Four decades after the inaugural Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler, former University of Virginia runner Cleo Boyd blazed through the course on Saturday in a winning time of 21:36.
Boyd’s time, which equates to 5:24-per-mile pace, was the fastest time run on the historic Garth Road course since 2015.
Boyd, who ran for the Cavaliers from 2013-2017, recently returned to her alma mater to pursue a Ph.D. in history. Her passion for women’s history made her particularly excited to participate in the 40th anniversary of a race once billed as Charlottesville’s “Lady Enterprise.”
Boyd cited fellow women’s support and enthusiasm as pivotal to her success.
“It was so inspiring to see women of all ages on the other side of the course as I was running the challenging uphill sections,” she said. “This is such a wonderful community event that celebrates women and supports an important cause. I will definitely be back to run it again.”
While Boyd led the race from gun to tape, an exciting battle ensued for the remaining two podium spots between high school teammates Maddie Gardiner and Reese Dalton and 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier Chelsea Benson. Ultimately, Benson managed to pass Dalton for third, securing the Masters course record along the way in 23:22, but it was Maddie Gardiner who pulled away in the last mile for a commanding second-place finish.
Gardiner, who stopped the clock at 23:05, expressed a pervasive sense of gratitude to be able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with her fellow Four Miler competitors again. After two years of social-distance protocols, The Covenant School junior, like so many, celebrated the event’s return to its original format following two picturesque but non-traditional years in which the race took place on the infield grass at Foxfield.
“It was so fun to be back on the roads again and not have to stagger our starts this year,” Gardiner said. “I was just so happy to be out there running together, especially with my best friend [Dalton] and my coach [8th place finisher Ann Dunn].”
Many top individual performers also participated in the team competition, in which Team Formula, including Gardiner, Dalton, Dunn, and Rachel Booth, prevailed. They were followed by two teams comprised of runners on UVa’s Club cross country team: Virginia Club Running Orange (Katie Borland, Rachel Weghorst, Olivia Colli, and Rylan Pearsall) and Virginia Club Running Blue (Ayla Pearson, Emma Tessler, Sophia Meagher, and Liza Harold.)
Susan and Mary Hagel sped to victory in the sister/sister category, and Kim and Olivia Bullock earned top honors in the mother/daughter category.
Age-group winners included Autumn Shedd, Carter Kelsey, Reese Dalton, Katie Borland, Abigail Motley, Julianne Quinn, Ashley Thomasey, Rachel Booth, Bridget Donaldson, Jennifer Hochrein, Kendall Tata, Lori Pleasants, Martha Redinger, Carol Ward, Brenda Gray and Josephine Tallarico.
Beyond its ability to garner top-notch competition, the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler is well-known for its inspirational and heart-warming storylines. Spectators lining the finish saw women of all ages, abilities and backgrounds successfully navigate the challenging course.
Five-year-olds beamed as they proudly crossed the finish line for the first time, hand-in-hand with their equally proud moms. Women donning “survivor” shirts signaled what a dual triumph it was to get to the finish line. Perhaps the most common sight, women who were strangers before the race, could be found just past the finish line thanking one another for mutual words of encouragement along the way. These rewarding stories exemplify the Charlottesville Women’s Four Miler’s celebrated ability to unify and empower participants.
The sea of Motivational Mile posters lining the last mile of the course served as a poignant reminder that the Women’s Four Miler also fulfills a critical need in the community. Each sign honored a community member who has fought or is currently fighting cancer.
Since its inception in 1983, the Women’s Four Miler has donated close to $4.5 million to the University of Virginia Breast Care Center. This money has allowed the Breast Care Center to provide more affordable and accessible breast cancer screening across the entire state of Virginia. UVa gynecologic oncologist and runner Dr. Kari Ring has seen firsthand how preventative screening saves lives.
In particular, she points to UVa’s mobile mammography services and advanced genetic counseling as two unique ways the Breast Care Center aids in the prevention and early detection of breast cancer.
“I will forever be grateful to the Four Miler for helping improve care for our patients,” Ring said.
The tireless efforts of hundreds of community volunteers, particularly volunteer race co-directors Audrey and Cynthia Lorenzoni, allow 100% of the Women’s Four Miler proceeds to go toward these efforts to detect and treat cancer. From the parking crew members who wake up at 4 a.m. to direct cars into makeshift parking spaces to the high school cross country runners who man the course’s water stations, the Women’s Four Miler serves as an annual reminder of the community’s generosity.
After two years navigating COVID-19 safety protocols, it was particularly heartening to see so many familiar faces lining Garth Road on another early September morning to run, walk, cheer, and otherwise support this special community event.