After powerful earthquake, Modesto’s Olsen wins Santa Rosa Marathon

08/24/2014 6:18 PM

08/24/2014 11:02 PM

A restless night of sleep and a powerful earthquake didn’t stop Modesto’s Jon Olsen.

The 40-year-old ultramarathoner, tuning up for a 153-mile race in Greece next month, ran strong over the final 10 miles after a mid-race pep talk to win the Santa Rosa Marathon on Sunday morning.

Olsen finished the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 32 minutes and 37.89 seconds to finish ahead of San Mateo’s Mario Fraioli (2:34:21.37) and Dustin Whitlow (2:38:47.40) of Arlington, Va.

Sonora’s Ashley Laird, 35, won the women’s race in 2:58:34.74, more than nine minutes ahead of runner-up Qian Zhu.

“It was an adventure to say the least,” said Olsen, a two-time Modesto Marathon winner. “Obviously, our prayers are with those in Napa.”

Olsen was in his second-floor hotel room in downtown Santa Rosa with his wife, Denise, and their two young children, when the magnitude 6.0 earthquake centered in nearby Napa hit at 3:20 a.m.

“I woke up immediately and knew what it was,” he said. “It went on for 20 or 30 seconds. It was like the building was swirling, not moving back and forth. We were in shock.”

He had the children, who were in sleeping bags on the floor, jump to the bed. His wife checked her phone and read early reports that it was an earthquake centered near Vallejo.

Minutes later, with things settled in their hotel, Olsen tried to catch a few more winks before the start of the 6 a.m. race. He had barely slept much even before the hotel began rattling.

When he showed up at the start line, Olsen said few people were talking about the temblor. It was still dark and reports of the real damage had yet to trickle out.

Olsen ran a few miles to warm up and felt a lot better at the start than he did a few weeks ago at the San Francisco Marathon.

“I had some pep in my legs,” he said.

Olsen’s opening mile was a somewhat brisk 5:55 and run with four others – two who ran out to big leads early on.

“I was feeling confident and felt the guys ahead would come back,” he said.

By the halfway point, Olsen, Fraioli and Whitlow were the leaders. Two miles later, Olsen, now in third, said he had to make a decision.

In San Francisco, he said he saw the leaders throughout the race but failed to make a move until it was too late. He also knew Sunday’s race was merely a tuneup for the more important Spartathlon next month in Greece.

As the final 10 miles were approaching, he told himself: “Jon, stop messing around and start running. If you’re going to win today, you have to go now!”

Changing his breathing pattern to one more fit for one of his Friday tempo runs, Olsen said he passed Fraioli at Mile 16 and caught and passed Whitlow near Mile 19.

From there, Olsen, running at a 5:40 pace, kept his eye trained on the cyclist whose job it was to guide the leader. He also had to negotiate the half-marathon runners along the tight Santa Rosa Creek Trail.

“To be able to overtake the other runners was great,” he said. “It was very encouraging for me.”

Olsen wasn’t the only Modesto marathoner with a big day. Javier Maciel finished seventh in 2:49:42.45 and Charles Wickersham finished 19th in 2:58:40.74.

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