Jon Olsen’s victory in the 2017 Modesto Marathon was minutes old, and there he was, running the downtown streets, looking more like somebody ready to start a 26.2 mile race than somebody who just finished one.
As Olsen ran, he crossed paths with Brian Gunn of Lafayette.
Gunn, who’d just completed his seventh marathon, but first in two years, was the B-side to Olsen’s hit.
Walking like his ankles and knees wouldn’t bend, Gunn took about 60 seconds to navigate the crosswalk at 11th and M streets.
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Meanwhile, not far away, stood Steve Gokey, blind since birth, and running guide Steve Cooper.
The Oakdale men fell somewhere in between Olsen and Gunn on the finisher’s spectrum, creating a nice cross section of the different types of runners one could see at Modesto’s signature running event.
Under the title sponsorship of Sutter Health Memorial Medical Center for the first time in its eight-year existence, the Modetso Marathon, with some 3,400 competitors, was run in near-ideal conditions: Temperatures in the 50s throughout most of the race – cool, but not cold – underneath overcast skies that made it just muggy enough to those leg muscles nice and loose.
Olsen broke the tape in 2 hours, 33 minutes, 14 seconds, to take earn his third Modesto title. He won the inaugural event in 2010 and defended his crown a year later.
“It feels good,” said Olsen, who finished ahead 66 seconds ahead of two-time champ Jesus Campos of Fresno. “I love this race and I try to do it every year; I haven’t raced it since 2013 … I’ve just been off and on injured and this year my training has gone really well.”
Olsen, who won the International Association of Ultrarunners 24–Hour World Championships in 2013, admits to getting nervous prior to running the Modesto Marathon.
“It’s my local race and I get really pumped to do this,” said Olsen, a math teacher at Prescott Junior High. “People ask me, ‘Jon, do you get nervous when you race?’ And I go, ‘I don’t get nervous at a lot of places but I always get nervous for this race. To me, I’m representing my community. I feel like I have the weight of the community on my shoulders, which is good thing and it motivates me.”
Qian Zhu of Mountain View won the women’s race, finishing in a personal record 2:49:25.
“It’s good time and I also heard that the course is very flat, it’s easy for a P.R. and I also heard that people here are very friendly and the organization is very good,” said Zhu, who led from wire to wire. “If I don’t have anything else, I’ll definitely come back.”
Earlier, Madera’s Benjamin Madrigal and Ramona Sanchez of Sparks, Nev. triumphed in the men’s and women’s half-marathon races.
Gokey and Cooper finished in 2:23:31, ahead of both Olsen and Zhu. Of course, they were running half as far.
To anyone familiar with the Oakdale High football program, the 64-year-old Gokey is a regular on the sidelines during Mustangs games. He runs while hold the ends of two sticks about 4-5 feet long. Cooper runs ahead of Gokey, holding the opposite ends of the sticks.
“It’s a challenge,” said Cooper. “I burn a third more calories guiding him as I do racing. It’s a great responsibility and it’s an honor that he trusts me to do it.”
Gokey makes light of his handicap, cracking one-liners like, “I’m only blind on Sundays in September, October and November … when I work as a referee for the NFL.” He also realizes he’s an inspiration to other runners.
“People give him the thumbs-up,” said Cooper. “Of course, I have to tell him that they’re doing it. One lady stopped us and told him what an inspiration he is, so that’s rewarding.”
Madera’s Benjamin Madrigal won the men’s half-marathon (1:15:27).
“It was my first race of the year. I just wanted to play it safe and really run that last 5K fast,” said Madrigal, who will run the California Classic in two weeks and the Boston Marathon in four weeks. “It was a very nice day, a lot of people out there. I felt welcomed by the Modesto people out there.”
Madrigal, a diabetic, made his move about Mile 7, breaking away from a small pack.
I just really want to encourage everybody that might be telling themselves, ‘I can’t do this; I can’t do that,’ anything can be possible with diabetes.”
Ramona Sanchez was first in the women’s division (1:19:59), setting a new course record for the women’s half. She dedicated the victory to her cousin, Florencio Gutierrez of Ripon, who was recently diagnosed with leukemia.
“She promised the race to him,” Sanchez said through a translator. “He’s in Santa Clara, Kaiser Hospital, right now.”
Modesto’s Justin Nieves, 18, won the men’s 5-kilometer race in 18:06, nipping 15-year-old Turlocker Kristian Robles by 10 seconds.
Salida’s Sienna Espinoza took the women’s 5K (21:43), ahead of 11-year-old Ella Spaulding (23:03) of Turlock.
Modesto’s Arthur Mitchell, the lone male competitor in the wheelchair division, finished his 26.2 mile trek in 4:21:40.
2017 Sutter Health Memorial Medical Center Modesto Marathon
1. Jon Olsen, Modesto, 2:33:14
2. Jesus Campos, Fresno, 2:34:20
3. Guannan Li, Santa Clara, 2:36:53
1. Benjamin Madrigal, Madera, 1:15:27
2. Bihama Vedaste, San Jose, 1:16:21
3. Eric Loveland, Fresno, 1:16:50
1. Justin Nieves, Modesto, 18:06
2. Kristian Robles, Turlock, 18:16
3. Alex Maina, Lathrop, 18:19
1. Qian Zhu, Mountain View, 2:49:25
2. Anne Amador, Sacramento, 3:18:06
3. Kara Jung, Ripon, 3:29:32
1. Ramona Sanchez, Sparks, Nev., 1:19:59
2. Jill Deering, Santa Barbara, 1:20:03
3. Tiffany McBroom, Ripon, 1:24:47
1. Sienna Espinoza, Salida, 21:43
2. Ella Spaulding, Turlock, 23:03
3. Ana De Leora, Newman, 23:14
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