Once Popular Monsoon 5k Event Now Only A Memory


The roots of the town-sponsored Monsoon 4-Miler, a race to be run tomorrow, Aug. 6, lie in the former Monsoon 5K that was originally run in the 1990s and drew some of the town’s best runners, including members of the Payson High School cross country team.

In fact, former cross country coach and team founder Chuck Hardt encouraged his runners to enter as a timed preseason training run and to check on their physical condition after a summer that was supposed to include a training regime.

“Our (cross country) club paid their entry fees and we used (the 5K) as a wrap up to their summer-ending program,” Hardt said. “The race was a good way to evaluate (the team members).”

Jeremy Lee was among those cross country runners who won the race, finishing first in 1999 by covering the 3.1-mile distance in 18:28.

Monica Savage, a former PHS athlete and then a local fitness guru, ran to the gold among the women runners. She was clocked in 22 flat.

A highlight of the 1999 race was the fact that it did not rain, which, until then, was unusual for a race that had a reputation for being held in downpours.

“Fantastic, no rain,” then-town recreation coordinator Beth Kreider said.

A year later, the race was conducted under stormy skies, but only sprinkles fell on the 80 participants who turned out.

PHS cross country runner Joe Behrens was first in 21:23. PHS cross country runner Lily Flores was first among the women finishing in 22:19.

The best a PHS male athlete could do in 2001 was a second-place finish by Mike Behrens who was outrun by champion David Hellweis.

Among the women, Whitney Hardt out-legged her younger sister, Kari, to take first.

Whitney was timed in 20:41 and Kari, then an eighth-grader at Rim Country Middle School, turned in a 21:13.

Both girls went on to have illustrious prep careers and win collegiate track and cross country scholarships.

The domination of the event by Longhorn runners continued in 2003 when Tanner Morgan burned up the 5K course turning in an ET of 16:44. At the time, it was a course record.

The fastest female that year was another PHS athlete, LeighAnne Haynes. She was timed in 20:49.

In 2004, PHS runners had to take a back seat to one of the finest prep runners in the state.

Levi Lomeland of Page won in 16:38, which broke Morgan’s course record and remains the best time ever recorded in the 5K. Following that race, Lomeland went on to lead Page in the Class 4A state cross-country championship.

As good as Payson High’s talented trio of Carlos Lopez, Carlan Pontious and Morgan were that year, the three finished second, third and fourth behind the Page star.

Also in 2004, PHS chemistry teacher Cynthia Pool, then a renowned triathlete, out-ran ex PHS cross country star Rachelle Jones for first among the women.

Pool was timed in 19:38 and Jones in 20:54.

Tragically in 2009, Pool was killed in an accident in Wyoming while on the Trans America cross-country cycling trip.

In 2005, PHS regained the supremacy once owned in the race when David Cluff out-ran Pontious for first place.

Cluff was clocked in 17:59 and Pontious, who suffered a bad fall early in the race, was timed in 18:06.

Cluff had his sights on defending his 5K title in 2006, but never had the opportunity because the event was canceled for lack of participation.

At the time, then-parks and recreation director Bill Schwind said, “A week before the run we had only about four people sign up, so we canceled it.”

The demise of a race that once attracted some of the Rim Country’s finest runners, including the PHS athletes, remains a mystery.

Schwind indicated after canceling the race that the lack of interest might have been because the P&R Department had hosted an inaugural sprint triathlon only weeks earlier.

While the Monsoon 5K is now only a relic of the past, Rim runners will tomorrow have the opportunity to participate in its sister race, the Monsoon 4-Miler that begins at 7 a.m. at Ramada 5 in Rumsey Park.

The course begins on McLane, continues on Sherwood and winds through several other streets including Longhorn and Payson Parkway.

The race, which is longer than a traditional 5K, is the work of town recreation coordinator Deb Rose.

About the distance, she said, “I wanted to make it a little different than the traditional 5K. I think people will like that.”

After learning of the rich tradition the PHS cross country team had with the Monsoon 5K, she expressed hope that this year’s team would participate, “That would be great if they showed up.”

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