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Mary Ballinger, 26, crests the final hill during The Bear on Thursday, setting a new women's record for the 5-mile course. Photo by Skip Sickler | Grandfather Mountain Stewardship Foundation

Originally published: 2014-07-11 12:01:29
Last modified: 2014-07-11 18:55:29

The Bear: Women's record set

A Blowing Rock woman set a new female record Thursday at the 20th anniversary of The Bear, the opening athletic event to the 2014 Grandfather Mountain Highland Games.

 "I think this was one of the best races we've had with the weather," said race coordinator Jim Deni. "The weather was spectacular, and I think the times were fast because of that."

Mary Ballinger broke the female record by 1 minute, 13 seconds with a time of 34:41.9. Ballinger, 26, has been a runner with ZAP Fitness, a training center for post-collegiate Olympic hopefuls, for about a year.

 "The last two miles were extraordinarily challenging," Ballinger said, "but it was a lot of fun."
Alisha Little, 33, of Drexel finished second in the women's division for the second consecutive year with a time of 38:22.1. This time was about three minutes faster than her time in 2013.

Amanda Sorrow of Banner Elk rounded out the Top 3 women with a time of 39:9.9. Sorrow, who was greeted with hugs and smiles from her 2-year-old son, said it was her first race after having the child. Sorrow said she did most of her training locally at the Williams YMCA of Avery County.

The overall first place finisher was Peyton Hoyal of Boone. The 25-year-old completed the race in 31:46.7. Hoyal, a return runner of The Bear, finished second overall in 2013 and returned to be the first across the finish line this year.

Noah Green, a cross-country and track athlete at UNC-Charlotte, captured second place with a time of 33:12.4. This was Green's fourth year running The Bear. The 19-year-old has consistently decreased his time and improved his position during each running of The Bear.

Ryan Woods, 35, of Boone finished in third place with a time of 33:17.2. This was Woods' 16th time running The Bear, he said.

 "The most challenging aspect of the race is always hitting that first steep stretch around mile three," Woods said.

The men's record time still stands at 30:34.35, set by Ian Conner of Columbus, Ohio, in 2005.

The race began in Linville and ended five miles later at the base of the Mile High Swinging Bridge atop Grandfather Mountain, an elevation gain of 1,568 feet. This year roughly 800 runners represented 24 different states and Canada, and they ranged in age from 7 to 77.

Following the race, the opening ceremony for the 59th annual Grandfather Mountain Highland Games announced the arrival of the clans with a torchlight ceremony. This year more than 100 clans are expected to participate.

For more information on the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games, please visit or call (828) 733-1333.

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