Wide-smiling 11-year-old Kayla Blas threw her arms up in the air as she crossed the finish line Thursday, putting an exclamation point on what was certainly a not-so-typical Tim Frank Memorial Canal Fest 4-Miler.
Blas, of Pendleton, was one of the youngest — if not the youngest — female winners of the 26th annual race, earning a 30th-overall finish with a time of 28:15. Lockport resident Craig Baumgartner, 23, topped a field of roughly 320 runners with a time of 21:00.
"I didn't know what to expect. I looked up the results from the past two years. Last year was pretty slow, the year before that was really fast. So I didn't know what to expect," said Baumgartner, whose time was just 40 seconds shy of Brian Lombardo's course record set in 2007.
The race, which took place at the foot of the Delaware Street bridge at East Niagara Street in the City of Tonawanda along the Erie Canal the past two years, began and finished Thursday on Sweeney Street near Delaware Street in North Tonawanda. The route took runners through city streets, instead of along the canal like past years.
Race organizer Jeff Hardy said he expects the race to take place on the NT side of the canal next year as well.
But that, however, wasn't the only change at this season's race. Runners were greeted with cool temperatures in the low-70s accompanied with a refreshing drizzle throughout the evening.
"It's about 25 degrees cooler than last year on the date of the race," Hardy said. "It was supposed to be sunny and in the 80s, but this is perfect running conditions."
Hardy also lamented the loss of the Elks Lodge 860, which stood for nearly a century on the corner of Delaware and Sweeney Streets before tragically burning down in December 2011.
"What's odd for us is that the Elks club has been here for most of our lives," he said. "I keep looking around and it's not there. It's just weird."
Despite the slight unusual circumstances, Blas tried her best to steal the show.
"It was good. There was this one girl that was always on my tale," she said immediately following the race, barely out of breath. "I was just trying to keep the same pace as her and I stayed in front of her."
Bras, a soon-to-be seventh grader at Starpoint Middle School, credited her multi-sport background for her win.
"I play multiple sports," she said. "I play soccer, softball and hockey. I run during those (sports) a lot."
North Tonawanda's Alex Farrell finished second overall in 22:23 while reigning News cross country Player of the Year Jeremy Driscoll, of Tonawanda, took third overall in 22:46. Tonawanda's Joseph Morris (23:26) and Niagara Falls' Matty McGuire (24:12) rounded out the top five.
Race veteran Jeanne Chiarmonte, a teacher at North Tonawanda, was runner-up on the women's side with a time of 28:26, good for 36th overall. Chiarmonte has competed in all 26 races. Kenmore's Melissa Norris was the third female to finish with a time of 28:28.
Hardy added he expects the race to raise nearly $10,000 for the boys and girls clubs of both North Tonawanda and Tonawanda.