Jennifer Panetta crosses the finish line of the Kensington 8k just ahead of Jocilyn McNally. Photo: John Seabreeze
Jennifer Panetta crosses the finish line of the Kensington 8k just ahead of Jocilyn McNally. Photo: John Seabreeze

Young kids in race bibs laughing and playing games as they followed “Larry the Lion” around a park is not the typical road race finish line. But the Kensington 8k, a race that donated its proceeds to three local public schools, attracted competitors of all ages.

In its 20th year, the Kensington 8k race brought more than 500 runners—for just one distance. In addition to the 8K competitors, the Two-Mile Challenge was made up of 400 participants along with the 1k Fun Run that turned out 300 runners. With over 40 local sponsors, the event proceeds went to supporting Kensington Parkwood Elementary, North Bethesda Middle and Walter Johnson High Schools.

The entire Walter Johnson High School Crew team showed their support by making up a substantial portion of the 8k participants. Ofri Shmul, a Walter Johnson High School crew athlete, said it’s a longtime tradition for her team to launch the beginning of their season with the Kensington 8k.

“This race is to show that we support our school and our team,” Shmul said.

Shmul found the motivation to keep going by sporting a brightly-colored tutu over her outfit.

“I run with the tutu a lot,” Shmul said. “I take it to a lot of my crew practices and it motivates me to row faster. It’s also to cheer everyone up. Instead of thinking about running, you’re thinking about an awesome tutu.”

Shmul’s teammate Emma Landgren noted there was also one other added benefit to competing in the race other than just supporting their school and team.

“Running is one of the easiest ways to get your cardio built up for rowing,” Landgren said.  “Even though we’re not a very fast team, we still finish and go as hard as we can. It’s also good for team building and to working together.”

The event highlighted Kensington’s unique small-town feel with fans that came out to watch the race all over the course as it weaved in and out of 120-year-old historic neighborhoods.

“The community really comes together,” said Scott Silliman of Olney, Md. who has participated in the Kensington 8k on and off for nearly 15 years.

Some competitors of the race used the course to gage where they were at in their training, including Bill Teng of Buronsville, Md. Less than two weeks away from his up-coming race, the Wine Glass Marathon, Teng smashed his old course records by several minutes.

“The hill repeats in my training program must be working,” Teng said.

A runner all his life, Teng didn’t start to get serious about competing until he set a new goal for himself two years ago—to qualify for the Boston Marathon.

“When I got the Boston qualifying time in my head, I had to keep trying.”

The race started out on a down-hill for the first two miles and then took runners past the Kensington Town Hall and along the Antique Row. Runners then entered Rock Creek Park for a scenic run along Beach Drive. But the historic course is best known for its suitably named the hill, the “East Bexhill.”

“It’s a very ideal course—albeit that hill,” said first-place finisher Jake Klim of North Bethesda. “The hill is a disqualifier in terms of a fast course.”

Pulling away from the pack right at mile two in preparation for the hill ahead, Klim kept the lead for the entire race and won with a time of 26:17—the fastest time the course has seen since 2009.

“It’s what a race should feel like,” Klim said. “It’s got that local village flavor to it.”

Not far behind him were his Georgetown Running Club teammates, Sebi Devlin-Foltz of Washington, D.C. who took second-place and Justin Snair of Arlington, Va who finished in third.

“It was good to have a one, two, three finish with the teammates,” Klim said. “It was just icing on the cake.”

Jennifer Panetta of Berwyn Pa. and Jocilyn McNally of Kensington, Md. ran neck and neck through the finish line in the women’s competition.

“[The race] was what I expected,” Panetta said. “I went out fast on the downhill mile on what’s normally my 5k race but faded a little at the end.”

Despite fading toward the end of the race, Panetta held on to take the first-place title with a time of 31:07, just four seconds ahead of second-place.

Though a gruesome hill in the middle of the race, competitors were able to savor the downhill sprint that led them back to the finish line in Old Town Kensington, which was full of hundreds of spectators from the community cheering all of runners on.

Race Director John Seabreeze took over the race after Jenny Smith had retired from her duties for 19 years. She wanted to focus on her bakery shop, which was right around the corner from the finish line.

“The race went really well,” Seabreeze said. “It’s the most sponsors we’ve ever had and raised nearly $24,000 for local schools. It’s truly a community race.”


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