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Posted: February 5, 2009  :

Athletics: Nation's Fastest Masters, More Than 1,500 Other Runners Set Sights On State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon

  • 2009 USA Masters Half-Marathon Championship to be contested
  • Multiple Olympians and record-holders competing
  • Nation's fastest over-70 runner, Bill Riley, in event
  • Turnout exceeds expectations
  • Last-minute registration still available at Health & Fitness Expo
  • One of final qualifiers for 2009 Boston Marathon

    MELBOURNE, FL (Feb. 5) -- Bill Riley is a running marvel, a 72-year-old former Ironman triathlete who still clocks times the vast majority of recreational racers half his age would frame and hang on their walls.

    Yet, even one of the nation's foremost septuagenarian runners gasps when he sees the field for Sunday's State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon, featuring the 2009 USA Masters Half-Marathon Championships, sanctioned by USA Track & Field. The marathon and half-marathon gun will fire at 6:45 a.m., followed 15 minutes later by the Florida Today 5K and at 8 a.m. by the Ronald McDonald's Fun Run. The marathon is a last-chance qualifier for the 2009 Boston Marathon, which is nearing capacity.

    Competitors will battle for $12,000 total purse, which breaks down as follows: $6,000, in an age-graded format to USA Masters Half-Marathon Championship top finishers; $4,000 to top half-marathon finishers of all ages; and $2,000 to top marathon finishers of all ages.

    "When the gun goes off, I'll be a little dejected to see these guys who run 1:08 (for a half-marathon) go off,"" said Riley, who ran 1:30:50 three weeks ago. "his field is incredible. To have this many great masters runners on the same course is going to do wonders to bring more attention nationally to just how good runners can be well into middle age ... and older."

    "Riley is amazing," marathon legend Bill Rodgers said. "He's the kind of guy who will motivate middle-age and senior citizens who are watching the race to lace up a pair of shoes and get themselves into better shape. People are in for a big surprise when they see this man run."

    Riley will join four-time Boston Marathon champion and Olympian Rodgers, U.S. 10-mile record holder and 1983 Boston Marathon winner Greg Meyer, Olympians and national masters record-holders Colleen DeReuck, Kim Jones and Sean Wade, pending national 5K masters record-holder Dennis Simonaitis and more than 1,500 other runners. They will test a clockwise course that runs north on US 1, heads east over the Indian River on the Eau Gallie causeway, breaks south along Riverside Drive in Indialantic, and returns along State Route 192 to the start-finish area near the Melbourne-Palm Bay Chamber of Commerce building. Twenty live bands and soloists will be performing along the course.

    With the final causeway overpass at the 11-mile mark for half-marathoners and 23-mile mark for marathoners, the mostly fast course will have a tough, challenging final leg.

    "It's deceptively tough," race producer Mitch Varnes said. "Runners who think it's a speed race on typically flat Florida roads will be surprised by the causeways. But that will give the race extra appeal."

    "We have a great field for the USA Masters Half-Marathon Championship, but also more than 1,500 runners in all of our events, which has exceeded our expectations. We have runners of all ages and abilities, from kids in the Ronald McDonald's Fun Run to 86-year-old Mike Fremont in the marathon. We expect a lot of spectators, perfect racing temperatures, and a great weekend of running and festivities."

    Unseasonably cool temperatures have created the likelihood of a swift race. Temperatures are expected to range from 48 to 52 when the gun goes off — ideal for marathoners and half-marathoners. By the time the final marathoners finish, temperatures are predicted to be in the high 60s.

    Top women's competitor Jody Hawkins, 42, a 1:11 half-marathoner and 2008 NCAA Division III Cross-Country Coach of the Year expects a thrilling women's race

    "In women's masters running, there are a very few that are just heads above the rest, and one is at Melbourne -- Colleen DeReuck. She is truly the cream of the crop. After her, I think I have a great shot at beating anybody else. I hope I can run around 1:16:15 to 1:17:15 which should do pretty well," she said.

    Three weeks ago, DeReuck, 44, ran 1:12:16 in the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships, an open event. She was an Olympic marathoner in 1992, 2000 and 2004, and a 10,000-meter competitor in the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. Her more recent training has suffered due to an illness sustained by her 19-month-old daughter, but she looks forward to a competitive race.

    "I don't know what to expect now,” she said. “It's been tough with my daughter's illness. Plus, major races at the beginning of the year are tough. But I'll be getting a lot more oxygen in Florida (she lives in Boulder, Colo.), so we'll see how it goes. I'd like to run hopefully 73 (minutes).”

    Hawkins and DeReuck will have a tough battle with Jones, 50, also a 1:11 half-marathoner, who has posted 17 marathons of under 2:33—the most in U.S. history. Her personal best was 2:26:41 in the 1991 Boston Marathon. She is still the national record-holder in the 30-kilometer and 20-mile distances.

    The race has also brought in shorter-race speedsters such as Simonaitis, 46, who set a pending national 5K Masters record in the 2008 Carlsbad 5000 with a blazing time of 14:47. Simonaitis will drop down from cold, high-altitude Utah to battle Wade, Carl Rundell, Paul Aufdemberge and Eric Ashton in what is expected to be a tough, tight race.

    "The field is really deep," Simonaitis said. "Sean Wade has been doing well lately. There are also guys coming off strong cross-country performances. The overpass bridges by themselves are not huge, but at that point (11 miles) it could certainly be a key spot."

    Like DeReuck, Wade isn't sure of what to expect from his competitors. Also like his fellow Olympian, the 40-year-old from Houston already has a huge performance under his belt in 2009 — a 1:07:09 in the U.S. Half-Marathon Championships, held in Houston three weeks ago.

    "For most of the guys, this is their first major race of the year," Wade said. "You don't know who's been sick, who's been affected by all the cold weather … hard to tell. I haven't seen anyone for the last three or four months, and I don't know what kind of shape they're in. I've beaten all these guys regularly in the past, but I would expect Simonaitis to be tough, and Ashton always runs well. Carl Rundell and Paul Aufdemberge are also guys I'm going to be watching."

    State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon festivities begin Friday at 4 p.m., with the Health & Fitness Expo at the Crowne Plaza Melbourne Oceanfront, the event headquarters. All participants are urged to pick up their race packets at the Expo. The Expo will continue from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, followed by the traditional pasta dinner at 5:30 p.m. Rodgers will sign his book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Running, from 2 to 3 p.m. Saturday, and address the pasta dinner turnout. Tickets are available at the Expo on a first-come, first-served basis.

    Competitor and spectator parking will be available near the start-finish area on Strawbridge Ave. (US-192), one block west of US 1. People are urged to arrive early to avoid road closures. Overflow parking will be available at Melbourne Square, with shuttle buses running from 4:45 a.m. to 6:30 a.m.

    Road closures will begin at 4 a.m. in Melbourne, on New Haven Ave. from US 1 to Babcock St. The two eastern lanes of US 1 will close from 6:30 a.m. to 11 a.m., and southbound Riverside Dr. in Indialantic will close from 7 a.m. until Noon.

    The State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon has enjoyed significant support from city officials in Brevard County, Melbourne and Indialantic, along with the Space Coast Board of Tourism, the Melbourne-Palm Bay Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Florida Sports Foundation.

    State Farm Insurance is the umbrella sponsor of the event. Additional sponsors include: Florida Today; Health First; Delta Airlines; Melbourne International Airport; Mercedes-Benz, Porsche, Audi of Melbourne; Crowne Plaza Melbourne Oceanfront; Space Coast Credit Union; Bright House Networks; Beachside Performance & Health Studio; the Flammio & Schultz Financial team of Wachovia Securities; Florida Eye Associates; McDonalds; The Sample Guy; Crocs; Melbourne Square; Ocean Potion Suncare; Aqua Hydrate; Clif Bar; Publix; Spacecoast Living magazine; and WFIT 89.5 FM.

    Complete information and entry forms can be found at /www.themelbournemarathon.com.


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