53, respectively.
He was one of 287 finishers in the race, with runners coming from states around the region including South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia and West Virginia. They raced in late-morning cold, many participants donning stocking hats, gloves and jackets to stay warm.
The participation was in-line with previous years said Jeff Lambdin, president of the Robeson Road Runners, a group that helps organize the race.
“The racers love this kind of temperature,” he said “They like it a little cool, they like it a little overcast.”
The hiccup this year was the weather leading into the race, Brunecz said.
“The past month, with the whole polar vortex thing, the people who take it very seriously just haven’t been able to do their speed work and take their training to the max potential,” he said. “I still wanted to come here and gauge where I was at.”
His time this year was nearly 30 seconds higher than last year when he took third place to Julius Kogo, who set a course record with a 14:10 finish. Neither Kogo or second-place finisher Kiprono Kurgat ran again this year.
Though Brunecz hoped to finish quicker, he was still pleased that he took the top place after taking third each of the last two years.
“I was kind of shocked that I won today,” he said.
Brunecz’s closest competition was 42-year-old Musa Gwanzura, who has made the trip from Roanoke Rapids for the last seven years. It’s become the start of his yearly racing schedule.
“This is always my first race of the year, always. I do another one in a month and they just pick up as they go,” Gwanzura said. “It’s a very good race. I bring my little boy and after this he’ll play for a few hours. My wife loves it and for sure I eat those big turkey legs.”
His goal this year, which he missed out on, was to break the 16-minute mark. He missed it due to a knee injury that came as a result of overtraining with the region’s bad weather in the last few weeks.
“I was really trying not to mess it up,” Gwanzura said. “I could have run at least 40 seconds faster.”
Kevin Kelley, of Florence, S.C., rounded out the top three finishers.
Lumberton resident Desiree Walker was the top female finisher at 21:27 and Jacquelyn Hall, of Lumber Bridge, took second at 21:37.