If any one doubts the third annual West Virginia Italian Heritage 5K hasn't become one of top events in the state just look at its number of participants, more than 330 last year.
But a closer look reveals the talent of the runners.
Some of the state's top runners travel to North Central West Virginia to participate in the race designated as the U.S. Track and Field state 5K championship.
"Since we've been running the race it's been the state championship," race director Larry Cann said. "That's one of the reasons for the large draws."
Cann said he has a field of more than 200 for Saturday's 8:30 a.m. race at Eastpointe, and he expects more than 100 more on race day to sign up.
One of the competitors already signed up is Fayetteville's Larry Taylor, who is the current leader of the men's division in the Clarksburg Area Racing Series (CARS). He won the inaugural race and finished third last year.
"The race is bringing in big name runners and some stiff competition," Taylor said. "That's what I'm looking for. It makes me run better and faster."
Last year's winner, David Lyles, hasn't committed to the race yet, according to Cann and Taylor.
Tony Basta, who has signed up, according to Taylor, Mike Guinn, Aaron Taylor, Dave McCallum and Kevin Williams are among a group of the state's top runners who have participated or will participate in the event.
And despite the elite field and flat course with a downhill finish, Taylor said it's not as easy as it looks. He would like to break the 16-minute barrier this year, but ...
"We've talked about it the last two years," Taylor said after talking to some of the other top runners. "There are just some elements that doesn't make it fast course."
But Cann is not going to complain about the design.
"We've posted some of the fastest times in the state (in a 5K event), yet it's easy enough for beginners to finish in a good time," Cann said.
But it's not the course that brings Taylor back. It's the competition.
Taylor, who is the father of Fayetteville all-state cross country and track standout Jessica Taylor, enjoys competing against the younger runners.
"There are 10 to 15 guys in the state that have pushed me each year," he said. "And most of them come to this race. There's no sense to go to a race and not be pushed. If (the other top runners) are there, I'm going to be there.
"They want to come and beat the old man, and I hope they do. It's going to make me run faster."
Assistant sports editor Danny Carpenter can be reached at 626-1444 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.