BY DENNIS CHASE
TRAVERSE CITY — Here's a sight you don't see too often in January — runners in shorts and singlets.
With the temperature near 50, more than 200 runners took to the roads Saturday for possibly the warmest Frozen Foot 5-mile race on record.
"Can you believe the weather?," women's winner Sarah Drevon asked afterwards. "We've been calling it The Toasty Foot. Last year, it was what, seven degrees when we started. It was cold. Today, I saw some guys running without shirts it was so nice."
Traverse City West senior Alec Ondrajka was one of those who finished shirtless.
"This (weather) was way better than last year," he said. "High 40s, slight wind, it felt good. I was getting warm out there, so I took it (top) off."
Former Traverse City West cross country coach Eric Houghton was the overall winner, finishing in 28:21.8. He put on a late surge to beat Mancelona's Dave Smith.
"For about the first time in a year and half I've been starting to get some training back underneath me the last six to eight weeks," the 34-year-old said. "It feels nice, feels good."
Houghton had been bothered by plantar fasciitis — inflammation of the thick tissue that runs across the bottom of the foot and connects the heel bone to the toes.
"Terrible," he said. "You run for awhile, it flares up, you take time off. It's good to feel comfortable again."
Houghton and Smith took charge after the hill on Quail Ridge.
"I knew if it came down to the last couple hundred yards I'd better be ahead because I don't have a great kick," Houghton said. "So I started (making a move) 800 yards out."
Smith, a former star athlete at Gaylord St. Mary, came in 15 seconds behind Houghton in 28:36.13.
"It's too early in the year to really crush yourself towards the end of the race," he said. "This was more to test my fitness."
Houghton and Smith are already setting their itineraries for the year. Houghton is considering a 50-mile race in May, then a trail marathon in the Upper Peninsula. Smith plans to compete in the Ironman Lake Placid in July with hopes of qualifying for the Hawaiian Ironman.
Ondrajka, meanwhile, came in ninth in 30:37.81, nearly three minutes faster than a year ago.
"That was my goal — to beat my time from last year," he said.
Ondrajka was a state qualifier in cross country, running a 16:25 at the state meet. He's been running five days a week during the winter to prepare for track.
Drevon edged Mia Hagy by less than two seconds in the women's race, 33:35.17 to 33:37.10. Both are members of the Grand Valley Running Club.
"With 100 meters to go, I said, 'Let's go,'" Drevon said. "We were having fun. It's a great race."
For Drevon, a senior, it was her fourth Frozen Foot. For Hagy, a freshman, it was her first.
"I didn't really care if I got second," Hagy said. "I just wanted to push at the end and give it as much as I had. I just didn't have much left, though."
Nearly 50 runners from Grand Valley entered the race.
Kevin Deyo and Denise Keely were the masters winners in 30:54.25 and 36:12.32, respectively.