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Photos Wacky revelry at Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon
Photos   Wacky revelry at Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon

By Ray Nimmo
The Virginian-Pilot
© September 3, 2012


Want a banana? Chocolate milk? Popsicle? How about some water, a cold towel or a protein bar?

That's what hundreds of volunteers asked the more than 16,000 runners who took part in Sunday's Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon.

The runners - one in three were competing in their first half marathon - came from all 50 states and 11 countries to be a part of one of the most spirited and scenic races on the circuit.

Both the men's winner, Kenya's Nicholas Kurgat, and the women's champion, Japan's Rei Ohara, overcame injury or illness to capture their first Rock 'n' Roll title.

Norfolk's Will Christian (1:07:44) was the top local men's finisher, finishing sixth overall. Virginia Beach's Renee High (1:22:55) was the fastest local woman, placing ninth.

Beating the odds Kurgat (1:04:45) sprained an Achilles' tendon the week before the Shamrock Half Marathon in March and had to take time off. Following his recovery, he placed third in a West Virginia half marathon in August.

But he still didn't expect to win so quickly.

"It makes me believe in myself more," Kurgat, 33, said through a translator.

Six runners made up the lead pack through the first few miles, but one by one they dropped off the pace. Kurgat pulled away from Japan's Takuji Morimoto at the 10K mark and opened a six-second lead on the homestretch.

Kurgat, who will travel to Lynchburg for the Virginia 10-Miler at the end of the month, doesn't foresee himself running full marathons anytime soon, although he has run one before - by accident.

Running in his first American half marathon - he joined the circuit in 2004 - Kurgat followed the pace vehicle off-course. He realized something was wrong when he ended up by a forest and looked at his watch to see a massive split time.

While Kurgat has spent the past few months trying to keep his confidence up, Ohara spent the past week struggling to keep things down.

An upset stomach had plagued her, and coming into Sunday, she had no expectations for the race. A finish wasn't even guaranteed.

But the 22-year-old kept up with the front group for the first 10 kilometers. Then she and second-place finisher Chihiro Takato, also of Japan, broke away.

Nearing the final four miles, Ohara surged ahead for a 20-second gap. She finished in 1:13:50.

"At 15K, there hadn't been a race plan, but I just had a sense that it was time to go," Ohara said through a translator.

A little tranquility Long-distance running can be a calming influence in some people's lives, especially for soldiers who have dealt with the high stress of combat.

Retired Staff Sgt. Dean Suthard and retired Capt. Adam Tanverdi took to the streets Sunday for just that reason.

Both are part of Team Hope for the Warriors, a nonprofit that provides programs for service members wounded post 9/11.

Suthard, 41, fractured the lower part of his spine in Iraq in 2004 when an IED explosion flipped his Humvee, trapping him inside. Multiple surgeries prevent the former Marine from running in distance events, so he's used a handcycle since competing in his first marathon two years ago.

"It was actually a pretty big deal for me," said Suthard, talking about finishing that marathon. "I was happy, I was tired and I wanted to do more."

Suthard completed Sunday's race in 1:21:54.

Tanverdi, 33, was an Air Force navigator in an AC-130 gunship, providing close air support for ground troops. He was commissioned after graduating from the University of Delaware and was in training during the Sept. 11 attacks.

Five deployments and the stresses of war led to post-traumatic stress disorder. Tanverdi later found solace in triathlons, marathons and bike rides.

He won the Salute to the Military Triathlon in Warrenton in May for his age bracket.

"That's what's helped me deal with my own stresses because it allows me to not dwell on those thoughts," said Tanverdi, who finished the half marathon in 1:57.36.

"I'll never quit" Thomas Hicks is still waiting for that one marathon where his body holds up. A Navy culinary specialist chief, the Virginia Beach resident has multiple sclerosis and, several years ago, struggled to walk up stairs.

That was before he returned to running.

A high school and college athlete, Hicks once posted a 4:12 mile. But running dropped on the priority list until four years ago, when he received his diagnosis. Right after that, he found out he also had atrial fibrillation, an irregular heartbeat.

Staying in shape became a priority, but the long 5K and 10K runs that came so easily tested his body. Practicing with a local running group, Hicks, 41, sometimes had to stop midway through and get picked up.

The heat exacerbates the problem, so Sunday's high temperature and humidity brought his time down to 1:38:53, 12 minutes slower than last year.

But that's all right, he said. It's better than doing nothing and thinking too much about his health.

"I keep on running and run away from it," said Hicks, who, amazingly, finished the Boston Marathon in April. A 26.2-mile run, though, is a lot more likely to shut his body down, so he'll phase them out of his schedule.

But not before another crack at Boston.

"Even if I gotta walk the rest of the way, I'll never quit," he said.

Ghost on the Coast Twenty minutes before the race started, Justin Kanter was already feeling the heat, literally.

"It's really hot. I'm already sweating," said Kanter, decked out in a Space Ghost costume.

A Virginia Beach native, Kanter, 30, has lived in northern Mexico for two years, where he teaches English in an elementary school. That's also where he picked up running - and saw that costumes are popular in Mexican races.

"I'm kind of let down with that," said Kanter, scanning the thousands of runners in shorts, tank tops and fitted athletic shirts. "Everyone is in a competitive edge here."

One time, in a race in Mexico, Kanter dressed up with his boss, who was in Mr. Incredible gear, and the two made it on television, much to the joy of his students. His boss' wife made the costumes, which cost only about $10.

Kanter hopes the Space Ghost outfit can double as a Halloween costume. "I'll give it a good washing after this," he said.

Using the run-three-minutes, walk-one-minute strategy, he crossed the line in 2:28:21, just off his 2:30 prediction.

Not bad for a cartoon.

Sweaty, but sweet Usually, it's the runner who feels like taking a knee after 13.1 miles, but Roxi Marquez's boyfriend, Lester Adkins, surprised her when he dropped to one knee and proposed.

It was an easy "yes" for Marquez, 25, who attended Old Dominion. Adkins, a 25-year-old Virginia Tech grad, arrived in town five hours before the race began. He enlisted two of Marquez's friends to help make a sign.

Adkins said he didn't feel any nerves; he figured the only reason she might say no was because she was sweaty after wrapping up her half marathon in 2:07:11.

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