• Audemberg, DeReuck reflect on USA Masters Half-Marathon victories
• Estimated 20,000 spectators join 1,500 runners at finish
• Organizer Mitch Varnes: “We’re looking forward to next year”
• Bill Rodgers: “A great event”
MELBOURNE, FL (Feb. 10) — As his crew continued to tear down and clean up along the course, State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon organizer Mitch Varnes started to hear the accolades pour through for the inaugural race.
“People have been coming up to me all day,” Varnes said. “This race exceeded our expectations. We’re already looking forward to next year.”
The praise hasn’t stopped yet, pouring in from runners, city officials, event sponsors, musicians and spectators following Sunday’s inaugural staging, which also featured the USA Masters Half-Marathon Championships, Florida Today 5, Ronald McDonald’s Kids Dash and more than 20 live bands along the course.
“You could tell from the faces that the runners had a fabulous experience, and that was the goal,” said Mary Daugherty of Brevard Symphony, one of the sponsors. “I also spoke with all the musicians following the event and they said that they enjoyed being a part of this inaugural event and would participate again.”
Some enjoyed it even more — the individual winners. Marathoners Paul McRae of Jacksonville, Fla. and Bethany Heslam of North Port, Fla., half-marathoners Paul Aufdemberge and Colleen DeReuck, and 5K teenagers Erik Fagan of Melbourne Beach, Fla. and Danielle Lusk of Rockledge, Fla. took the coveted plaques on a day in which more than 150 awards were given to age-group recipients. Top marathoners and half-marathoners also received checks from the combined purse of $12,000.
“It was a great event, well-organized,” DeReuck, who ran three Olympic marathons, said. “Everyone seemed to be enjoying themselves, especially at the pancake breakfast at O’Malley’s.”
The day and its races attracted more than 1,500 runners. They ranged in age from elementary school children to 86-year-old Mike Fremont, and all levels of competitors, from first-time racers to Olympians Colleen DeReuck, Sean Wade and Bill Rodgers. Runners came from many different states and six countries; more than 30 percent of all entrants were from outside the area.
“We had an incredible age range,” Varnes said. “It shows the depth and popularity of running. We had everything from first-timers to some of the best masters athletes in the world.”
Event spokesman Bill Rodgers, the legendary four-time winner of the Boston and New York marathons, echoed Varnes’ sentiments Sunday after his 1:34 half-marathon. “A great event. Look at how everyone’s talking about it,” he said. “I can’t tell you how much fun I had to get out of the ice of Boston, run this race, and meet so many people who are committed to their fitness.”
Rodgers and the other elite masters athletes gave the State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon immediate national credibility — very unusual for a new race. The stars of the USA Masters Half-Marathon Championships were Aufdemberg and DeReuck, who posted convincing victories.
In the men’s race, Aufdemberg took the lead at the five-mile mark, ran steadily as 1996 Olympian Sean Wade caught him at eight miles, then re-assumed control a mile later in a neighborhood he’d jogged through the previous morning. The 44-year-old from Redford, Mich. slowly extended his lead, then brought down the hammer on the Melbourne Causeway bridge at the 11.5-mile mark. Aufdemberg finished in 1:08:05 — a 5:12 mile pace — with Wade, of Houston, Tex., 27 seconds behind.
“My plan was to go out the second half of the race and build enough of a lead so I didn’t have to worry about Sean’s kick,” Aufdemberg said. “I felt good, so I made a move a little earlier. I was surprised to see Sean catch me, so once I got ahead again, I tried not to look back. I was actually happy to see the bridge, because it meant that the race was almost over. But with Sean behind me, I wasn’t convinced of anything until I hit the final straightaway.”
Aufdemberg prepared for the USA Masters Half-Marathon Championships by averaging 90 miles per week during the past three months. He mixed in a series of 5K and 10K races with long tempo runs and easy distance in snowy Michigan.
“I aimed for this race,” he said. “I really liked the fact we had a national championship down here, because we could get out of the cold for a few days and see how well we could race.”
The women’s championship was more predictable. DeReuck maintained her grip on the longer master’s events, defeating NCAA Division III Cross-Country Coach of the Year Jody Hawkins by nearly seven minutes with a time of 1:13:05. What made the 44-year-old DeReuck’s performance even more remarkable is that her race preparation suffered from her daughter Tara’s week-long illness.
“I ran as hard as I did in Houston, but was a minute slower and I think that was due to the rough week I had leading up to the race,” DeReuck said. She was referring to the U.S. Open Half-Marathon Championships three weeks prior, in which she finished third — in all age groups — with a time of 1:12.
Like so many others, DeReuck, who lives in Boulder, Colo., enjoyed the event and the course, finding it deceptively tough for a Florida layout. “The race course was good, pretty flat with the two bridges to cross,” she said. “The first one was okay, as it was early on, but the second bridge was tougher, as it was around the 11 1/2 mile mark.”
Great performances abounded in the age-graded masters competition. Aufdemberg, Wade, Eric Ashton of Columbia, S.C. (1:09:12), Tracy Lokken of Marquette, Mich. (1:09:49) and Carl Rundell of Birmingham, Mich. (1:09:59) all broke 1:10. Two of the most impressive performances came from opposite ends of the age scale, as 13-year-old Dakota Cobler of Holladay, Fla. ran 1:30:12, and ageless wonder Bill Riley of Centerville, Mass. clocked a 1:32:02 — winning the 70-74 division by 30 minutes. Riley, a 21-time Boston Marathon competitor, finished fifth in the age-graded results.
The masters women also shone, creating an interesting order of finish in the age-graded structure. Finishing second in the age-grade was 57-year-old Kathryn Martin of Northport, NY, followed by 69-year-old Barbara Miller of Modesto, Calif., 56-year-old Victoria Crisp of Nashville, Tenn. and 56-year-old Suzanne Ray of Medford, Ore. In seventh place was 50-year-old Beth Moras of Ridgewood, NJ, a member of the last two victorious Boston Marathon women’s relay teams.
USA Track & Field, the sanctioning body for the USA Masters Half-Marathon Championships, also used the race to determine the Florida masters title. Brian Jaeger defeated Tony Black and Pete Crouse for the men’s title, while Lois Waite topped Nancy Frey and Jackie Clifton in the women’s division.
While the masters competitors scatter across the country for their next races, and several continue training for the 2009 Boston Marathon in April, local runners and officials continue to bask in the afterglow of the event. “All I saw were smiles and a few aches and pains. Everyone connected to the Marathon should be proud,” said Jim Platman of event co-sponsor Brighthouse Network.
The State Farm Melbourne & Beaches Music Marathon 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 was the title sponsor of the event. Additional sponsors included: 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 race results can be found at www.altavistasports.com.