Runners and event organizers alike celebrated the return of the God’s Country Marathon last Saturday, June 5, after it was canceled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You could feel the excitement and anticipation as many runners were competing in their first in-person event in over a year,” said Amy Long, race committee member.

The name of each runner was announced to cheers and signs of support as they crossed the finish line at Courthouse Square in Coudersport. Sixty-nine runners finished the 26-mile full marathon starting at Galeton Area School District, 55 finished the 13-mile half marathon starting at Denton Hill State Park and eight relay teams split the course.

For the seventh year, Bryan Morseman, 35, of Wheeler, N.Y., defended his first-place title in the full marathon with a time of 2:38:07. He shaved about 50 seconds off his 2019 time and came in more than 25 minutes before the second place finisher, Jason Sammut, 25, of State College.

Jean Bujdos, 28, of Elmira, N.Y., crossed the line first in the women’ division and sixth overall with a time of 3:34:30. According to race organizers, Bujdos follows in the footsteps of her mother, Mary Jean, who won the marathon 30 years ago. Bujdos’ sister, Veronica Bujdos, also ran this year, placing sixth in the women’s division and 17th overall.

Full marathon-finisher Rob Toonkel, of Elmira, N.Y., said of his experience, “This was my sixth God’s Country Marathon, and the course support remained outstanding, with enthusiastic, engaged volunteers who appeared dedicated to the satisfaction of each runner. It truly felt as though a runner had become a member of a family devoted to a greater good rather than just a number and an entry fee.”

Top finishers for men, women and several age brackets were named at an awards ceremony Saturday afternoon. Also honored were top-finishing male and female veterans, John Rogers and Christine Fye, with awards sponsored by the Smethport American Legion.

Bill Gerski, vice president of business development for Tri-Co Connections, presenting race partner, awarded the oldest and youngest full marathon-runners – Neil Policelli, 71, and Lauren Brown, 19.

Also at the ceremony, race organizers honored Ralph Wentz, who founded the marathon more than 40 years ago. They presented him with a marathon finisher’s medal, T-shirt and engraved watch.

“The God’s Country Marathon is a unique event,” said Karen Larsen, committee chair. “The course is nestled in scenic Potter County and allows runners a chance to take in the natural beauty of the area. Volunteers and local businesses came together to support the event and welcome runners from around the country. We are grateful for every single person that contributed to the success of this year's marathon.”

It’s not surprising that several stories of support and good deeds emerge during such an event. Race organizers shared these tidbits:

  • A man named Adam at the base of Denton Hill took charge of race bib that needed handed off to a relay runner who was running late.
  • At the finish line, a man named Ross jumped in with binoculars to spot runners coming down Main Street so their name could be announced as they crossed the finish line.
  • Rich Neefe said, “The volunteers at the Mile 24 water station, who represented Bronc Busters 4-H were outstanding. They handed out water and snacks as they cheered for runners.”
  • Greg and Cassie Morey helped at the finish line and used their truck to place mile markers on the course and haul tables and chairs to the Courthouse Square.
  • Matt Niles helped direct traffic at the half-marathon turn around and at the turn off Route 6 in Coudersport.
  • Tom Gooch and Jessica Songster helped manage the bridge construction in Sweden Valley, weathering high temperatures, to ensure runner safety.
  • PennDOT and Nestlerode Contracting Co. Inc., came up with a way to help runners navigate a tricky mile marker 22. Coudersport Volunteer Fire Police were also on-site to assist.
  • At the finish line, every single runner’s name was announced as they victoriously finished their race. Fans and community supporters were there to cheer them on and offer refreshments, while a DJ played music. Raffle tickets were sold to raise money for future races.
  • The weekend began with packet-pickup and a pre-race pasta dinner at The Hotel Crittenden, which also hosted an after-party Saturday night sponsored by Tri-Co Connections.
  • Presenting race partners were Tri-Co Connections, UPMC and the Westgate Inn.
  • Community partners were Acker & Larsen, American Legion Post Smethport, Baker Tilly, Buchanan Brother’s Pharmacy, Edward Jones, G-Town Properties, Howard Hanna, Kightlinger Motors, Larsen Chiropractic, Morgan AM&T, Phoenix Rehabilitation, PoCo Family Campground, RE/MAX and Sweden Valley Inn.
  • In-kind partners were Amber Neefe Fowler, Brodhun’s Gym, CamelBak, Coudersport Fox’s Pizza, Coudersport Shop n Save, Coudersport Subway, Cream & Sugar, Darn Tough, Hoffman Farms, Hotel Crittenden, Integrated Medicine, Jonny on the Spot Porta-Jons, Mama Made, Sheetz, Walck Portraits, Wending Creek Farms and Woodland Soaps & Scents.

Top-three results

Full marathon, men: Bryan Morseman, 35, Wheeler, N.Y., 2:38:07; Jason Sammut, 25, State College, 3:03:31; William Huber, 36, Zelienople, 3:13:56

Full marathon, woman: Jean Bujdos, 28, Elmira, N.Y., 3:34:30; Caitlin Jones, 35, Wellsboro, 3:42:57; Cara Gannett, 26, Cicero, N.Y., 3:49:56

Half marathon, men: Wayne Breneman, 35, Lancaster, 1:41:12; Jon Podeszek, 33, Hamburg, N.Y., 1:44:26; Brad Edwards, 30, Allison Park, 1:49:11

Half marathon, women: Charlene Smith, 37, Mount Joy, 1:39:39; Amy McCoy, 39, Muncy, 1:43:39; Nancy Kinner, 43, Williamsport, 1:50:52

Relay: Team Helm Yeah, Coudersport, 3:07:45; Just For Fun, Westfield, 3:43:35; 3 Amigos, Harrison Valley, 3:46:47

Next year’s marathon is scheduled for June 4, 2022. To stay up to date with race information, find God’s Country Marathon on Facebook.

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