MERCED -- A festive, fun atmosphere reigned supreme Sunday morning at UC Merced’s Scholars Lane, as the inaugural Merco Credit Union Half Marathon kicked off to the delight of hundreds of runners and their supporters.
The event was a fundraiser spearheaded by the Merced County Women Lawyers Association to create a scholarship for Merced County high school students to attend UC Merced. The half marathon was the brainchild of event co-chairwoman Natalie Hayen, who herself is a runner. Hayen said 372 people signed-in to participate in Sunday’s race. “I wanted to cross my passion with community service, and this is the logical crossover,” Hayen said.
Hayen said the event wouldn’t have been possible without help from sponsors like Merco Credit Union,Fluetsch & Busby Insurance Agency andnumerous volunteers. “It’s been a ton of sleepless nights and a lot of work, but we had a lot of help,” Hayen said.
Organizers began the race at 7 a.m. sharp in order to avoid the hot temperatures. Miguel Nuci of Turlock finished first place, far ahead of the other runners in the race, with a time of one hour, 13 minutes, 30 seconds. Roger Cross, 48, of Sacramento came in second, logging a time of one hour, 20 minutes. Chris Bither, 43, of Burlingame and Raymond Rodriguez of Los Banos were tied for third place at one hour, 24 minutes, 51 seconds, according to organizers.
Jamie Hoornaert, 19, finished first on the women’s side, crossing the finish line at one hour, 35 minutes, 19 seconds. Hoornaert was followed by Rachel Medefind, who finished at one hour, 39 minutes, 33 seconds and Nery Henderson, one hour, 40 minutes, 34 seconds. All three of the top women in the race are from Merced, according to organizers.
Everyone who participated in the race received the medal and the top runners in each age category received a trophy.
The 13.1-mile race route started at UC Merced. It proceeded through the countryside on Bellevue Road, down M Street past Merced College, along the Black Rascal bike path to Rahilly Park, then went back to UC Merced along the Lake Road bike path. Most of the runners completed the route under the five hour limit.
Many residents stood along the route, rooting and cheering for the event’s participants. Some Mercedians also provided water to runners along the route.
Co-organizer Nicole Silveira said 2014 was “a great first year” for the event, and she expects it will return next year. “Across California and the country, the half marathon is is just a really popular distance with people. It’s easily attainable for a lot of people, but still a great achievement. We thought it was a good base to attract a lot of people.”
Organizers said they are still tallying the amount of money the event raised.