When any annual event is established there are always growing pains and a learning curve. For the Kaweah Country Run, established in 2010, there have been fits and starts and, now in its fifth year and fourth event, it’s ready to assume its place among the local annual events in Three Rivers. 

This year, there were 65 participants who competed in the three-race format (10K and 5K runs, 5K walk). Humble beginnings, but nevertheless as an annual Thanksgiving weekend happening, the Kaweah Country Run is off and running.

The 2014 numbers were down from the more than 100 who finished the course in 2012 (the 2013 event was cancelled). This year’s run/walk was the best organized and most successful in its brief history. The event’s track record is indicative of how the Thanksgiving weekend gathering at Slick Rock will grow in the future.

Everything lined up this year, including spring-like weather, and showed the more than 100 participants, spectators, and volunteers the beauty of Lake Kaweah’s bottomland and how being a part of a run/walk can inspire more people to live a fit lifestyle.

Equally important, more than $1,100 will end up being donated to some great causes: the Chris Dudley Foundation and the Darcie Pena Cancer Fund.

The donations represent the cash that local sponsors pledged to ensure the success of the run (the runners’ registration fees pay for the logistical expenses of staging the event). The added value comes from those who volunteer hundreds of hours for all the pre-race activities, prepare the course, and then be there to assist the participants, and clean up afterwards.

The runners and walkers— Those who enter and compete make an event like this possible. And although there were no new course records set this year there were some impressive performances. 

Nate Leedy, 37, of Three Rivers was the overall winner in the 10K. Nate covered the mostly dirt 6.2-mile trail in 43:20.41. 

The female winner, for the fourth time in four races, was Stacie Villavicencio of Three Rivers in 48:24.25. 

Michael Baumann, 57, of Visalia, won the overall 5K (3.1 miles) in 22:52.54. Baumann, who has run in all four previous Kaweah Country events, was one of four runners to complete the combo (run both 10K and 5K), and he turned in the best combined time of 1:09.22 for the total 9.3 miles.

Baumann, an iconic Tulare County runner and longtime member of Visalia Runners, will run his 100th marathon (26.2 miles) on March 1, 2015, at the Napa Valley Marathon. 

The female overall winner in the Kaweah Country Run’s 5K was Katie Walker, a sophomore and member of the cross country team at Golden West High School in Visalia. Katie signed up for the Kaweah Country Run after completing the 5K Turkey Trot in Visalia on Thanksgiving Day.

Katie implored her mom to let her sign up for the Saturday race like a teen begging for money for a movie and a pizza with her friends. Imagine that, a 10th-grader wanting to race and being into running and fitness.

There were also eight 12-and-under entrants who raced in the 5K with their parents. The family that exercises together stays healthy together.

In the 5K race walk, Lisa Garcia of Woodlake and perennial race-walk champ Betty Avalos of Three Rivers covered the 3.1 mile course in 40 minutes.

Paul Adams, 65, was the top male finisher in the walk. Paul walked the 5K course in 47 minutes.

The 2014 Kaweah Country Run proved a great race for experienced runners, the novice competitor, local first-timers who would like to experience the race atmosphere on familiar turf, friends who want to walk together for a good cause, and families of all ages. Next year, there will be online sign-ups and a new sponsor has pledged to bring dozens of Valley runners, many whom have never run on dirt trails.

So mark your calendar for next year’s Kaweah Country Run. The 10K and 5K run/walk event will be held Saturday, Nov. 28, 2015. 


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