YOUNGSTOWN - The 2-mile portion of the Peace Race may lack the stunning foliage and changing autumn colors of Mill Creek Park, but it has charm in its own right. The course is fairly simple and flat, encompassing a few downtown blocks along Federal Street, Front Street and W. Commerce Street with a dramatic finish leading to Federal Plaza.
It's built for runners like Patrick O'Brien.
O'Brien, 17, ran the 10K Peace Race in 2009 as an eighth grader at St. Christine School. That's where he got his start in running with weekly cross country meets at the Rocky Ridge fields in the Wick Recreation Area on Youngstown's West Side.
Now, as a senior at Ursuline High School, O'Brien is blazing a trail on grass and cement.
He won the 2-mile race on Sunday morning with a time of 10:42, averaging 5:21 per mile.
"The beginning, coming around the first corner, I was kind of scared," said the Austintown resident. "There were a lot of people there. It started to open up after the first straightaway it broke up and I just took off."
He led for the better part of a mile and a half, holding off Anthony Costa Jr., an 18-year-old from Girard. Costa Jr. came in at 11:53.
"I was very shocked," O'Brien said. "I never expected to win it at all. Actually, I just went out to run it and see how I could do."
The Peace Race served as a de facto cool down for O'Brien who ran the Diocesan Cross Country Meet in Canton on Saturday. For the fourth-straight year, O'Brien finished in the top 15. But in his senior year running the Canton Central Catholic campus, O'Brien finished with a time of 18 minutes to win the Diocesan individual title.
"It feels awesome, " he said. "I hope to keep this momentum going."
The Fighting Irish team has this week off before the Division III district meet at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds on Saturday.
A regional berth would keep O'Brien's successful season going. It hasn't just been a year of personal bests, either. O'Brien is setting Ursuline training records with a new mark in suicide hill times, which is a bumpy, inclined side street near the Ursuline campus on Wick Avenue. Also, he established a new points record in 1,000-meter repeat, a practice regime created by Irish coach George Stroia.
The grueling workouts have spearheaded him to the lead pack of major meets in the area.
At the Legends Meet on Oct. 5 at the Trumbull County Fairgrounds, O'Brien placed 16th with a time of 17:40. At the Suburban League Championships in Canfield, he placed 24th with a time of 18:45.
O'Brien qualified to the regional track meet a year ago. Last year at cross country districts, O'Brien led Ursuline with a time of 18:33 to finish in 25th place.
"I just hope to keep improving and hopefully do well enough to make it to regionals in a few weeks," he said.
Looking back, though, Oct. 12 and 13 of 2013 will be a weekend he'll never forget.