During his state-champion days at Williamsport High School, Michael Lilley logged thousands of training miles on the C&O Canal Towpath.
He returned to the towpath Saturday morning, and left as a champion again.
Lilley, 22, won the 32nd annual Gary Brown Memorial C&O Canal Five Mile Run in 25 minutes and 26 seconds.
“It’s really awesome for me to be able to win this race on my home turf that I grew up running on,” said Lilley, who recently graduated from Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C., where he competed for the NCAA Division I Mountaineers. “I grew up running on the canal, ran there every day through high school. I still tell people that’s my favorite place to run. It probably always will be.”
He hadn’t competed at the Gary Brown race since 2007, when he placed fourth overall as a 16-year-old in 27:14.
“I remember when I was in high school, I thought it would be pretty cool to come back here and win it some day,” he said.
Lilley, who is set to begin work as a graduate assistant cross country coach at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., said he had his sights set Saturday on the course-record time of 24:59, set in 2008 by Jaron Hawkins.
“The course record didn’t happen today, but I’m happy with the win,” Lilley said. “I want to come back again and take a shot at it.”
Wade Miller, 22, of Hagerstown, who won the recent Krumpe’s Donut Alley Rally 5K, placed second Saturday in 26:07. Michael Wardian, 39, of Arlington, Va., who’s won titles in Washington County at both the Gary Brown race and the JFK 50 Mile ultramarathon, finished third in 26:40.
The men’s masters (40-and-older) champ for the second straight year was Matt Elgin, 42, of Chambersburg, Pa., who finished sixth overall Saturday in 29:12.
In the women’s competition, Susan Graham-Gray once again proved to be ‘The Master,’ winning the race for the ninth time in 31:03.
“Nine times, I can’t believe it,” said Graham-Gray, 45, of Chambersburg, who passed former Boonsboro High School star Sarah Zielinski in the second half of the race to take the lead for good.
“(Zielinski) was at least 50 meters ahead of me, but then she started to slow down,” Graham-Gray said. “I passed her at about the 3-mile mark and she said, ‘I tried, Susan.’ And I said, ‘Well, good job,’ but I never underestimated her because she’s a really good runner.”
Zielinski, 18, who is set to begin her freshman cross country season at UMBC this fall, held on to place second in 32:32, while Meggan Grams, 17, finished third in 32:45.
Grams will be a junior at Boonsboro this year after transferring from Williamsport, where she was a standout runner for the Wildcats.
The Gary Brown race always serves as a preseason tuneup for local high school cross country runners — and Boonsboro, which won both boys and girls team titles at states last fall, appears to be in great shape again.
The top four high school girls Saturday will all compete for Boonsboro this season — Grams, Haley Wright (32:57), Kortney Cunningham (35:19) and Ella Hawkins (36:15).
The top high school male was Sean Snyder, 17, who placed fifth overall in 28:02. He also is a Boonsboro runner.
“They looked strong,” said Boonsboro coach Becky Walter, who had a nice race herself Saturday, winning the women’s 30-39 age division in 36:30. “The goal is states (on Nov. 9), not here, but I’m thrilled with what I’ve seen.”
At last year’s Gary Brown race, Ryan Rasco of Hagerstown turned a lot of heads by completing the course in 35:14 as a 9-year-old. This year, he ran it in 32:35, finishing 23rd overall in the field of 132 runners.
Gary Brown 5-MilerMales (top 15): 1. Michael Lilley 25:26; 2. Wade Miller 26:07; 3. Michael Wardian 26:40; 4. Stephen Starliper 27:51; 5. Sean Snyder 28:02; 6. Matt Elgin 29:12; 7. Patrick Jones 29:37; 8. Andy Mason 29:50; 9. Brad Sponaugle 29:55; 10. Tim Fisler 30:26; 11. Hunter Hartman 30:36; 12. Isaiah Merrill 30:39; 13. Nick Zielinski 30:40; 14. Darren Harman 31:40; 15. Otto Solberg 31:43.
Females (top 15): 1. Susan Graham-Gray 31:03; 2. Sarah Zielinski 32:32; 3. Meggan Grams 32:45; 4. Haley Wright 32:57; 5. Emily Cronise 34:31; 6. Maureen Hall 34:33; 7. Maria Spinnler 35:04; 8. Kortney Cunningham 35:19; 9. Ella Hawkins 36:15; 10. Becky Walter 36:30; 11. Rachel Doane 37:34; 12. Angie Fuss 37:52; 13. Jennifer Joyce 38:11; 14. Chelsea Cover 39:21; 15. Jenny Moore 39:31.