The Club Challenge was, as always, a challenge — but faster than last year

Group photo of 15 runners, with many wearing an orange tank top that says "ESRC Racing Team" with artwork.
Most of our Eastern Shore Running Club team got together for a photo before the start (we are missing one, Keith).

For the second year in a row, the Eastern Shore Running Club had enough team members to show up on the team results at the Maryland-D.C. RRCA 10-Mile Club Challenge, which is a win in and of itself. However, since working on my coughing issue and with some successful runs lately, I also hoped to beat my own time from 2022.

I was able to do that at this Howard County Striders-hosted race on Sunday, Feb. 26, with a time of 1:53:59. This was about three-and-a-half minutes faster than my time from 2022.

This annual challenge, held on the hilly streets of Columbia, allows runners to compete for their club against other Road Runners Club of America clubs from Maryland and Washington, D.C. I am the president of the Eastern Shore Running Club, and although we don’t have the numbers to win or an elite racing team, that isn’t what’s important to me — I love being able to represent our group on the “other side of the bridge.”

We had just gotten in an order of orange singlets the week of the race, so it was also fun to be able to represent with matching shirts and easily pick out fellow Eastern Shore Running Club runners.

Last year, I calculated that the three Lower Shore counties make up less than 3 percent of Maryland’s population. We also travel the farthest to compete — about two hours.

To give an idea of how competitive this race is, 69 of the 634 finishers completed the race in under one hour — under a 6:00/mile pace. That’s 10.9 percent.

Selfie of Vanessa Junkin with a race yard sign and porta-potty in the background.
I took a selfie with the sign for the race (and a porta-potty).

I would say I’m normally a middle-of-the-pack racer. But on Sunday, I came in 220th of 222 women and men under 40 and 89th of 90 female runners under 40. Overall, my place was 612 of 634. And, I was happy with my time.

This was my fifth year participating in this event, so I knew generally where the worst hills were (miles five and six, along with a big hill leading up to a water stop during mile three) and what to expect. For four of the five years, the first mile has been my fastest and the sixth mile has been my slowest.

I started out this year’s race with a 9:56 mile. I knew I wouldn’t be able to keep this up for the whole race, but it was a good start. Early on, I had hoped to keep my miles under an 11:00 pace. I was able to do that for three of the first four miles, but then my pace started slipping as the hills got more intense. However, I kept a good lead over my previous year’s time, which was another goal of mine.

Around the fourth mile or so, I ended up running near three other ESRC members, which was fun. I ran with Janet for several miles, until I recommended she go ahead at the end. It was motivating to run with her, and I probably walked a little less than I would have otherwise, although I definitely still got my walking in on the uphills.

During one point of the race, a runner from the DC Road Runners asked about where we were from, and I said Salisbury. She said something like, “Isn’t there a zoo there?” This was fun for me because I recently started working for the City of Salisbury’s Arts, Business and Culture Department, which includes the Salisbury Zoo.

There were also neighbors who cheered from their homes, and again, a homeowner who offered an indoor bathroom for runners along the course. This race always has tons of volunteers that keep everyone on course, and the volunteers were great as well.

Probably because of my faster start, I was really feeling those hills throughout the backs of my legs for probably the whole second half of the race, but I held on and I was able to increase my pace a little bit in the last mile. Toward the end, there was a little girl running the opposite direction and cheering, “Go! Go! Go! Go!”

I crossed the finish line with a chip time of 1:53:59 and a gun time of 1:54:32. I connected with my teammates and got a water and a small bag of Doritos. I also got the finisher gloves provided to all participants.

Many of our members left to head home, but Ryan, Justin and I were there for the results, and I made sure to cheer loudly for our team when our name was called, even though we placed last in all but one of the categories we were eligible for (hey, we placed!). After the race and the results, I met with the other club presidents for a meeting.

Being able to run a pace of about 11:18 (on my watch)/11:24 (on the results) on this hilly course — without training on hills — gives me confidence going into the flat Salisbury Half Marathon on April 1 and the Providence Marathon on May 7. I’ll continue training and see where it takes me.


Mile 1: 9:56
Mile 2: 10:35
Mile 3: 11:55
Mile 4: 10:52
Mile 5: 11:53
Mile 6: 12:45
Mile 7: 11:16
Mile 8: 11:32
Mile 9: 11:21
Mile 10: 11:09
Last part (watch had 0.09): 43.9 seconds (8:36 pace)

Finish time: 1:53:59 (11:24/mile pace); time on watch: 1:54:03 (11:18/mile pace)