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.”

Runnershead to the finish line at the Semper Fi 5k.                  Photo: Erin Masterson
Runnershead to the finish line at the Semper Fi 5k. Photo: Erin Masterson

[button-red url=”″ target=”_self” position=”left”] Results [/button-red]

When the runners of the Semper Fi 5K lined up to the starting line Saturday at Anacostia Park, each had their own motivation for racing that day. For many, running the race was a way to support the mission of the Semper Fi Fund, a non-profit organization that raises funds for wounded Marines and Sailors as well as members of the Army, Air Force and Coast Guard who serve in support of Marine forces. For others, the race served as a source of motivation, camaraderie, or a goal to work towards following a period of adversity.

Overall winner Justin Snair, 30, from Arlington, Va., who led the pack with a time of 15:39, chose the race to support the U.S. Marine Corps, and also because it presented a good opportunity to close out his strong spring training season. A former Marine himself (though, as indicated by their slogan Semper Fi, always faithful, there are no “former” Marines), Snair found the race to be fast and flat, with a talented field but not overwhelmingly crowded. Third place overall finisher Travis Boltjes, a pilot in the U.S. Air Force and a consistent presence on the local 5K race circuit, found the Semper Fi 5k to be extremely well organized, and in part due to the flat, fast course and great weather, performed his best so far this year with a 16:44 finish.

Local runner Elizabeth Rappaport, winner in the 45-49 age group in 24:12, chose to run the race as her first 5K after beginning to train with a local running coach, Mike Hamberger, three months ago. While a seasoned trail runner, Rappaport had never tried track workouts before, but found that with her coach’s help and regular training sessions, she is getting in shape and avoiding injuries for the first time in recent memory.

A sense of teamwork and group fitness motivated other runners to wake up early for the race. After deciding to begin training together three months ago, a group of Coast Guard staffers, led (some would say cajoled) by Chief Ron Elliott showed up with the goal that each member would finish the race without stopping (or dying). They achieved that goal, each finishing below 30 minutes. (see picture)

For other participants in the race, it was a way to start back on the road to recovery after getting through personal challenges. Tony Cook, an Air Force Veteran from Alexandria, Va., suffered from severe asthma since childhood, until the point of being bedridden, on oxygen, and unable to work just three years ago. Following an operation known as Bronchial Thermoplasty, Cook has a renewed lease on life. Finishing the race in 24:45, his goal now is to keep getting back in shape and leave his days of wheezing far behind. For Marine Corporal (Ret.) and disabled veteran Darrin Snyder, who now competes in the hand cycle division after blowing out both knees during his Marine days, the race represented one of just many he does for fun with his wife Jackie and service dog Remy.

In all, representatives from the U.S. Marine Corps, Army, Navy, Air Force, and Coast Guard completed the race. The Semper Fi Fund was created in 2005 and has raised more than $73 million and assisted more than 9,200 Service Members since its inception. More than 900 participants and volunteers came out on Armed Forces Day (May 18) to support the Semper Fi 5K, and the race raised more than $44,000 for the Fund.



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