By Brenda Barrera
Norfolk, VA
November 13, 2011
For the Washington Running Report

The Norfolk city banner flags were flapping with a breeze coming out of the southwest as 1,202 runners took off for the inaugural Freedom Half Marathon in ideal conditions on Sunday. Navy Lt. j.g. Erik Bates, 25, from Virginia Beach, VA won in 1:21:05 and Jennifer Quarles, 39, from Merrimac, VA was the first woman in 1:29:00.

It took less than a mile for Bates and Frank Sprtel, 39, from Silver Spring MD to separate from the field. Bates made a decisive move at mile 6 when Sprtel grabbed a drink from the aid station. That is when he threw in a surge and the race was in his command as he pulled away for the win.

It was a sweet victory for the Naval Academy graduate who competes on the All Navy Triathlon team. “I’ve been on a ship so it’s been hard to stay in shape,” said Bates, who serves on the USS Carter Hall.

Sprtel, a history buff, was looking for a November half marathon when he signed up for the race. It was an opportunity to bring the family for a weekend of sightseeing in Norfolk and also nearby Williamsburg.

“I’m interested in historical architecture,” said Sprtel. “This was a good mix with both interests.”

JP Botti, 26, from Norfolk finished in third place with a time of 1:23:37.

In the women’s competition Jennifer Quarles , a member of the Colonial Road Runners, achieved her goal of breaking 1:30:00 by exactly one minute.

Meghann Cook, 28, originally from Massachusetts and recently re-located to Virginia Beach took the runner up spot in 1:31:37. Third place went to a local standout Leisa Villani, 53, also from Virginia Beach who crossed the finish line in 1:32:33.

Jean Phelan, President of the Tidewater Striders, finished the half marathon in 1:59:24 and commented on the event that has a five-year contract with the City of Norfolk. “This really has potential to grow,” she said.

John Amoroso, 34, from Glen Allen, VA and a member of the Richmond Road Runners said he decided to do this race for three reasons: “It benefited a great cause, it was a new race and a flat course.” He finished in 1:54:51.

It was easy to spot Norfolk’s Diana D’Abruzzo who was literally covered in yellow ribbons.  Each ribbon had the name of a person who donated to her campaign to raise funds for the Wounded Warrior Project in honor and memory of fallen Navy SEAL Chris Campbell.

In addition to the half marathon, there was a Two-Person Relay with 28 teams and the Wounded Warrior 5K, which drew 216 finishers.

Chris Phelan (no relation to Jean), 55, from Garland, TX  was in town for a reunion with shipmates and recovering from recent knee surgery. The Texas running and triathlon coach decided to enter the race not knowing what to expect. Sometimes racing in a city where you do not know many people or have any specific plans can yield surprising results. Phelan won in 18:18.

Running is an activity for the whole Lovett family from Newport News, VA. On Saturday Jack, 41, ran the HCA Virginia 8K in Richmond taking 2nd in his age group. On Sunday, it was Pamela’s turn to test her speed. Retired after serving 23 years in the Army, she wanted to do this race to support the Wounded Warriors Project. She handily captured the women’s title in 19:50.

The post race festivities at Town Point Park began with an exhibition by the United States Naval Academy Silent Drill Team, a stirring way to close out the morning events and a weekend honoring our Veterans.