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15K winner from ’21 feeling good about a repeat

By John Hartsock

jhartsock@altoonamirror.com

Williamsburg’s Loc O captured his second consecutive championship in the Fourth of July Angie Gioiosa 15K Memorial Race last summer.

He said that he’s feeling even stronger this year.

That isn’t good news for the rest of the 15K men’s field in this year’s 9.3-mile race, which will be held Monday in downtown Altoona.

“I feel confident,” said the 45-year-old O. “My training has been going well. I would like to win three championships in a row. It gets a little more difficult every year. I am now 45 years old and I am competing against runners who in some cases are 25 years younger than I am.

“But I think that I am in better shape this year than I was last year,” added O, who also serves as an assistant coach for the Williamsburg Area High School cross country program.

O has completed six career 26.2-mile marathons, including the Philadelphia Marathon last November, in which he finished the course in two hours and 36 minutes.

“Rather than continuing to train 12 months out of the year like I had been doing I did eight weeks of easy running after the Philadelphia Marathon in order to recover, and that has kept my legs fresh,” said O, who has currently been putting in 60 to 70 miles of road work per week.

O finished last year’s Altoona 15K in 52:46.17, which was over three seconds ahead of runner-up Matthew Balogh of State College, who carded a time of 52:50.96. Veteran distance runner A.J. Kelly of Altoona, who has won the Fourth of July men’s 15K a total of seven times since 2000, including his last championship in 2019, finished third last year in 52:57.56.

O, who was born in North Vietnam and moved with his family to northeastern Pennsylvania at the age of 3, competed as a member of the Penn State University cross country team as a collegiate runner.

He believes that staying adequately hydrated is essential in both the Altoona 15K and in other distance races.

“The weather conditions are usually a factor — it’s usually warm,” O said of the Fourth of July Race. “I try to drink fluids during the race, and I also (try) to be properly hydrated before the race.

“I ran the Boston Marathon in 2017, and finished in two hours, 52 minutes. The weather was 80 degrees in Boston that day, and I was overheated,” O said of his slower-than-normal finishing time for a marathon that was over 17 minutes more than his personal-best marathon time of 2:34.53 at the Steamtown Marathon in Scranton in 2019.

O said that he took the lead midway through last year’s Fourth of July 15K, and finished strong.

“The last 5K of this race is where the race is won or lost,” O said. “The last 5K is a gradual hill, and it can be challenging if you’re not experienced on this course.”

O is experienced with the 15K, and that breeds self-confidence for him.

“It’s fun to compete here against the best local competition,” O said. “I always enjoy the YMCA 15K and how well it is organized. It’s my favorite local race of the year.”

Baylee Robey of State College was last year’s Altoona 15K women’s champion with a time of 1:04.13, while Hollidaysburg’s Regina Ruggery was second in 1:07.45.

At press time, Ruggery was pre-registered for this year’s race, but Robey was not.

The 15K race will begin at 7:30 a.m., followed by the 5K (3.1-mile) race for runners at 8 a.m., and the competitive 2-mile walk at 8:02 a.m. Over 600 runners competed in last year’s three races combined, and Blair Regional YMCA Senior Program Director Frank Kopriva is hoping for an even bigger field this year.

“I would hope to get over 700,” Kopriva said. “I’m very optimistic. People often travel to compete in this event, and many people who are from here originally come back to the area to make this run part of their holiday tradition.

“Hopefully, that will be true again this year.”

Fourth of July Angie Gioiosa Memorial Race

Sponsor: Blair Regional YMCA

When: Monday

Events: 15K (9.3-mile run), 5K (3.1-mile run), 2-mile walk

Start/finish: The races will start in front of the Mishler Theatre on 12th Avenue in downtown Altoona and wind through the city, finishing at the Heritage Plaza at the intersection of 11th Avenue and 14th Street.

Start times: 15K run, 7:30 a.m.; 5K run, 8 a.m.; 2-mile walk, 8:02 a.m.

Registration: Pre-registration can be done online through Sunday at www.BlairRegionalYMCA.org.Registration can also be done by calling the Blair Regional YMCA at 814-695-4467 or by submitting a completed registration form at the YMCA’s front desk. Registration can be done on the day of the race from 6:30 to 7:30 a.m. at the Heritage Plaza. The first 1,000 participants will be guaranteed a T-shirt.

Registration fees: Individuals — $29 pre-registration and $34 on race day. Family (2 or more from same household) — $27 pre-registration per participant and $34 per participant on race day. All children ages 5 and under can participate free of charge. There will also be a Lollipop Fun Race for children ages 6 and under immediately following the races.

2021 champions: 15K male: Loc O, 52:46; 15K female: Baylee Robey, 1:04.13. 5K male: Wayne Hooper, 16:21; 5K female, Morgan Hess, 20:01. 2-mile walk male: Michael Boytim, 20:54; 2-mile walk female: Donna Stoltz, 20:37.

Notable: This event began in 1972 and unofficially, Monday’s race marks the 50th year for the event. However, one year the races were not timed because of bridge construction on the course, so Monday will mark the 49th year for the event in which official times were recorded.

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