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October 9, 2011

OKTOBERFEST: 23 runners 'Beat the Burgermeister'

Kimberly man wins 5k race; 86-year-old finishes in 44 minutes

CULLMAN — Most runners had never heard of Michael Sullins before this year’s Cullman Oktoberfest 5k/10k race. It was that fact that made it slightly more meaningful for the relatively small group of participants who found out they managed to beat the Burgermeister Saturday morning.

“I don’t know who he is, but it feels pretty good I guess,” said Matt Green after finishing first overall in the 5k event.

Along with the Kimberly resident, 22 other runners were able to best Sullins’ 5k time of 24:45, forcing the 2011 Burgermeister to give credit where it was due.

“I’ll be honest — I’m not the fastest runner in the world,” he said. “I’m thrilled to death for anyone who could beat the Burgermeister.”

All 23 participants who accomplished the feat received a car decal that read “I beat the Burgermeister,” and as the overall winner, Green had fun joking about what he thought of the prize.

“I think that’s going to look really good on my car,” he said.

Put on by the Mental Healthcare of Cullman and the Cullman Running Club, this year’s event marked the 5k’s sixth year and the 10k’s second. It was Sullins’ participation in the first distance, though, that turned the run into one for the city’s Oktoberfest record books.

He became the first Burgermeister to compete in the race and credited his friend, Jeb Williamson, with coming up with the idea for his involvement. Sullins said the pair runs together about three times a week, and during one of those sessions, the duo discussed him taking part in this year’s Oktoberfest 5k.

As it turns out, it was that very conversation that sparked the “Beat the Burgermeister” concept, and Sullins thought the event lived up to its hype.

“I will say that, by far, more people in the community have approached me about the 5k than any other event at Cullman Oktoberfest,” he said. “The 5k is one of the biggest draws, and it’s great exposure (for Mental Healthcare of Cullman and the Cullman Running Club), so it’s a win-win.”

While there were a fair number of runners who were up for the challenge of besting the Burgermeister’s time, there were just as many — if not more — who arrived at the Festhalle Saturday morning just for the love of running.

Two Holly Pond athletes — ninth-grader Trey Hanvey and eight-grader Parker Smith — were just two Broncos’ cross country runners who participated. Hanvey finished third overall and first in his age group while Smith was fourth overall and right behind his Holly Pond teammate in the division.

Families, individuals and friends of all ages were among the nearly 250 people who participated in both races, but there was one runner everyone couldn’t help but root for.

Nursing a sore knee after injuring it running from Falkville to Cullman last year, 86-year-old Herb Johnson showed up Saturday morning looking to finish the 5k in under 50 minutes.

The World War II veteran, who competed in the 2001 Baton Rouge Senior Olympics, easily reached that goal, finishing the course in 44 minutes.

“I feel great about it,” he said. “I had to walk the (EvaBank) Midnight Run, but I was able to run more than I walked today.”

Although he participates in as many local Cullman events as he can, Johnson said he’s also competed all across the region and country, including over the Golden Gate Bridge, during his running career.

He has a room full of over 100 trophies to show for it, but an inspired comment from a fellow runner after the event might have meant more than any prize or reward.

Tia Barclay, a Cullman Red Cross employee, approached Johnson following her run and said, “I want to be you when I grow up.”

For full results of the Cullman Oktoberfest 5k/10k races, visit cullmanrunningclub.com.

Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at robk@cullmantimes.com.

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