Dec. 09--ROCKWALL -- In his recap of the California International Marathon, Coach Barrett Hopper didn't talk only of the Rockwall Running Club's fastest competitors -- the four men and two women whose times in Sunday's Sacramento event qualified them to join the world's elite runners in the Boston Marathon.
Names of the six local Boston qualifiers were atop his list, but Hopper focused his comments on the RRC front-runners who stayed around after crossing the finish line to cheer all of their teammates in.
"True to form, the RRC runners waited for the final RRC member to finish," said Hopper, the running club's founder and coach. "We even provided our own tactical support, providing fluids and traffic control for the RRC runners once the course was officially closed. It really felt like we owned the event."
For 15 of the RRC runners, completing their first marathon was a victory.
But for Kyle Hemmer, Estus Barron, Gregg MacInnis, Vanessa Abraham, Carrie Varner and Hopper himself, the prize was qualifying for the Boston Marathon -- described as the oldest annual marathon and ranked as one of the world's best-known road racing events.
With the exclusion of the Olympics and various championship races, the Boston Marathon is the only marathon in the nation that maintains qualifying times and requirements. While specific requirements change from year to year, they generally state that a runner must have completed a qualifying marathon within a year and a half before the upcoming Boston Marathon.
The qualifying times are based on the runner's age.
Times of the RRC Boston Marathon qualifiers are as follow: Hemmer, 38 years old, 3:07; Barron, 44, 3:15; Hopper, 44, 3:21; MacInnis, 49, 3:22; Abraham, 38, 3:24; and Varner, 53, 3:38.
Jodelle Whitley had a time of just 14 seconds over 3:45. But those seconds were enough to keep her from qualifying for the Boston Marathon.
Other local runners with marathon experience were Mike Jusko, Hazelina Johnson, Oliver Nott, Jenny Nott, David Cole, Stephanie Cole and Shonna Vaughan..
First-time marathoners were Mark Vaughan, Kay Eaton, Lee Eaton, Barbara O'Regan, Keith O'Regan, Edith Grey, Laban Grey, Dawn Blazier, Deborah McCaghren, April Adler, Debbie Gregory, Jana Glaze, Jana Everett, Christine Dietz and Kathy Smith.
Comments from some of the runners included weather reports -- reports of rain, wind and high water during the race.
"By the time the gun went off (for the start of the race), we were experiencing 20-30 mph headwind gusts and sideways rain," Hopper said. "The steady rain lasted for over two hours, with some streets with three to four inches of water flowing across the street. Even in those conditions, there were some amazing performances."
"The weather would have been perfect if the rain was not sheets and the wind wasn't so strong that it felt like you might get knocked over at any point," said Dietz.
Running in those conditions was a challenge, she said. Another obstacle, she added, was trying to avoid raingear and other clothing items runners discarded early in the race -- jackets, trash bags, gloves, ponchos.
Dietz said she got a boost from seeing other RRC runners along the 26.2-mile course. But the 32-year-old school teacher said what she saw near the finish line was "heartfelt."
"As we (she and Stephanie Cole) got within the last half mile, we started to see our running friends along the road," she said. "They were out on the sides, cheering for us and encouraging us. Here they were, having just run amazing races, and they are out there cheering us in. Really heartfelt."
MacInnis, one of the Boston Marathon qualifiers, said his time of 3:22 was a personal record by 18 minutes.
His post-race comments didn't center on the fastest runners. He talked about all of the runners, including an RRC group named the Turtles.
"All the runners that came finished," said MacInnis, national sales director for a life insurance company. "My favorite part was watching our Turtles finish. Staying there another three or four hours to watch everyone finish and to see all the people finish their first marathon was awesome."
Jenny Nott talked about the depressing thought of running a long, wet and windy race alone -- without Cindy Hopkins, her sister who was running her first marathon, and her RRC running buddies.
"First mile was downhill and the wind was in our face," she said. "Second mile was uphill and that was the first time I felt my body warming up. The wind was a factor for the first ten-ish miles, switching from pushing us up the rolling hills to smacking you right in the face.
"It let up after that, but continued raining. I felt great and was on pace for a goal time until mile 15ish, when mentally, I was just done with running in the rain and wind. It was hard to press it when I missed my running buddies and just wanted to be dry. The rain let up and the sun came out at mile 23. Finished in 4:13."
Her husband, Ollie, felt great until his multiple injuries began to haunt him at mile 10. He finished in 4:21.
When her sister reached the finish line with a time of 5:03, Jenny said, she burst into tears.
"That was so hard," she said.
Varner, a paralegal, called the race "a beast." But her training paid off and her time of 3:39 qualified her for the Boston Marathon and earned her a 12th place finish out of 290 runners in her age division.
Blazier, a Turtle member who was running her first marathon, didn't hit a negative note in her post-race comments.
"The race was awesome," she exclaimed. "We didn't care about the rain and wind. We were just excited to be running our first marathon. It was amazing to see people out cheering for us in the weather. We thought we were the only ones crazy enough to be in it."
Blazier, a 41-year-old cost accountant, said it "warmed my heart to hear the cheers of those who waited for us at the finish line.
"The work and time commitment was worth every minute. Although, it didn't really feel like work because I enjoy running and training with my running buddies so much.
"I wish everyone could experience the joy of not only achieving a personal goal, but also getting to feel the love and support of friends in the best running club at the same time."
The RRC also had a relay team in the race. Members were Mitch and Angela Walker, Rhonda Mishler and Kimbra Brininstool.
Raceday supporters in Sacramento included Carla Hopper, Jen Hemmer and Michael Johnson -- spouses of runners -- and Stephanie Stewart.
Back home, Lee Chatham tracked each runner and posted updates for RRC members on Facebook.
(c)2012 the Rockwall County Herald-Banner (Greenville, Texas)
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