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Drew Bell, track and cross country coach at James Clemens, won the 50-54 age division and set a new Grand Masters race record in the Oak Park Challenge 7.5-mile mountain trail race in Huntsville. Photo Contributed

Drew Bell Sets Monte Sano Mountain Run Records- “Flew Like A Jet”

MADISON- A recent week was one for the ages for Drew Bell. The head coach of the cross country and track programs at James Clemens High watched with excitement as his boys and girls cross country Jet squads took second place in both the Metro Championships and Oakville Invitational, but he, too, turned in a spectacular effort of his own in the annual Oak Park Challenge trail race.

Bell, who will turn 55 on the same day as Cross Country Sectionals, finished 11th overall with a time of one hour, 14 minutes, 23.41 seconds after being seeded 18th prior to the race. In addition to his great finish, Bell won the 50-54 age division by three minutes and shattered the Grand Master (age 50-plus) record by over nine minutes.

“This old donkey had so much fun in the 55-degree weather we had within the wooded area of the race course,” said Bell. “I arrived an hour early and ran about a mile up the mountain course to warm up and check my shoes, plus I practiced the start of the race several times. Once the race began I focused on my form and ran alongside my friend Julia Donovan who just happened to win the female division of the race.”

The 7.5-mile Oak Park Challenge began at the Oak Park Recreation Center in east Huntsville at the base of Monte Sano Mountain with a trail course of over three miles to the top of the mountain, which is officially listed at an elevation of just over 1,600-feet. Runners made the trek up the mountain and then back down to the finish line at the recreation park located on Oakwood Avenue. The scenery of the race course is beautiful, but demanding.

“I never struggled going up the trail, though I was a little apprehensive as I’ve had two Achilles heel surgeries,” added Bell. “Coming down the mountain I ran a good eight-minute pace.”

The race was won by David Helms, 36, of Harvest who posted a time of 59:48.45 becoming just the third person to ever break the one hour mark in race history. Jordan Rundell of Madison finished third. The 37-year old hit a time of 101:12.51. In the women’s division, Donovan, 36, of Huntsville was tops with a time of 1:14:18.45. Maryclaire Thomas of Madison was third as the 24-year old posted a time of 1:22:53.39

For Bell, the race was just one of eight he ran during the COVID-19 period of 2020. After being away from competitive running for three and a half years, he decided to get back into some type of physical shape and into the sport he loves. He lost 42 pounds in the process. He added, “It was such a tough battle of being out of shape and I’m not going back there. I have a good relationship with God.”

Bell’s determination to succeed as much as he could in the race came in the last one-half mile. He noticed someone coming up behind him in an attempt to pass to the finish, he told himself, no, not to let that person pass. Bell kicked into high gear with what energy he had remaining in his energy tank and held off the competitor to take 11th place overall.

“I am the fastest old donkey to run up Monte Sano and back down,” said Bell. “The old donkey flew like a Jet.”

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