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Mocke, Crosby win at Napa

Devon Crosby-Helms

Devon Crosby-Helms

NAPA, Calif. — March 4, 2012 — On a calm bright morning, almost ideal for marathon running, Chris Mocko, 25, of San Francisco, Calif., and Devon Crosby-Helms, 29, also of San Francisco, emerged as victors at today’s 34th Annual Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon. Mocko successfully defended his men’s title from last year.

Crosby-Helms scored her second win at the Napa Valley Marathon (NVM). She also won the race in 2007. A sell-out crowd of 2,500 marathon entrants raced through the scenic Napa Valley wine-growing region as colorful air balloons hovered overhead and mid-day temperature reached the middle 70s.

Mocko broke the finish line tape at Napa’s Vintage High School in 2 hours, 24 minutes, and 38 seconds, an improvement of 2 minutes and 24 seconds over his 2011 winning time. Crosby-Helms ascended the winner’s podium after recording a new women’s course record of 2:39:37 just seven weeks after competing in the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston where she placed 36th among women. The previous women’s course record of 2:39:43 at NVM was set by Diana Fitzpatrick in 1992.

The temperature at the 7:00 a.m. start was 39 degrees as Crosby-Helms took an immediate lead in the women’s contest and never looked back. It was a satisfying effort for a woman who has built a running reputation on strong ultramarathons at distances from 50 kilometers to 100 miles. Crosby-Helms is now using marathons to set herself up for breakthrough performances at two challenging ultras in South Africa: the Two Oceans Marathon (56 kilometers/34.8 miles) on April 7 and the Comrades Marathon (56 miles) on June 3.

“It’s pretty cool because I’ve never set a course record in a major marathon before. In ultras it’s less of a big deal,” said Crosby-Helms who ran the fastest 100K time by a U.S. female in 2011 (7:46:34), and the 11th fastest ever, while recording a course record at the U.S. 100K Championship in Wisconsin. “But the women’s course record at the Napa Valley Marathon has stood for [20 years]. I had that in mind from the start. When I was on 6-minute (per mile) pace, I felt like I had to go for it.

“I’m trying to learn how to race on the roads. Ultras are very different. It’s, like, how comfortable can you be? In marathons, however, you try to get in that place where it hurts a little bit. So, I’ve been focusing on high-quality training sessions.”

Tammy Lifka (Glenn Ellyn, Ill.), age 41, finished in second place behind Crosby-Helms in 2:56:33 and won the women’s masters (age 40 and over) title. Kristin Walstad (Alta, Calif.) was third in 2:58:14.

Among the men, Mocko and John Van Metre (San Jose, Calif.) broke away early and proceeded together over the rolling 26.2-mile, point-to-point marathon course that is certified (for distance) by USA Track & Field. The pair occasionally chatted as they went through the 13.1-mile halfway point in 1:11:36.

“We were out there trying to run similar times, so it made sense for us to run together,” Mocko said. There were moments when [Van Metre] was really pushing me. I hadn’t intended to run that hard so early, but I knew I had to stick with him because we were out there running as a team.”

At 14 miles, Mocko gained a slight lead as Van Metre slowed in an unsuccessful attempt to collect his fluid bottle at an aid station. Mocko let Van Metre catch up and shared his water with him before surging and pulling away for good at 14.5 miles.

“[Mocko] was a real gentleman,” said Van Metre who placed second in 2:25:57. “I like running on hills, and I train on them a lot, so the rolling hills on this course were great for me. I even had a little kick at the end.”

Robert Wiley (Gurnee, Ill.) finished third in 2:28:00, as he ran the entire distance unaccompanied behind the two leaders.

“The leaders took it out a little stronger than I wanted to run, so I decided to run my own race and try to pick them off,” Wiley said. “But, it warmed up out there, and I didn’t want to get in over my head. But the course is beautiful, there’s great competition, and I can’t complain.”

Ultimately, Mocko’s familiarity of the course, and his hard training on the hills of San Francisco, gave him the edge for victory.

“I think I’m more race savvy and conditioned for the longer distances now,” said Mocko who has five marathons under his belt. “I haven’t been doing a lot of speed work, but I’ve been doing a lot of 25- to 27-mile long runs, and it certainly paid off today.”

Victor Ballesteros (San Rafael, Calif.), age 41, placed fifth overall and took home the men’s masters (age 40 and over) crown in 2:37:51. Steve Radigan (60, Fremont, Calif.) preserved his streak of 34 consecutive NVM’s by finishing in 3:59:10

The marathon race once again served as the Road Runners Club of America’s Western Regional Marathon Championship. Known as “the Biggest Little Marathon in the West,” the race rewards male and female open and masters winners with oversized bottles of wine etched with their championship accomplishments. The male and female winners of the race also receive their “weight-in-wine” from the sponsoring Silverado Trail Wineries Association.

“It was a beautiful day in Napa Valley and we’re very pleased to be affiliated with Kaiser Permanente,” said David Hill, who co-directs NVM with Rich Benyo. “We couldn’t ask for a better day with a record number of starters (1,834), and finishers (1,770).”

In the accompanying Kiwanis 5K Fun Run, Dale Taylor (23, San Francisco, Calif.) was the men’s winner in 15:31 and Stephanie Pancoast (23, Stanford, CA) was first among women in 16:41.
34th Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon
Napa, CA, Sunday, March 4, 2012

1) Chris Mocko (CA), 2:24:38
2) John Van Metre (CA), 2:25:57
3) Robert Wiley (IL), 2:28:00

1) Devon Crosby-Helms (CA), 2:39:37*
2) Tammy Lifka, 41, IL, 2:56:33
3) Kristin Walstad (CA), 2:58:14
*course record (previous record, 2:39:43, Diana Fitzpatrick (CA), 1992)


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