By JEFF FOLEY
DELMAR -- Jamie Rodriguez and Eileen Combs ran through strong winds to top more than 600 runners at the 18th annual Delmar Dash five-mile road race on Sunday morning.
"For a majority of the turns, the wind was in your face," said Combs, 28, the lead woman from start to finish who was clocked in 29 minutes, 46 seconds. "It's awesome to get this many people out on a brisk day." Despite the chilly weather, she said, "they had a record crowd here, so people are getting out and getting spring started early."
Rodriguez and training partner Chuck Terry used the Delmar Dash to gauge fitness levels. Both were pleased.
Rodriguez won in 25:07, his second Delmar Dash victory and the event's fastest winning time since 1998. Terry was second in 25:27.
The two ran side-by-side for much of the race's first three-and-a-half miles. Rodriguez then threw in a surge that allowed him to pull away from Terry.
"We have a mutual respect for each other competing," said Rodriguez, 25, who is training for a fall marathon. "We would never sit on each other and make someone else do all the work. That's just kind of like a runner moral."
Terry, 23, placed 39th recently in the national 15-kilometer championship, and the race honed his perspective.
"Being around all those top athletes is kind of a wake-up call to start running more seriously," Terry said. "I need to get that aerobic fitness to where I can hang on to the pace longer. A lot of the guys around here will win races by a kick. I feel like if I can just get stronger, I can run away before it gets to that point."
Combs, a Syracuse native who moved to the Capital Region about a year ago, scored a personal-best for 13.1 miles (1:20:10) at the March 19 Shamrock Half-Marathon in Virginia Beach. She placed fourth in an international field.
Combs, an engineer, used her prize money to buy her second Chesapeake Bay retriever, whom she and her husband named Maggie. The two dogs made the 10-hour car ride back in comfort.
"We knew that when they were lying on each other in the car, they were going to get along fine," Combs said. "They're doing great."
Jeff Foley is a local free-lance writer.