The winner of the 47th annual Birch Bay Marathon turned to international diplomacy moments after his first crack at the race.
Graham Breen, a 38-year-old British businessman who has twice run the Boston Marathon, felt overwhelmed by the beauty of the waterfront course while taking the lead for the final two miles on Sunday, Feb. 15.
“It’s absolutely beautiful here,” said Breen, a mobile phone product manager from Maidenhead, England, about 20 miles outside London. He arrived in Seattle on Friday and couldn’t resist making the 100-plus mile drive to compete “for the love of running.”
“Is this the prettiest marathon you’ve ever run?” he was asked after checking in with a time of 2 hours, 45 minutes and 55 seconds for his first marathon title. He immediately praised the picturesque course on a day that’s about as good as it gets for local running in mid-February.
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“Well, let’s call it a tie with the Wales Marathon,” Breen said of another course enhanced by waterfront beauty.
Runner-up Bill Condon of Seattle, a 34-year-old former Whitworth College football star, seemed headed for victory until Breen pulled alongside Condon at about the 23rd mile of the 26.2-mile event.
“Credit to him for a great finish,” said Condon, whose high school running was confined to football, basketball and basketball games at Blanchet and who gained more than 3,000 yards as a four-year starter at running back for Whitworth.
“We ran together for about a mile and talked,” Condon, who works in commercial real estate, said of Breen, who fought jet lag. “He was great.”
Condon finished one minute and 32 seconds behind with a strong 2:47.27 effort.
“The real beauty of running is how it brings people together,” said Graham, who appreciated Condon’s sportsmanship.
“I think he got bored of the conversation and pulled away,” Condon said with a laugh.
The women’s champion, 40-year-old Amanda Hoskins from Puyallup, finished fifth overall among 72 starters in 3:26.07.
Like Breen and Condon, Hoskins ran the Boston Marathon in 2013, the year of the terrorist bombings. Condon and Hoskins, who has finish finishes in several of her 30 or so marathons, made it back in 2014 for the heralded “Boston Strong” Marathon.
“It was very emotional in Boston,” Hoskins said of her most vivid running experience. “It was very impressive how everyone came together. I’ll never forget that. I felt complete.”
Condon echoed the thought.
“It was awesome running down Boylston Street last year (for the finish, the street where the bombings occurred). It was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve ever had,” Condon said.
Breen, who recalled first running a marathon at age 19 and slogging in at about 4 hours and 15 minutes, has a best of 2:29.28, established at age 34. He has run the famed London Marathon 10 times among his “17 or 18 marathons.”
“I was out of the sport for years and came back to it when I was 31 for fun and a challenge,” Breen said with a smile. “I found I was quite good and carried on. It’s turned into a nasty little obsession.”
This was the first race at Birch Bay for Condon, who began running at age 30 and ran 2:39 in the iconic Chicago Marathon last year. Condon, a friendly, modest sort who has won “four or five marathons” among his 23 marathons, and his wife, Jenni, have four children. Jenni Condon soon plans to run her first half-marathon, but Birch Bay did not offer the half-marathon this year.
The top 11 finishers included five female plaque winners. Dan Hadden, 40, of Maple Ridge, B.C., finished third in 3:19.53 and Mark Slater, 46, of Mill Creek, was fourth in 3:25,15, followed by women’s winner Hoskins and men’s fifth-place finisher Bill Breakey, 54, of Silverdale, in 3:32.46.
The women’s runner-up, Rachel Leftwich, 22, of Seattle, ran 3:34.37, finished sixth overall and met the Boston women’s qualifying standard of 3:35 while preparing to run the Ironman Taiwan April 12.
Third among the women and eighth overall was Kayla Hardy, 21, of Edmonton, Alberta, in 3:36.38, as the youngest top ten finisher. Hardy was followed by the fourth-place woman and ninth overall, Lorrie Chinn, 48, of Sammamish.
Another 54-year-old, Keith Parks of Surrey, B.C., was tenth overall in 3:40.40 while celebrating his 102nd marathon. Then came the fifth-place woman, Suzanne Bedford, 43, of Vancouver, B.C.
With so many talented visitors to Whatcom County, none of the local runners could crack the top 10.
FIRST FIVE MEN
1. Graham Breen, 38, Maidenhead, England, 2:45.55
2. Bill Condon, 34, Seattle, 2:47.27
3. Dan Hadden, 40, Maple Ridge, B.C., 3:19.53
4. Mark Slater, 46, Mill Creek, 3:25.15
5. Bill Breakey, 54, Silverdale, 3:32.46
FIRST FIVE WOMEN
1. Amanda Hoskins, 40, Puyallup, 3:26.07
2. Rachel Leftwich, 22, Seattle, 3:34.37
3. Kayla Hardy, 21, Edmonton, Alberta, 3:36.38
4. Lorrie Chinn, 48, Sammamish, 3:38.41
5. Suzanne Bedford, Vancouver, B.C., 3:43.50