By Donald Wittkowski
Carrie Merritt joked that it was as good a day as any to “torture myself.”
As the sun was barely rising and temperatures hovered in the chilly 40s, she set out Saturday morning on a challenging run that has become a fall tradition for the neighboring towns of Ocean City and Somers Point.
Merritt, a first-grade teacher at the Ocean City Primary School, was the top female finisher in the 27th annual Trail of Two Cities 5K Run connecting Ocean City with Somers Point over the Route 52 Causeway.
Merritt, of Marmora, finished in 21 minutes, 23 seconds to take 10th place overall. The race winner was Ryan Myers, 41, of York, Pa., who finished in 18:49. In second place was Chris Winsor, a 30-year-old Somers Point resident clocked in 19:05.
About 300 runners and walkers took part Saturday. The race unfolds on a demanding 3.1-mile course that features steep climbs and fast descents over a series of undulating bridges.
The 38-year-old Merritt, a well-known local triathlete, competed in the race for her ninth time. Her previous best finish had been second in the women’s division.
Minutes before the race got underway in brisk, but calm weather, she cracked that it was “a great way to torture myself.”
Merritt, however, said she enjoys the race because of its family-friendly atmosphere. Occasionally, some of her students and their parents are among the runners.
“As an Ocean City teacher, I really like seeing my students and their parents,” she said. “You get to see a lot of people here that you ordinarily don’t see in other races.”
Reflecting the race’s family vibe, plenty of children ran with the adults. One of the competitors, Jean Person, 40, of Somers Point, was accompanied by her daughters Bella, 11, Lilli, 8, and Nola, 6.
Nola, competing in her first race, said she didn’t have any strategy, but her older sisters, who are more experienced runners, were prepared.
“I’m going to listen to my music and just run,” said Bella, a member of the track team at the Jordan Road School in Somers Point.
Lilli confidently predicted, “I expect to be good. I’m going to run slow over the bridges, then speed down the road.”
Along with the other runners, the children had to deal with chilly conditions. It was 44 degrees when the race began shortly after 8 a.m. on the Ocean City side of the Route 52 Causeway. The finish line was in Somers Point’s Kennedy Park.
One of the runners, Leon Wescoat, 64, of Absecon, had a special reason for competing in the race.
“I helped to build this bridge,” said Wescoat, a crane operator and member of the Operating Engineers Local 825.
Wescoat noted that he spent three and a half years as part of the construction crews that built the new Route 52 Causeway linking Ocean City and Somers Point. The $400 million project was completed in 2012.
Wendy Moyle, Ocean City recreation manager and one of the race organizers, said the causeway bridges give runners panoramic views of the surrounding Great Egg Harbor Bay, making the event even more memorable for the competitors. The causeway’s eastbound lanes are closed to motor vehicle traffic during the race.
Normally, the race attracts about 400 runners. Moyle said about 500 people pre-registered for Saturday’s race, but 301 competed. The race benefits the Somers Point Community Education and Recreation Program and the Ocean City Recreation Department. It is one of a series of family-oriented events in Ocean City and Somers Point that help draw visitors to the shore during the fall season.
More than 20 years ago, former Ocean City public relations director Mark Soifer and then-Somers Point public relations director Nick Regina came up with the idea of linking both towns with a 5K race over the causeway. The Trail of Two Cities race name is a parody of the famous Charles Dickens novel “A Tale of Two Cities.”