Robert Miller sets new 5K age group record at China Grove 5K

Published 12:00 am Saturday, June 10, 2023

SRR member Robert Miller ran his first China Grove 5K Main Street Challenge 25 years ago in the inaugural event of one of Rowan’s oldest races. He was on a quest then to lose weight and found running helped him do that. He gradually got hooked and found tremendous success training with Bob Marchinko, a fantastic collegiate runner and coach who at the time lived near Miller. So, regular training together became the staple of fast times for Miller. He had serious success, often racing in Charlotte with Marchinko. Both continued to run, but seldom raced over the last few years.

In April 2022, Miller’s daughter-in-law Emily asked him to race a half marathon in Greenville, S.C. Miller surprised himself with a superfast finish while running in a pack of much younger runners. Bitten again by the competitive bug, a better diet and more intensive training with higher mileage began to net more good race finishes.

A 50-year-old produce farmer from a long-time farm family, Miller knows physical work and while it has helped him to stay in good shape overall, the idea of setting a North Carolina age group record for 50-54 became a focused goal. The long-standing 18-year-old record was set by one of North Carolina’s best runners ever, Phillip Rowan, a county extension agent from the Greenville, N.C. area. Rowan held 16 various age group records, more than any other runner by far. The pending record was 16 minutes and 38 seconds, fast for anyone but especially fast for 50-year-old runners.

A 4-mile race in Mooresville, the TWAM 5K and another 5K race in Kannapolis got Miller close and he was ready for a serious attempt at China Grove, and somewhat confident of the result. He took Friday as an easier workday. Miller matched up with Ben Kassel of Davidson at the start, another good sign for his record attempt. Kassel had beaten Miller narrowly recently and good runners rise to that sort of challenge, with the end result often faster times for both.

A cooler and less humid night than can usually be expected at the China Grove race in early June helped. Marchinko and a lot of others were there to support Miller. An extra buzz of excitement and conversation focused on Miller’s attempt as nearly 300 runners headed off into the darkness toward South China Grove and the Kimball Road turnaround. Miller’s family was out in force at the finish line in anticipation of the finish as returning runners began to show up in the flashing lights a half mile away.

Chris Raulli of Davidson got first at 16:15, Kassel took second at 16:16 and Miller finished at solid third at 16:22. Miller broke Rowan’s state record by 16 seconds, with relief and raised arms at the finish.

Miller and Marchinko headed out last Sunday on a morning run together, discussing what happened and what’s next. Both decided they have some more work to do, and it’s going to be fun to see what happens. Miller said, “I have two slogans that keep me going that Bob has taught me. ‘Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,’ and ‘You can’t be ordinary to do extraordinary things’.”

Miller credits Craige Farmer for doing track workouts with him, and added, “My biggest thing with this go around in racing is my wife Laura sharing my success, especially since she is always so encouraging and supportive. In the early 2000s she was more focused on raising the kids instead of thinking about my running. That makes this time much more fulfilling.”

Miller closed by saying, “God has given me a gift of health to be able to do what I’ve learned to love and if it’s taken away tomorrow, I’d still be thankful for the enjoyment running has brought to me.”

The Shiloh Missions 5K is the next race locally on July 1 in Faith. Look for it and much more at