KINGSTON TWP. — Since the death of his best friend and training partner Jen Stec, Tony Korch hasn’t been training, let alone running competitively.
Nevertheless, Korch ran Sunday in the Wyoming Valley Striders Jen Stec Memorial Spring Trail Run. And the 54-year-old from Nanticoke picked up his fourth win in the 5.3-mile event, finishing in 53 minutes and 11 seconds.
Mike McAndrew, 54, from Avoca finished second, clocking in at 54:58.
“I just run from inside — from what (Jen) gave me,” Korch said. “I think it’s great that Jen and I have won these trail runs so many times.”
Stec, who loved running on the trails, won the spring race six times. That’s why officials from the Striders running club decided to add “Jen Stec Memorial” to the spring race name. She also won the fall version of the race twice. Korch, with his win on Sunday, has now won each race four times.
Josey Rupert, a 21-year-old from Shickshinny, won top female honors, finishing third overall in 57:21.
“It’s a tough course with some tough hills — it’s challenging,” said Rupert, who ran for Northwest High School and recently finished her junior year at Eastern University, where she runs cross country. “Someone yelled to me at the 2-mile marker that I was the first female. That’s when I realized I was in the lead.”
The race was run as an age group handicap race. Runners — depending on their age and gender — were given head starts. That’s why it is hard to know if you’re in the lead. You’re not sure if someone who had been given a better head start than you were could still be out in front of you.
The handicaps were determined by the World Masters Association, an organization that collects statistics on how much runners slow down with age. The format gives older runners a chance to pull off big wins.
Sunday’s race marked the third time the race has been run as a handicap event. Korch has won the event all three times.
Stec memorial draws big response
Linda Wojnar made a beautiful montage of photos of Stec at various races. Some runners brought flowers and set them in front of the montage.
One runner had Stec’s picture on his shirt. Another runner, Bob Dennison, had a purple ribbon pinned on his shirt that read “Forever in our hearts — Jen Stec,” that he got at the Hyner Challenge 25K Run, an out-of-town race that memorialized her.
The race drew a record field of 69 — 37 men and 32 women. Having nearly as many women as men is not usually the case for this event.
Korch brought a number of memorial cards with photos of Stec running over a trail and in the snow that he made up for runners to take with them.
Stec’s parents, Tony and Coreen Stec, were at the race and were thrilled with the overwhelming response fellow runners showed their daughter.
“It’s a real tribute to our daughter — a great outpouring of friends,” Tony Stec said.
And Coreen Stec said, “It’s very heartwarming to see this amazing response.”
Wyoming Valley Striders Jen Stec Memorial (5.3 mile) Spring Trail Run
The race was run as an age group handicap race. Times include the head starts given to runners. The clock started ticking when the first group, older runners, set out on the course.
Top 15 award winners
1. Tony Korch, 54, Nanticoke, 53:11
2. Mike McAndrew, 54, Avoca, 54:58
3. Josey Rupert, 21, Shickshinny, 57:21
4. Aaron Stredny, 33, Forty Fort, 58:56
5. Deedra Porfirio, 37, W. Pittston, 59:50
6. Jody DeWald, 45, Millville, 60:30
7. Jeff Baran, 53, Bear Creek Twp., 61:16
8. Randy Lyback, 44, DuPont, 61:29
9. Bob Warnagiris, 54, Hunlock Creek, 63:36
10. Ann Zoranski, 43, Swoyersville, 64:22
11. James Cole, 40, Pittston Twp., 64:50
12. Don Hart, 50, Wilkes-Barre, 65:08
13. Traci Dutko-Strungis, 45, Mountain Top, 65:37
14. Stu Klaas, 27, W. Wyoming, 66:10
15. Tom Walski, 63, Nanticoke, 66:21
Field: 69 (37 men, 32 women) record. Official starter: Vince P. Wojnar. Results: Wyoming Valley Striders. Registration: Linda Wojnar and Patty Phillips. Race directors: Vince A. Wojnar and Don Grose.
Saturday: Glen Summit Water Runs at Harveys Lake. 5K, 9 a.m.; 8.1 Mile Run Around the Lake, 9:30 a.m. Info; Rich Pais, 570-814-0346.
Sunday: Jewish Community Center of Wyoming Valley’s River Street 3 mile Run/Walk at the JCC, S. River Street, Wilkes-Barre at 10:30 a.m.
Monday, May 26 (Memorial Day): Forty Fort Lions Old Fort 5 Miler at Betty Mascelli Borough Park, Wyoming Avenue, Forty Fort at 9 a.m. Info: Bernie Popson, 570-498-7665.