The 44-year-old just didn’t expect someone like 17-year-old Andrew Groff of Lancaster, Pa. to show up, set a course record in 16 minutes, 56 seconds and then leave town with the special design first place trophy.
Hughes, who lives in Good Harbor and Lansing, finished second Saturday for the second consecutive year in the fourth annual Leland road race to benefi t the Fishtown Preservation Society.
“After getting hit by dogs last year, I vowed to come back and win it I was so mad,” said Hughes, who trailed from the start but almost managed to catch Groff. “I thought I was in good enough shape to win, but apparently not.
Hughes’ sidekick, wife, Elizabeth, did not fall short. The 36-year-old captured the women’s division in 20:31. She was 16th overall.
“I feel good,” Elizabeth Hughes said after returning to road racing after a five-year absence. “It’s my first race back and I’m happy with the result.”
Groff, who will be a freshman at Denison University in Granville, Ohio this fall, plans to run track and cross country. The 5K run was just part of his 55-mile weekly return.
Groff, who was 22 seconds faster than Hughes, was neck-and-neck with Cedar’s Caleb Korson through the first two miles. The pair were dead even coming up the hill near the Leland Lodge.
“Caleb took me out around 5:10,” Groff said. “It was a little faster than I had hoped, but it had to happen if I wanted to go fast.”
Hughes had his eyes fixed on catching Groff, who was wearing some purple and gold.
“I thought they were Leland colors and he was on the track team, I was hoping,” Hughes said. “I had perfect splits of what I was capable of.
Korson, a recent St. Mary graduate, wasn’t sure what happened that caused Groff to put some distance on him after two miles.
“We were stride-for-stride, but then I don’t know if he sped up or I slowed down,” Korson said. “It might have been both.”
Korson, who finished third in 17:27, relinquished second place in the final 1/4 mile.
“I just didn’t have any kick left to hold off that guy,” said Korson, who also missed out on his goal of breaking 16 minutes. “I had a chance after two miles, but I knew I had to run a 6:15 in the last mile.”
Michael Sapko of Livonia was fourth in 17:42. Defending champ Craig Stevenson of Rockford was fifth in 17:43.
“I pretty much ran the same identical time as last year so there was just a lot more good competition this year,” said Stevenson, who was training a lot less this summer. “I was happy with my time.
“I wanted to win. It’s not always about your time, it’s about who shows up.”
Stevenson said his first mile time was about 5:30.
“The guys ahead of me went out a little hot,” Stevenson said.
Women’s winner Elizabeth Hughes knew she was leader after the first mile and never looked back.
“People were telling me that I was first, but I don’t like to look back,” she said.
Karen Kirt of Lake Leelanau was the second female finisher in 20:49. She was 20th overall. Leland’s Stacey Roberts was third among women in 20:53. She was 21st overall. Leland’s Tammy Coleman was fourth among women in 21:21 and 26th overall.
While the Hughes couple had fun running the course, they thought the course was hilly.
“Two big ones here, just wicked,” Elizabeth said.
“It’s probably the hilliest 5K we’ve ever run,” Chris said.
Chris, who had to battle obstructions on the course last year, was thankful for the course volunteers he saw out. They sealed off intersections along the way.
The volunteer effort was just one of the reasons the race drew a record 450 participants.
“We have volunteers on every turn,” said Fred Heslop, race director. “That’s kind of a big deal because you don’t want to be confused.”
Heslop said there were other factors, too, for the great turnout.
“The day really helps, it couldn’t have gotten much better,” said Heslop. “And I think people really like to support Fishtown. It’s a good cause.
“Another factor is that we’ve tried hard to be responsive to the great feedback that we’ve had from the runners to make it better. “
Race organizers also tweaked the course to make it exactly 5K.
“Most of our runners are here to enjoy Leland and have a nice healthy morning,” Heslop said. “But there’s other that come here to win.
“There’s no doubt about it.”
The top male and female received a special one-of-a-kind trophy, courtesy of Spörk Tile Art. The tile had an inscription with the fishing boat Joy. For the top three runners in each age group, there were specially designed aluminum net floats.
“These are unique,” Heslop said. “I’ve been in a lot of races myself and I’ve never seen anything like that.”