The Bear winners

Johnny Crain, left, won the overall The Bear road race at Grandfather Mountain, while Joanna Thompson, right, won the women’s The Bear road race on July 11.

LINVILLE — Johnny Crain did not turn in a record performance when running The Bear road race July 11, which kicked off the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.

He didn’t have to in his second win of the race in three years.

Crain, a Dunlap, Ill., native and a member of the ZAP Endurance running team of Blowing Rock, has run The Bear two times. His victory of the event July 11 was his second in as many tries, despite battling a foot injury.

Already the record holder of the event, he nearly equaled his record with a time of 30 minutes, 58.7 seconds. In 2017, Crain also won the race but in a record time of 30:18.4.

“It’s really about pushing through the pain when climbing the hills,” Crain said about conquering the Grandfather Mountain course, which begins in Linville and ends at the Swinging Bridge at the top of Grandfather Mountain. “I kind of used the knowledge of the course from two years ago, knowing where there are some flat sections so you can take a little break.”

ZAP Endurance runner Joe Stillin, 29, finished second in the race with a time of 31:01.1. Fort Mill, S.C. resident Jeff Case, 25, finished third with a time of 32:10.8.

Joanna Thompson, 26, who is originally from Knoxville, Tenn., was the first woman to cross the finish line. Thompson, running The Bear for the first time, finished with a time of 36:13.1. She is also a member of ZAP Endurance and a graduate of North Carolina State.

“I felt pretty good about it,” Thompson said. “I was not expecting to end up winning, so that was pretty cool.”

Before Thompson participated in the race, she consulted with 2017 women’s winner of The Bear, Amanda Lopiccolo, about running the race.

“She said to go out kind of hard,” Thompson said. “Honestly, when you get through the last two miles, it’s going to be hard no matter what, so you almost can’t put yourself in too big of a well.”

Jonna Strange of Taylorsville was the second woman to cross the finish line with a time of 39:25.6, and Asheville native Anne Wheatly was third with a time of 39:51.4. Strange finished 30th overall and Wheatly was 35th overall.

Thompson, Crain and Stillin are three of eight ZAP runners who qualified for the Olympic Trials in the marathon, which are in Atlanta on Feb. 29, 2020.

The race, now in its 25th year, featured 867 runners from 26 states. The race has a climbing elevation of 1,568 feet.

“It was a perfect day for running,” race director Jim Deni said in a statement, “and this is a popular race.”

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