Shawn Miller wasn't intending to break his course record when he started the Frank Maier Memorial Marathon on Saturday morning.
Miller's only intent was to have a long training run as he prepares for the Seattle Marathon on Nov. 30. Once he saw how hard it was raining, Miller, 23, didn't think a record was possible.
But as he ran, he started noticing his split times were faster than last year's pace. About halfway through the 26.2-mile marathon along the Douglas and North Douglas highways, Miller changed his mind and decided to go for the record.
He got it.
Miller, who was running only the second marathon of his life, crossed the finish line at Sandy Beach in Douglas in 2 hours, 31 minutes, 30 seconds to break his 2002 mark of 2:34:45 by 3 minutes, 15 seconds. In the last two years, Miller has shaved nearly nine minutes off the previous course record.
"I figured my time would be about the same as last year," Miller said. "I didn't plan on running hard. But I hit the 10-mile mark in 59 minutes, the turnaround (13.1 miles into the race, near False Outer Point) in 1:13 and I hit 20 miles in 1:54. They were all ahead of schedule."
Miller was more than 26 minutes and nearly three miles ahead of runner-up Wesley Brooks, the 2001 champion who finished in a personal record time of 2:57:42. Kyle Hebert took third place in 3:08:41. Zane Clark was the top masters (age 40-older) male runner in 3:22:50 and fourth overall, while John Burick was fifth in 3:23:32. The top five finishers were all from the Juneau-Douglas area.
Jane Lanford of Fairbanks was the top female marathoner, posting a time of 3:26:40 to finish sixth overall. Lanford, 48, shattered the 1999 masters record of 3:49:46 set by Louisiana runner Lynda Churchfield. Deb Rudis of Juneau took second among the women in 3:35:22 for 10th place overall, while Judy Morrison of Red Deer, Alberta, was the third female in 3:41:16 for 12th place overall.
Dave Pusich won the Douglas Island Half-Marathon in 1:18:46, while Gabe Hayden took second place in 1:25:52 and Jonathan Pollard was third overall in 1:26:37 and the top masters runner. All three men are from Juneau.
Breea Mearig won the women's half-marathon in 1:32:49, good for 15th place overall. Lisa Kirsch was the second woman and the top masters female, finishing in 1:34:41 for 21st place overall. Debbie Groves was the third woman and second masters woman, finishing in 1:34:43 for 22nd overall. All three women are from Juneau.
Despite torrential downpours, there was a record field of 35 finishers for the marathon (24 men, 11 women) and 100 finishers (50 men, 50 women) in the half-marathon. The runners were from 15 states, plus Washington, D.C., with other runners from Canada and Australia.
"It did get intense out there," Miller said of the rain, which had some runners grabbing blankets at the finish line in an effort to warm up. "But I'd rather have it wet and cold than warm and sunny. This was a pretty hard rain, though. The good side is it can't get much worse for Seattle."
Miller is a Juneau-Douglas High School graduate who competed in track and cross-country running for Western Washington University. He graduated from WWU last year. While he's been a long-time competitive runner, Miller is still learning his way around a marathon course.
"My race was very similar, but this year I'm a lot stronger," Miller said. "I did some longer runs and my workouts on the track kept my speed up. Last year I trained for this race. This year I'm training through it. This gives me a lot more confidence for Seattle."
Brooks, 20, also was completing his second marathon. Brooks is another former Juneau-Douglas High School runner, but he hasn't been competing in college. Brooks will be a junior this fall at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. He's considering running the Equinox Marathon in Fairbanks on Sept. 20.
"I was surprised to see the clock," said Brooks, who won the 2001 Frank Maier Marathon in 3:14:15 and set a personal record by 16 1/2 minutes. "I thought I was a lot slower. I had no idea how I was doing until the finish."
Lanford didn't set a personal record, but she said that's not her goal at this stage of her life. This was her first trip to Juneau and this race was part of a marathon tour of Alaska.
"It's a good time for me; I'm not setting PR's at my age," she said. "I'm trying to do all the marathons in Alaska, just not all in the same year. Some people try to run a marathon in all 50 states; I've done six different ones in Alaska out of the eight that are still going on. I'll take this over the New York Marathon, which I have no desire to do. I'd rather do the small community marathons any day. Everybody is so supportive."
Rudis, 50, also finished ahead of the women's masters record and set a PR in her 15th marathon. Her time of 3:35:22 was 1 minute, 10 seconds faster than her time in the Boston Marathon in April, but slower than the 3:30 she planned to run.
"It's a good feeling when you can do a PR when you're 50, it's raining and you're in your hometown," Rudis said. "I'll take what I can get."
Among the other marathoners:
Gary Hayden of Juneau (the father of half-marathon runner-up Gabe Hayden) nearly broke 4 hours for his first marathon, finishing in 4:02:00. Hayden, 56, retired in January and had run 1,162 miles since his retirement before this week. Even with that training base, he still hit the mythical marathoner's wall and he said he wouldn't have finished if his daughter Jaci Hayden hadn't run the last two or three miles with him.
"I didn't decide to do the marathon until last night," Hayden said. "After 20 miles, it was 'Wham'. It started getting hard."
Dennis Watson of Ann Arbor, Mich., 49, almost didn't run the marathon, but wound up posting a time of 3:55:51. Watson's wife is an Eastern Michigan University professor in Juneau to lecture on the luxury cruiseboat Infinity, so he decided to run in his 89th or 90th marathon (first in Alaska).
"I almost didn't run," Watson said. "A week and a half ago I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma (a cancer of the lymph nodes). I had this lump on my neck and I was feeling fatigued. I talked it over with my doctors and they said they didn't think I could make it any worse. I'll probably be going on chemo or radiation soon."
Laurie Lehr of Tacoma, Wash., came to Juneau to join her brother, Bruce Moore of Metairie, La., in running the marathon. Lehr, 47, finished in 4:16:05 and Moore, 46, posted 4:18:39. Lehr said this is the third marathon they've run together (the others were in San Antonio, Texas, and New Orleans).
"We wanted to run a marathon together, and I like the little ones," Lehr said. "This is our first trip to Alaska."
Charles Bingham can be reached at email@example.com.
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