It took the self-proclaimed “team tripod” of Elena Branzaru, Randy Gohn and Ryan Mast almost as long to move away from the finish-line area of Saturday’s Louisiana 5K presented by The Advocate in downtown Baton Rouge as it did for the group of friends to actually finish.
They weren’t winners, not even close, but they were the most popular runners in the entire event, with fellow runners and casual onlookers stopping them about every five feet for pictures and a short chat.
They didn’t mind, though. That’s what they’re there for.
While most participants in the Louisiana Quarter-Marathon & 5K presented by the Advocate wore running tights and long-sleeve shirts to combat the frigid weather on race day, the self-proclaimed “tripod” was prepared for a different type of battle.
The group, better known as “Flags to the Finish,” dressed in full tactical gear for the race with Branzaru representing the Marines, Gohn showing out for the police and Mast with his firefighters. All three of them carry American flags the entire race.
They're not exactly ideal outfits for distance running, but the added weight is nothing compared to the message they hope to deliver.
“We do this because we want to run for people who can’t run,” Branzaru said. “That’s one of the most important things for us. … It’s important for us to represent and let people know we’re running for people. It’s not us, it’s everybody else.”
The group of friends have been running — with a lot of walking mixed in — together in full gear for a few years now, aways making sure to hit the Louisiana Marathon weekend in the process.
Beyond showing their American pride, each has a personal reason for doing so.
This year, Gohn wore a sign on his police vest in honor of Baton Rouge police officer Nick Tullier, who was critically wounded in a targeted ambush on law enforcement in Baton Rouge in the summer of 2016.
Branzaru ran for Team Red, White and Blue and honored her brother, who died last month.
Mast ran for Thin Blue Line and Wear Blue: Run to Remember.
But the real reward of the day is seeing fellow runners inspired by their actions to always keep going.
“When you’re out on the course and you see the kids — we just had a little one, 8 or 9 years old, and she saw the flag and I said, ‘Here, run with the flag.’ ” Gohn said. “And they just go. It just warms your heart when you can motivate those kids.”
The trio crossed the finish line with a time of 44 minutes and 29 seconds.
Baton Rouge well represented on podium
All four winners of Saturday’s races hailed from the Baton Rouge area.
Felipe Pelaez was the first runner to cross the finish line when he took the men’s 5K crown with a time of 17:06.
Devon Camarota was the women's winner in 21:35.
Camarota, a local sixth-grade special education teacher, said this was her first win in a competitive race. She plans to run the full marathon on Sunday.
“I wasn’t really expecting (to win),” Camarota said. “It was just a run to be warmed up for tomorrow, and then I looked around and realized there were no other girls around, so I’ll just keep going. … I think I just got lucky today.”
In the quarter-marathon, Charles Anderson from Zachary finished with a time of 41:00 for his first win in his hometown race.
“It feels awesome,” Anderson said. “It’s cold, which helped, but now I’m glad I’m done and can go warm up.”
In the women's quarter-marathon, 15-year-old Josie Whipp successfully defended her title with a time of 47:14.