Amanda Bell
Amanda Bell
Clarksville’s Amanda Bell has dominated the local women’s running scene since she was a high schooler and she’ll try to add another notch to her belt in Saturday’s 26th Annual Madison Courier Firecracker 10K Run/Walk.

Bell, now 22 and a recent graduate of the University of Louisville after running for the Generals in high school and the Indiana Hoosiers as a college undergraduate, will go for her fifth straight Courier 10K women’s championship Saturday morning.

It’s a challenge Bell, who recently turned professional and now has opportunities to run for cash, looks forward to each and every year and a challenge that has brought her back to Madison five straight Julys.

“My running is going the best it’s gone in years. I’m really excited about coming back to Madison because I’m in really good shape and now that I’m a professional I’m running for money and that is very exciting,” Bell said this morning. “I love to come back to Madison. It’s a sentimental race for me and even though I could probably run somewhere else for money, I told my coach he’d just have to deal with it because I’m going to Madison.”

In fact, Bell even convinced her coach, Chris Horton, to also run the event. Horton, who is coming back from an injury does not expect to contend for the win.

“I love the course here. I love the downhill parts and I love the people. The people are all just so nice that it’s a great place to run,” Bell said after winning her fourth straight 10K last July. “And the trophies are the best anywhere. They are very unique and very artistic. Most places you run you get a plaque. What can you do with a plaque? Everybody that sees my Courier 10K trophies just loves them. I’ve got them sitting all around and they are my favorite awards.”

To date 127 runners and 95 walkers have registered for the 2004 Courier 10K with more coming in each day as well as the usual late entries on race day morning. Last year’s 10K featured 261 runners and 176 walkers and organizers predict a similar number this year.

The early entries to date do not include any of the top 10 finishers from 2003 including overall winner Wes Seacat of New Albany.

Seacat, who had finished second in the event in 2002, completed the 6.2-mile event in 31:28 — beating Richard McCurdy Jr., his coach at New Albany High School by 10 seconds and the next best competitor by almost 2 1/2 minutes.

Bell 38:29 clocking was 15th overall while local standout Molly Dattilo placed second among the women with a 40:22 effort that was 27th overall.

The 2003 Courier 10K official starter will be Madison Ironman Kurt Kahl, a longtime veteran of the annual race who has also run marathons but is best known for his participation in Ironman Triathlons.

Kahl, 67, of Madison, will fire the starter’s pistol for the walkers at 8 a.m. EST Saturday and then for the runners at 8:30 a.m. before joining the stampede leaving the Madison Consolidated High School parking lot on the hilltop en route to the finish at Lytle Park in downtown Madison.

Last year’s official starter, 60-year-old Wayne Mahoney of Madison, will make his 26th straight start in the event. He was 40th overall in 43:33 and third in his age group in 2003 despite serving as official starter.

“It was hot out there,” Mahoney, who wore his original 1979 Gold Cup Courier 10K T-shirt for the post-race ceremonies, said after the 2003 event. “It was awful hot and humid out there. I had to take water at all of the stops so that slowed me down a little but you’ve just got to pour it on you to stay cool.”

That may not be as much of a problem this year as a 50 precent chance of rain showers is forecast for Saturday, a situation that could make for cooler, faster running conditions.

For example, Bell won the 2001 women’s event with a time of 37:22 under cloudy and rainy conditions while she ran a 39:00 in 2002 under hot conditions and a 38:29 in 2003 under hot and muggy conditions.

“I would love to run in the rain Saturday because I know how hot and muggy it can get in July,” said Bell. “That would be great.”

Either way this year’s event could be the last for Bell, who has enrolled for graduate school at Texas A & M and plans to run more professional events in the future.

“I really love Madison and I want to keep coming back, but after I move who knows if I’ll be able to get back next year,” Bell noted.

The race, sponsored by The Madison Courier the past 26 years, is co-chaired by Lou Knoble and Dick Naylor and requires about 125 volunteers to stage. More than 10,000 runners and walkers have participated in the event over the past quarter-plus-century.

Participants can still register for the event by paying a late fee — the $12 fee for walkers includes a commemorative T-shirt and packet and the $20 fee for runners also includes a T-Shirt and packet.

Participants may check in or late register beginning at 6:30 a.m.