Morgan Hill on the run

Melanie Corona, of Gilroy, races to the finish line Sunday

Hundreds of athletes spilled out over the bucolic South County
countryside during the Morgan Hill Marathon’s 26.2- and 13.1-mile
footraces Sunday, despite the soggy weather conditions.
Hundreds of athletes spilled out over the bucolic South County countryside during the Morgan Hill Marathon’s 26.2- and 13.1-mile footraces Sunday, despite the soggy weather conditions.

Overcast skies with occasional light showers and daylight savings time ending didn’t deter the more than 1,000 competitors. And, precipitation was kept at a minimum for most of the day, until a few straggling runners and walkers were caught in a downpour, but trudged steadfastly to the finish.

The half marathon’s top male finishers were Palmdale’s Justin Patananan, 30, with his performance of 1:09:44; Tommy Davis, 25, finished in 1:13:25; and John Munene, 28, from Santa Clara came in third at 1:14:55.

“It’s a beautiful course, but it was tough. It’s an honest course,” Patananan said.

Kenyan Jackline Okemwa, 32, with 1:24:35 flew to the finish as the number one female winner followed by Gilroy’s Kari Bertrand, 40, clinching second place in 1:25:57 and Anna Gunn, 40 from Walnut Creek taking the third spot in 1:27:34.

Okemwa was impressed with how the volunteers managed the course.

“It’s well organized and I never got lost (like in other races)” she said. “The course is tough with the hills, but for training it is the best. It’s beautiful and I would love to move down here someday.”

Elite runner and gynecologist Bertrand had reason to celebrate: “I wanted to run under 1:30, so I am very happy. Love, love, loved the course. I’ll do it because I still love to race and I want my kids to see how important exercise is,” she said. She recently gave birth to her third child.

Running 26.2 miles is no easy feat; ask any one who did it. Yet the top three male athletes made it look like a sprint in the park. Kenyan John Weru, 31, from Oakland shut out most of the pack in 2:37:39 with Ethiopian Tegenu Beru, 29, at his heels in 2:38:29, and Jonathan Le Jeune, 22 right behind him in 2:42:47.

“The race was good but the course was very hilly,” Weru said. “I’m impressed with the Inaugural Morgan Hill Marathon and I’ll be back to defend my title next year,” he said with a smile.

San Jose Fit’s Esmail Rahimian, 51, tucked his 50th marathon under his belt and plans to start another 50 beginning next month. He finished in 5:00:21.

Jasmine Sessions, 30, from Farmington, Utah (originally from Gilroy) blazed the trail for the women marathoners in 2:59:21; Belmont’s Monica Zhuang, 37, came in second with 3:18:34 and Jennifer Willoughby, 32, from Soquel closed the gap in third with 3:23:34.

“I wanted to break three hours – I ran hard. The first 19 miles I felt very good then mile 21 hit me and it got real. It’s really a marathon now! How tough are you?”

The race was organized by Greg and Debbie Richards, Elliott and Stacey Doyle and Phil Van Ornum of South Valley Endurance.

At the finish, volunteers Earl and Barbara Handcock from Fresno cheerfully served Round Table pizza, bananas, water and congratulatory remarks as the finishers, grabbed the much-needed carbohydrates off the table before disappearing into the throng of friends and family waiting at the art and wine festival nearby.

Morgan Hill’s Pamela Frederick, 27 who walked the half (3:57:24), said, “the course was great! I loved being able to run/walk on Willow Springs Road without having to worry about cars. It was scenic and gave a good picture of Morgan Hill.”

Ultra-marathoner Craig Lore from San Martin who wore a kilt throughout the 26.2-mile journey and finished in 4:18:31 said he’d be back.

“For every local race there is always a group of people who, over the years, run the same race again and again. Twenty years from now, I’d like to be one of the people who can say he’s done all 20 Morgan Hill marathons.”

To view entire race results, click here.

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