First Modesto Marathon goes smoothly, draws more than 2,200 participants

The stories of the champions of Sunday's inaugural Modesto Marathon could not have been more different.

While the goal of women's winner Samantha Shultz was simply to finish, men's winner Jon Olsen didn't want to stop.

What the two have in common is that they both finished first in the first, which means for as long as the Modesto Marathon is run, the names of Shultz and Olsen will top the list of all-time champions.

And there is nothing to indicate that this event will do anything but grow and thrive in years to come. Marathon organizers, primarily the Shadowchase Running Club, hoped their triple race card of a marathon, half-marathon and 5- kilometer run might attract 1,000 entries.

Thanks to a late push of entries in the 5k field, more than 2,200 runners toed the line on the perfectly chilled and calm first spring Sunday morning.

Salvador Garcia of Los Banos and Ali Klikna of Turlock won the men's and women's half-marathons, while Ruben Esparza of Riverbank and Ramona Sanchez of Sparks, Nev., claimed the 5k runs.

Upon breaking the finish line in 2 hours, 43 minutes and 44 seconds, Modesto resident Olsen looked fresh enough to make a second circuit, and continued running for another five minutes in a controlled cool-down.

"I'm an ultra marathoner so I'm doing 100-mile races and that's what I train for," said Olsen, an eighth grade math teacher at Prescott Elementary, after claiming his first championship in 13 marathons since 2004.

"But since this is in our backyard and I'm a member of the Shadowchase club I wanted to support the event. I have a 100k race in four weeks, so this is kind of a tuneup. I hate to say that, but that's what this is."

Olsen also served as a coach to many of the youth runners competing on Sunday. By his count, three of his kids were running the half-marathon and 10 more were taking on the full challenge. Olsen had a bicycle standing by so he could ride back out on the course and encourage his trainees.

"I like the course," Olsen said. "If you're in good shape you really can run a fast time out here. I also liked the out-and-back as a front runner. It gave me the chance to see what my lead was and where the group was."

Shultz, a former high school and college sprinter, has been tackling half-marathon distances for only a year and Sunday was her first crack at the 26.2-mile challenge. She finished in 3:19:21, more than 20 minutes faster than she needed to run to qualify for the 2011 Boston Marathon.

"This is my first marathon, so I know I'm not supposed to win," said the 29-year-old Stockton bartender and mother of two. "I'm here because it was close to Stockton. My goal really was just to finish, but I also wanted to qualify for Boston, and I did. So Boston it is."

Women's half-marathon winner Klikna (1:27.59) counts two Boston appearances among her eight marathons, and for about 100 yards on Sunday she was on her way to running a full marathon by accident.

"I missed the turning point," said the 32-year-old. "I kept going for about 100 yards and my friends told me to turn around. Luckily I didn't go too far past the mark."

The course, she said, pretty much suits her training, since any Central Valley distance endeavor has to include farm land. For good measure, she said she trained once a week on a Turlock overpass, which came in handy in this course as runners twice had to ascend and descend the Briggsmore overpass -- now dubbed Mount Modesto.

"It was the only hill on the course, so you just had to deal with it," she said. "I know there were some negative comments on the Web site about the course, and that was disappointing to me. These people put in a lot of effort to make this a great race. This is where we live, and there's nowhere to route the course except the country."

Garcia, 30, who works as a food server in Hollister, said he found the overpass to be particularly draining.

"That little hill really does tire you out both ways," said Garcia, who finished the half-marathon in 1:13.19. "I would prefer a course with a few more more rolling hills, but I'd have to train differently for a course like that. My next race will be a 5-mile. Something short so I can work on my speed."

Sanchez, 32, the women's 5K winner (18:02), is of the most accomplished runners competing in any of the races. She was the top American finisher in last year's Mexicali half-marathon, she won her age group at the Davis half-marathon on Feb. 7 in a sizzling 1:23.29 and two years ago finished second in the Las Vegas Marathon in 2:56.33.

She came to Modesto intending to run the half-marathon, but was unaware the registration was closed.

"It's a beautiful course because of the trees," she said. "I'm used to running in Reno, where it's a lot colder than this, so this was nice today."

Esparza, 45, is a veteran runner who competed in college at Ft. Hays State and Texas-El Paso. His daughter Crystal, a former Beyer High standout, is a sophomore running cross country and both the 1,500 and 5,000 at Cal.

"I enjoyed the run," said Esparza, who won in 17:43. "It was well-marked, and there was a cyclist in front of us the whole way so there was no confusion.

"I don't run a whole lot of these. This is only my third one in the last two years, but I did this one because it was the first one here in Modesto and I wanted to participate somehow."

Video below shows pre-race activity downtown.

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