The Bellingham Bay Marathon is becoming so popular and prestigious, the event is attracting many high-caliber runners from outside Whatcom County.
Men’s winner Jacob Goertz of Portland, Ore., two-time defending champion Steve DeKoker from Seattle and 20-year-old University of Washington student Alex Rockhill from Seattle all broke the course record on Sunday, Sept. 27.
They turned the ninth annual event into by far the most competitive, finishing within 53 seconds of each other as they all surpassed 2 hours and 30 minutes.
In all, the four-race program attracted 2,779 registrants, including 242 men and 222 women for the marathon.
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Goertz, 25, who competed in the NCAA Division III nationals for Wheaton College in Illinois, was running in only his fifth marathon and his first in Bellingham. He finished the 26.2-mile race in 2 hours, 28 minutes and 41 seconds, breaking Justin Gillette’s course record by 1 minute and 13 seconds.
“I was pretty excited (at the 20-mile mark), so I felt good enough to keep pushing it. I thought I had a shot,” the soft-spoken Goertz said. “This is kind of nice!”
That was the understatement of the day, considering the times of the second- and third-place runners.
DeKoker, 34, who was a four-year Western Washington University runner, surpassed his race time goal while finishing second in 2:29.28, more than 30 seconds better than his winning times of the past two years, when he became the first two-time champion.
Rockhill, a 20-year-old who does not run for the Huskies but was a state cross-country qualifier for Nathan Hale High, was third in 2:29.34.
“I wasn’t happy until I realized I was on pace to run my fastest marathon here,” said DeKoker, whose best of a dozen career marathons is 2:27.15 in Eugene, Ore. “I finished strong. Jacob finished with the fastest over the last four miles. All three of us led (substantial portions of the way).”
The women’s winner was 31-year-old scientist Sophia Liu, a post-doctoral fellow at UW who grew up in China and won last year’s Seattle Marathon. Her time of 2:54.47 for her first Bellingham appearance was the second-fastest winning women’s effort in Bellingham Bay history.
“Wow, it’s so beautiful here,” said Liu, who earned her doctorate at age 30 from Indiana’s Ball State University in exercise physiology. “It’s just jaw-dropping! It’s just the most beautiful course (the race started not far from Gooseberry Point on the Lummi Reservation). I recommend everyone to run here.”
Liu was inspired to begin running not long after arriving in the United States.
“I started running in 2010, as a way of handling the pressure of my studies,” said Liu. “I led all the way today.”
Defending women’s champion Rika Hatachi, 48, from Coquitlam, B.C., was second in 3:00.11 and third was Bellingham’s Tanya Belrose in 3:22.42. Belrose earned the distinction of being the only local runner in the top three of either marathon.
“I’m still happy,” said Hatachi, “running my best in my second Bellingham marathon.” In addition to retaining the title in women’s masters division (40 and older), she saw her husband, Tatsuya Hatachi, win the men’s masters honor while finishing seventh overall in 2:44.34.
Local men in the top 10 marathon runners were Bellingham’s Mark Burke, fifth in 2:43.16, and Bellingham’s Casey Barten, eighth in 2:45.47. Along with Belrose, local top 10 women included Ferndale’s Abbey Drury, fourth in 3:27.37; Bellingham’s Amy Myers, fifth in 3:28.18; Bellingham’s Caitlin McGrane, ninth in 3:35.53; and Bellingham’s Hazel Clapp, tenth in 3:36.07.
The half-marathon also produced only one local placer in the top three.
The men’s winner was Tony Daguanno of Portland in 1:15.23, followed by Tony Young of Redmond in 1:16 and Alain Salomon of Bellingham in 1:17.07.
Daguanno, 38, lettered twice in cross-country at Division I Drake University in Iowa and won the Class C Massachusetts state title in 1995, so it wasn’t surprising to see him dominate the half-marathon in his first time in Bellingham.
“A friend convinced me to run,” the personable and excited Daguanno said. “I intended to make this race a warm-up for the New York Marathon in November, but when I realized I was holding third, I figured I might as well go for it. Now I’m excited. I just love Bellingham. Now I have to go cheer for my wife, Gretchen.”
The women’s winner, Sam Rivard of Beaverton, Ore., had a faster half-marathon, 1:17.08, than all but three men. Second was Sydney Marshall of Seattle in 1:22.36 and third was Brenna Symoniak of Portland in 1:25.55.
Thousands of runners, family members and friends turned Depot Market Square and the surrounding area on Railroad Avenue into a veritable festival of running camaraderie.
Much of the day’s proceeds went to support the Bellingham Bay Swim Team and the Whatcom FC Rangers soccer program, and they produced untold dozens of volunteer parents and student-athletes, along with many other volunteers, to help pull off the massive event, which also included runs of 5K (3.1 miles) and 10K (6.2 miles).
The 5K men’s winner was David Larpenteur of Bellingham in 16 minutes and 31.9 seconds, finishing first by 35 seconds. The 5K women’s honors went to Bellingham’s Meghan Manouis in 21:06.5, a winning time by more than two minutes.
In the 10K, which returned to the program, Bellingham’s Paul Behrens was first in 37:28.4, winning by more than four minutes. Women’s 10K champion Marti Riemer, who has won numerous local races, once again was outstanding in 39:53.9, which was second-best among both men and women.
TOP THREE RUNNERS
Men: 1. Jacob Goertz, Portland, Ore., 2:28.41; 2. Steve DeKoker, Seattle, 2:29.28; 3. Alex Rockhill, Seattle, 2:29.34.
Women: 1. Sophia Liu, Seattle, 2:54.47; 2. Rika Hatachi, Coquitlam, B.C., 3:00.11; 3. Tanya Belrose, Bellingham, 3:22.42.
Men: 1. Tony Daguanno, Portland, Ore., 1:15.23; 2. Tony Young, Redmond, 1:16.21; 3. Alain Salomon, Bellingham, 1:17.07.
Women: 1. Sam Rivard, Beaverton, Ore., 1:17.08; 2. Sydney Marshall, Seattle, 1:22.36; 3. Brenna Symoniak, Portland, Ore., 1:25.55.
Men: 1. Paul Behrens, Bellingham, 37:28.4; 2. Mitchell Lee, Bellingham, 42:13.4, 3. Mark Bussell, Bellingham, 44:03.1.
Women: 1. Marti Riemer, Bellingham, 39:53.9; 2. Amanda West, Bellingham, 43:39,8; 3. Annie Rigg, Olympia, 45:07.2.
Men: 1. David Larpenteur, Bellingham, 16:31.9; 2. Derek Thornton, Bellingham, 17:06.3; 3. Stephen Dietz, Nooksack, 17:49.9.
Women: 1. Meghan Manouis, Bellingham, 21:06.5; 2. Megan Cox, Spokane, 23:16.2; 3. Abby Koehler, Bellingham, 24:25.6.
Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.