7-14 jonna strange

Statesville's Jonna Strange leads a group of runners up the steep switchbacks at Grandfather Mountain. 

A Statesville teen was one of the fastest competitors in a grueling run that climbs 1,568 feet in five miles.

Jonna Strange, 17, placed second among all women in the 25th annual Bear foot race which stretches from the town of Linville to Grandfather Mountain as part of the opening of the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, according to a press release from Grandfather Mountain.

Strange, who finished 30th overall, clocked in with a time of 39 minutes and 25 seconds in the competition that featured 867 runners.

Strange is a student at North Iredell High School and captured the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A state championship in the 3,200-meter run in May.

“It was a perfect day for running,” race director Jim Deni said in the release, “and this is a popular race.”

So popular, in fact, that registration reached its cap in only six minutes. One of those who helped was Johnny Crain, 27, of ZAP Fitness in Blowing Rock, who came in first overall with a time of 30:58.7 — 40.3 seconds shy of his previous attempt in 2017, in which he set a historic course record.

“My fitness is not quite where it was two years ago,” Crain said in the release. “I’m coming back from a little injury — plantar fasciitis and I’ve been off and on running for about nine months now. Two days ago, one of my coaches was like, ‘Come on, why not use this as one of your first efforts back?’”

Crain couldn’t pass it up.

“It’s just so cool running through the Highland Games,” he said. “There are just so many people there … and they get so excited about it for us, and that really helps.”

Joe Stilin, 29, also of ZAP Fitness in Blowing Rock, came in second overall with a time of 31.01.1, followed by Jeff Case, 25, of Fort Mill, S.C., who finished with a time of 32:10.8.

While Crain was able to use previous experience of the course to some advantage, that wasn’t the case for first-place women’s finisher Joanna Thompson, 26, of Knoxville, Tenn., and ZAP Fitness in Blowing Rock. This marked Thompson’s first time on the course, the release stated, and she finished 13th overall, with a time of 36:13.1.

Also a professional runner, Thompson prepared by running a marathon three weeks ago, followed by two weeks of rest. Her favorite part of The Bear?

“The hills, man,” she said. “It’s not every day you get to run up a mountain like this. So, that’s pretty cool.”

Thompson, however, isn’t a stranger to Grandfather Mountain.

“I’ve hiked it before, but this was definitely my first time running up it,” she said in the release. “I figured since I’m kind of taking a little break right now without any major races coming up for a while that this was the best window I’d have to do this. It was a really an honor and pretty cool, because I know how big a deal this race is around here.”

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