My brother Brian and I did something we had not done in nearly twenty-five years together. We got up for a road race in my family’s hometown, San Jose, California. The half marathon was part of the Elite Racing Rock N Roll series of marathons and half marathons, and in its third year, the race would have over ten thousand runners, as the old San Jose band, Doobie Brothers, used to sing, “taking it to the streets.”
I had raced and trained through these streets in the late seventies and early eighties, and the course, the downtown, and the crowds all brought back memories. Old friends who were still racing were a little grayer, but the big changes was the numbers of women runners, and like the city of San Jose itself, the representation of every ethnic group in the city that gives the South Bay city its excitement.
We headed downtown about seven in the morning, one hour before the start, and got off before the traffic jam getting off at Santa Clara streets. You have to hand it to Elite, as the starting areas were amazingly organized, with areas to leave your gear, corralls for the nearly twelve thousand runners and race staff and volunteers around making sure people did not miss the start, found a porta potty, water or sports drinks.
My brother Brian and I headed to the start and spent fifteen minutes watching the field go past the start and with family and friends along the side of the streets, cheering everyone on. We saw pace groups from one hour, thirty, to four hours, I believe. We say racers, runners, joggers and walkers, and we say a moving little city having alot of fun.
My brother was amazed at how much now goes into a race in terms of logistics and as we walked back from the start, we walked through Cesar Chavez Park, and noted the sponsor’s tents, a blues band playing up a storm and volunteers preparing for the onslaught.
While the top runners get their day, the Elite races are for the citizen runners. And that is why they are so successful. Courses that run through metropolitan areas, bands at most mile marks, well marked courses with water and sports drinks, and a fun and festive finish area, followed by a good band and refreshments are de rigeur for Elite Racing. In 2008, over 140,000 runners and walkers will finish RNR races across the US! Major sponsors include Saturn, New Balance, Sugoi, Active.com, and the major metropolitan areas.
An strong international field plus also strong runs by US runners Josh Rohantinsky and Adam Goucher on the men’s side and Great Britian’s Kathy Butler on the women’s side plus good local finishes give the fans something to cheer about, whether they were cheering for Gilbert Okari of Kenya, Yuri Kano of Japan, the top US and British runners or the top local runners.
The Elite Race in San Jose shows that destination races are still very popular and that the half marathon distance is the distance of real growth right now. Even with the disturbances and upheaval in our economy, runners will run, they will race and they will buy running shoes, keeping at least one industry happy.
But for this afternoon, it is Creedence Clearwater Revisted playing to the crowds on a clear sunny day in San Jose, California...
Okari, Kano win Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon in San Jose
49er Roger Craig and World Cup Champion Brandi Chastain complete 3rd Annual Road Race
San Jose, Calif., (October 5, 2008) â€“ Competing in ideal running conditions, Gilbert Okari of Kenya broke away from the lead pack at mile nine and cruised to victory at the Rock â€˜nâ€™ Roll Half Marathon in San Jose today.
On the womenâ€™s side, Yuri Kano of Japan took a sizeable lead after mile 11 on the way to her victory. Both winners were clearly the elite of their fields, distancing themselves from their competitors over the final third of the race.
Okari, 30, who made his San Jose debut running in only his second half marathon, finished in 1 hour, 1 minute and 46 seconds; 11 seconds ahead of Moroccan Ridouane Harroufi, who finished second at 1:01:57.
A strong menâ€™s field promised tough competition. Americanâ€™s Josh Rohatinsky, 26, and Adam Goucher, 33, pushed the pace for the first three miles. The lead pack of eleven runners competed to the hit the 10k mark in stride at 29:16. Entering the final four miles to the finish, the menâ€™s lead pack began to thin out as the pace picked up dramatically and Okari began to pull away, gradually dropping American Rohatinsky.
â€œWe expected the pack to go out 4:40, and when it didnâ€™t, Adam and I pushed the lead,â€ said Rohatinsky, who finished sixth overall as the top American. â€œItâ€™s somewhat disappointing as I feel than Iâ€™m in shape to run a 62:00. However, the course was great – really flat with lots of shade. I look forward to returning next year.â€
A relative newcomer to long distance running, Okari was a late addition to the elite athlete field.
â€œIâ€™m very happy to be back running and win my first half marathon,â€ said Okari, who has been injured for most of the past two years. â€œI changed my pace after the 10k mark and had plenty of energy the last few miles.â€
â€œIn the future I want to concentrate on long distances and run more half marathons,â€ added Okari, who will run another half marathon next Sunday in Boston and says he will hopes to transition to running only the full marathon distance in the next year.
In the womenâ€™s race, a lead pack of three ran together throughout, taking turns with the lead. Kano took the win in 1:10:03. Azalech Masresha of Ethiopia finished second with a time of 1:10:36. Kenyan Ann Kosgei took third in 1:11:53. Sally Meyerhoff, USA, finished forth and was the first American women to finish in 1:12:52.
â€œIâ€™m very happy with my performance. I just ran an 8k in Ohio, and my fitness is coming along really well,â€ said Meyerhoff. â€œI feel really good and tried to run a smart race today.â€
Lenin Zapta, 24, and Megan Daly, 29, took top local honors as the first male and female finishers from the Bay Area. Both earned $500 for their efforts.
â€œThis was a great field and there were a lot of people,â€ said Daly, a Stanford University graduate living in Menlo Park. â€œI was only able to do short taper last week, but Iâ€™m happy with how I ran today.â€
Roger Craig, three-time Super Bowl Champion with the 49ers, and two-time World Cup champion Brandi Chastain both completed the half-marathon, with times of 1:44:43 and 1:52:25 respectively.
The San Jose half marathon course started in downtown San Jose, ran through Japantown and the beautiful Rose Garden neighborhood, and finished at Plaza de Cesar Chavez. Both the menâ€™s and womenâ€™s professional races were led by Saturn SKY roadsters, the official vehicles of the 2008 Rock â€˜nâ€™ Roll Marathon Series.
The 2009 Rock â€˜nâ€™ Roll Half Marathon in San Jose is set for Sunday, October 4. For more information and complete 2008 race results, please visit www.rnrsj.com.
TOP 5 MEN
NAME, AGE, LOCATION, TIME
1. Gilbert Okari, 30, Kenya, 1:01:46
2. Ridouane Harroufi, 27, Morocco, 1:01:57
3. Moses Kigen, 25, Kenya, 1:01:58
4. McDonald Ondara, 24, Kenya, 1:02:01
5. Charles Munyeki, 22, Kenya, 1:02:15
TOP 5 Women
1. Yuri Kano, 29, Japan, 1:10:03
2. Azalech Masresha, 20, Ethiopia, 1:10:36
3. Ann Kosgei, 28, Kenya, 1:11:53
4. Sally Meyerhoff, 24, USA, 1:12:52
5. Jane Gakunyi, 29, Kenya, 1:12:57
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