PARKERSBURG - Of the approximately 1,000 runners who will participate in Saturday's News and Sentinel Half Marathon, only one will break the tape at the finish line and see his name splashed across the top of Sunday's newspaper.
Without a doubt, the winner will be one of the elite field of international runners that come to Parkersburg every year and add great prestige to the annual event.
But it isn't the elite runners who make the race so successful that it is celebrating its 24th year.
Photo by Jeff Baughan
Small in stature, big on half marathon experience, Lou Molinaro stands in front a group of runners with the River City Runners who have been training for Saturday’s Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon.
Rather, it's the many members of the local running and walking community who participate in the race, even though they know they have no chance of winning.
But don't tell 67-year-old Vienna resident Lou Molinaro he isn't a winner.
On Saturday, Molinaro will be running in the race for the 21st consecutive year. The first three years the race was conducted, Molinaro was one of the race officials and rode in the lead truck that follows the elite runners around the course. After three years of volunteering his services, Molinaro begged out of those duties in order to participate in the race, at which he has become an annual fixture.
The Molinaro family turns the race into a informal family reunion.
"I've had as many as 22 people stay in the house at one time during race weekend,'' said Molinaro.
All four of Molinaro's children - Lisa, Gina, Michael and Leslie -have run the half marathon. His wife, Lynda, has participated in the accompanying two-mile race and is a volunteer for the half marathon, helping with packet pickup and using her nursing skills to help those in need of medical attention at the finish line.
The finish line - that's Molinaro's goal. To finish the race.
"When they put that medal around my neck, I feel like I have accomplished something.''
Molinaro, a prominent member of the race committee and a local track and field official, has covered the 13.1-mile distance as fast as 1 hour, 48 minutes and 28 seconds.
He always wanted to beat 1:45, but he realizes that is unlikely to happen now that age is becoming more of an enemy.
Molinaro has no plans to stop running or participating in the half marathon.
"My goal is to beat the horses that are in the Homecoming parade down Market Street,'' he laughed.
Molinaro also has a goal of being the individual to run in the most consecutive races here. He knows there are three individuals who never have missed the race. So if he ever is going to beat their record, he will have to wait until all three retire and then run four more races.
"I plan to keep running into my 80s,'' Molinaro said.
Molinaro knows the course well. He has watched too many of the elite runners go out too fast and have to pull out.
He knows that slow and steady won't win the race, but it will get you to the finish line safe and sound.
Plus, he loves the comradery of the running community. Seldom does one run the Parkersburg race alone. There's always somebody around with whom to share the day.
Retired from GE Plastics, Molinaro is a familiar figure in the running community.
He has several friends who live along the race route and always are there to shout their encouragement whenever he goes by.
Molinaro trains with the Half Marathon Training Group, but rather than wait until that group's evening runs, he gets together with Tom Kramer and Kenny Rowan for morning training sessions.
The first time Molinaro tried to run the half marathon, he happened to run into the legendary Steve Kogo the night before at the annual pasta dinner. They struck up a conversation and Molinaro expressed fears about not being able to finish. Kogo assured him he would make it to the finish line. After the race was over, the two saw each other once again and Kogo, who had won the race, congratulated Molinaro on finishing.
Molinaro has been doing Weight Watchers and believes he will be able to shave his time from last year.
But no matter when he finishes, he will consider himself and everyone else who runs in the race a winner.