DARMSTADT, Germany - The focus was on fun Oct. 12 when almost 900 runners and walkers marked the end of an era at the Darmstadt military community's last Frankenstein Castle Run/Walk.

But the run was serious business for some competitors, of course. An All-Army runner took first place overall, a German club earned team honors and the 17-and-under category title went to a pre-teen.

The overcast skies and cool temperature did nothing to discourage participation, as 877 Germans and Americans - plus three dogs - ran and walked the course for the final time.

The military community here is in its last year, a sad time for many, but U.S. Army Garrison Darmstadt commander Lt. Col. David W. Astin is urging community members to have fun as they deal with transformation.

He revived the Frankenstein Castle Run for one last time on its 30th anniversary at no cost to participants. "We wanted to hold this event to let the community know that we are still here, and we still care," Astin remarked.

Participants traveled near and far to mark the event. Most had pre-registered, but there was a last-minute flurry of registrations as people signed up on race day. Some, of course, were ready well in advance. A group of Soldiers from Mannheim's 7th Signal Brigade arrived around 7 a.m. to stake out their spot at the start line.

After opening remarks by Astin and a presentation of certificates of appreciation host-nation agencies that had helped make the event possible, the race was on. Eager runners in the front shot off, while the more relaxed - and infinitely more light-hearted - walkers in the rear set off at their own pace, with one group uniformed in special T-shirts they'd had made for the occasion, marking them as the "Franken-Divas of Puerto Rico."

The course was a 13-kilometer (8-mile) cross-country trek starting at Cambrai-Fritsch Kaserne and rolling through woods and fields. The last two kilometers or so up to the castle, however, was a steep climb that turned many runners into walkers. Most of the route was very rough - dirt, gravel and tree-roots - but some parents somehow managed to maneuver strollers bearing their children to the finish line.

Three canines also made the trek, the extra pair of legs probably giving them an edge over their owners.

The overall winner was All-Army runner Neil Hersey from Wiesbaden, who hit the finish line in 46:28. He was also first in the Male 40-and-over category.

Last year, he had tied for first place with Ben Martinelli. "We had been running together most of the way," said Hersey, "so we decided to cross the finish line together."

Martinelli didn't compete this year, and Hersey was ready to race solo. He started off at a steady pace, and then never trailed. "I felt strong all the way," said Hersey, who said this was his fourth or fifth Frankenstein Castle Run. "I've lost count," he said.

And the steep part' "I just focused on the top of the hill," said Hersey. Hersey, who turns 44 next month, had competed in the Army Ten-Miler the preceding Sunday. Later this month, he will run with the All-Army team at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington.

The top team was Hell on Legs of SV Traisa Triathlon, a German squad from Darmstadt.

Other first-place finishers by category:
Female 17 and under - Gabrielle Jansen, Darmstadt, 1:53:14.
Female 30-39 - April Noke, Ramstein, 1:01:36
Female 18-29 - Meghan Florkowski, Hanau, 57:55.
Female 40 and over - Karin Risch, a German from Darmstadt, 1:00:17.
Male 17 and under - Daniel Hoffman, a 12-year-old family member from Darmstadt, 1:00:07:33. Male 18-29 - Jon Clough, Wiesbaden, who placed third overall, 49:33.
Male 30-39 - Patrick Reed of Landstuhl, who placed second overall, 48:46

Heidelberg's Ronnie CarriAfA3n, who took second-place female honors last year, wasn't in the top tier this time, but took it in stride. She ran the KAfAPln marathon the previous Sunday, so she wasn't at her strongest.

She didn't appear too disappointed at the finish line, though, as she waggled the Halloween-themed deely-boppers that she wore during the Darmstadt race. "I just love running," CarriAfA3n said, adding that she had adorned a bee costume for KAfAPln.

The complete final standings are still being assembled, and will be posted on the Darmstadt Garrison web site when completed. Check www.darmstadt.army.mil for updates.

A historic event One of the top running events for the Army in Europe since the 1970s, the Frankenstein Castle Run was started in 1977 by a group of Soldiers of the 440th Signal Battalion.

The Darmstadt-based unit, which inactivated earlier this year, organized the run every year thereafter except 1996 and 1998, when it was deployed. It grew from a small, local event to one that drew runners from throughout Europe.

Two years ago, organization was taken over by Darmstadt community recreation division.

"This year's turnout far exceeded our expectations," said Darmstadt morale, welfare and recreation director Ingrid Ruffo. "To have this many people at our final event demonstrates the sense of community and camaraderie that MWR and garrisons across Europe share." Ruffo also thanked the people in her organization who made the event possible.