On a clear, mild morning tailor-made to host the 37th annual Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler, local runner Julianne Quinn distinguished herself among a deep and accomplished field of female athletes, finishing first in a time of 22:50.
Quinn first ran the Women’s Four Miler shortly after moving to town a little more than a year ago. Her 2018 experience generated a healthy respect for the deceptively challenging course, which helped her to stay patient throughout the race’s first half. Despite crossing the mile mark in 5:19, a split comparable to that of hers a year ago, Quinn has since set an Olympic Trials-qualifying personal record in the marathon and is currently deep into her preparation for the Twin Cities Marathon this October.
She blazed through the first mile feeling strong thanks to her preparation, a gradual downhill, the company of a talented pack of women, and enthusiastic spectators and volunteers. Quinn and eventual runner-up Ann Dunn overtook the early pace-setter, 2019 Charlottesville 10-miler champion Brittany Tretbar in the second mile and each proceeded unchallenged through miles 3 and 4.
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Closely behind them, however, an exciting back-and-forth unfolded between eventual third through sixth place finishers, Carter Norbo, Tretbar, Ann Mazur Robb, and Kate Galie. The foursome, all of whom are perennial podium contenders, traded positions several times over the race’s latter half, ultimately propelling Norbo, Mazur Robb, and Galie to course-best performances.
Many top individual performers also were participating in the team competition, in which the “RMR Gals”, including Norbo, Galie, Jennifer Owens, Ali Kelley, and Ali Bender, took top honors, and were followed closely by the “Charlotesville Speedsters” and “Nicole’s Bad@ss Lady Gang.”
Ann Mazur Robb and Jill Mazur secured victory in the “Sister/Sister” category and the mother/daughter duo of Katie and Caroline Jaffe sped to a win in theirs.
Age-group winners included Z. Downer, Mary Raterman, Lilly Fowler, Tretbar, Norbo, Quinn, Galie, Jennifer Owens, Jennifer Hochrein, Sherry Johnson, Kendal Tata, Hosni Haghighian, Paricia Robinson, Linda Sobel, Susan Thomas, and Nancy Fraser.
The Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler has become as reliable for its inspiring personal narratives as its top-notch competition. An incredible top-10 overall finish by former Four Miler champion and once internationally competitive triathlete Nicole Kelleher nearly blurred all lines between the two categories.
Kelleher, a doctor at the University of Virginia who specializes in the physical rehabilitation of cancer patients, was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer in early 2019. After recovering from surgery scheduled shortly thereafter, Kelleher embarked on a Four Miler training plan. The race was already personally meaningful to her, after having lost her young mother to breast cancer. Kelleher’s story, that of a young mother and doctor — specifically involved in the treatment of cancer at the University of Virginia — diagnosed with breast cancer, bore striking similarities to that of Heidi Gillenwater, who was also spoke to race participants and spectators about her recent, relevant personal experiences.
Gillenwater, too, has worked as a doctor in oncology at the University of Virginia. After being diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, she continues to undergo treatment while maintaining regular exercise and continuing to pursue fitness goals. Both women are especially dedicated to using their personal experiences to promote exercise as protective factor against cancer.
While Kelleher’s physical presence was felt among frontrunners on Saturday and her inspiration sprinkled throughout the field in the form of “Nicole’s Badass Lady Gang” teammates, running in her honor, Gillenwater’s impact was equally profound.
When asked to what she credited her impressive performance, Dunn answered without hesitation.
“I decided not to be so nervous. Before the race and during it, I thought about Heidi,” she said. “It puts the emotions of racing in perspective. What she and so many women are going through is so much bigger. It’s a reminder that what we’re doing out here is for fun.”
Since its inception in 1983, the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler has donated more than $4 million to the University of Virginia Breast Care Center. Co-race directors Audrey Lorenzoni and Nicole Brimer, with the help of their tireless race committee and the support of the Charlottesville Track Club, pride themselves on the the race’s inclusiveness, epitomized by none more than Pam Whorley, head of the Women’s Four Miler Training Program, which has supported thousands of women over the course of many years throughout their race preparation.
“We simply couldn’t put on this event, were it not for the thousands of volunteer man-hours contributed leading up to it and on race day,” Lorenzoni said. “It’s a testament to the cause — the fact that breast cancer has touched nearly all of us personally. We’re lucky to be a part of something capable of uniting and inspiring so many people.”
The Women’s Four Miler is made possible through the dedication of innumerable volunteers, one of whom is recognized annually with the Bev McCoid Award for their cumulative contribution to the event. This year’s recipient was the late Dave Murphy, a race-timing extraordinaire and fixture at the finish line of the Women’s Four Miler and countless other area races for nearly four decades.