When Jennifer Boerner lined up for the start of the YMCA Buffalo Niagara Turkey Trot on Thanksgiving morning, she had a couple of reasons for wanting to win.
One of them was that she knew she could wrap up The Buffalo News Runner of the Year award for the second straight year. She had a one-point lead on Kim Vona, so a win would leave nothing to chance.
But the more immediate task was to win the race, period.
"I got second last year, so I really wanted to win," Boerner said. "It was a big goal of mine."
Boerner took off at the start and slowly pulled away from the other women in the field. Her finishing time was 28 minutes, 38 seconds – almost a minute faster than the runner-up, Elizabeth Paddock of Montana.
Angola's Vona finished a few more seconds back in third. With that, the 2016 Runner of the Year competition was in the books. Vona had made it interesting throughout the competition, but Boerner will soon receive the trophy in recognition of a full season of fine running.
"Kim and I went back and forth this year," Lancaster's Boerner said. "She really got good this year. In the 5K, she was under 18 minutes.
"She helped me a lot. There were times when I was not feeling good, and she pushed me to do better. It's good to have that friendly competition."
It was a very appropriate way for Boerner to finish another excellent year. She took part in nine of the races in The News series' and never finished lower than third.
If the idea is to show a mastery of various distances, Boerner did that. She won a 5-kilometer run, two 8Ks, a 10-K and a half-marathon.
"It was probably my best year," she said. "I had PRs (personal records) in everything from short distances to the marathon.
"I'm 34, and I've been getting better than I was when I was in college. I guess I'm getting better with age."
The Marathon that Boerner mentioned was the famous one in Boston held each April. Her time was an impressive 2 hours, 56 minutes and 32 seconds. That ranked 47th among all women, and was more than 14 minutes faster than her first visit to that race in 2009.
If you had told her back in college at Clarion University that she'd be doing marathons someday, she might have laughed at you.
"I was a track girl in high school and college," Boerner said. "I liked the speed races, like the 1,500. A 5,000-meter race was too long."
She's already pretty fast as marathon runners go, but she thinks she still has time to reach one big goal in her running career.
"I want to step up my training," Boerner said. "I want to run a qualifying time for the Olympic trials."
That would mean putting up a time of 2:45, trimming more than 11 minutes off her Boston performance. Boerner's first step toward that goal will come in May, when she takes part in the Buffalo Marathon. Her training for that is just beginning - and the weather didn't help much this week.
"I got lucky last year, because we hardly had any snow," she said. "My training went really well for Boston. I try to run outside as much as possible, and go on the treadmill only when the weather won't let me."
Other parts of her training this past year included a 40-mile run in the mountains of Colorado.
"It went through Aspen, and took me eight hours," she said. "I went with my boyfriend. Michael Selig was second in the series this year."
Then there's the matter of her day job, a preschool teacher of at the Carousel Academy in Amherst. If you chase children for a decade, the occasional marathon must seem easy.
"I'm been working with kids for 10 years," she said. "You have to have a lot of energy and do a lot of exercise."
* WNY Alumni XC Challenge, 5K, Chestnut Ridge Park, Orchard Park, 10 a.m. Saturday, 998-5777.
* New Year's Eve 5K, Fort Niagara State Park, Lewiston, 12 noon Saturday Dec. 31, 998-5777.
* iRun WNY 5K New Year's Classic, Fort Niagara State Park, Lewiston, 12 noon Sunday Jan. 1, 998-5777.