Former Stanford runner Chris Mocko of Palo Alto celebrated his 25th birthday by winning the 33rd annual Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon on Sunday.
With his father, Paul, watching at the finish line, Mocko raced home in 2 hours, 27 minutes and 2 seconds. One present that escaped him, however, was the sub-2:19 standard needed to qualify for next January's 2012 USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon.
Periodic rain showers and moderate headwinds dampened an otherwise mild day for the sellout crowd of 2,400 marathon participants.
Racing through the scenic Napa Valley wine-growing region, Mocko used a strategy of hanging behind the early leaders and then jumping at opportunity to score a victory and a personal record in only his third marathon. The former steeplechase and cross-country runner at Stanford did not attempt to accompany leaders Kevin Pool and Austin Weaver, who took the race out at sub-2:19:00 finishing pace.
"Going in, we knew about Kevin (Pool) and his hopes to go for the Olympic Trials (standard)," Mocko said. "I wasn't capable of running that fast. In my first two marathons I kind of blew up. Going out a little bit slower made sense to me."
At five miles, Weaver pulled out of the race as Mocko ran comfortably in a small pack that included 2008 U.S. Olympic marathoner Magdalena Lewy Boulet, who was on a 20-mile training run and did not finish. By 14 miles, Pool had built a four-minute lead, but was slowing as he fell off the pace he needed for an Olympic Trials qualifier. Then, at 15 miles, Pool called it a day and exited, yielding the men's lead to Mocko and his Asics Aggie teammate, Kota Reichert of Menlo Park.
"I got really excited when I heard that Kota and I were in the lead," Mocko said, "and at that I point I really picked up the pace. The adrenaline got me through 20 miles, but then I really started feeling it. But, I was able to hang on. Overall, I ran a negative split for the
race, so I was pleased."
Reichert finished second in 2:30:29.
The 2011 Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon once again served as the Road Runners Club of America's Western Regional Marathon Championship race. 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.
In the accompanying Kiwanis 5K Fun Run, Maggie Conley, 27, of Portola Valley, was first among women in 18:14.
Full race results for the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon are
available on the event's web site at www.napavalleymarathon.org.
All proceeds from the Napa Valley Marathon (a non-profit organization)
are donated to local charities in the Napa Valley.