Chris Mocko found himself in unfamiliar territory with about 11 miles to go in the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon Sunday.
Mocko, a former Stanford University cross country runner and track athlete, was alone in first place as he made his way south on the Silverado Trail. There was no one in front of him to try and catch. Austin Weaver, the co-leader, had dropped out at 29 minutes into the race. Kevin Pool, who was trying for a U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials time, began slowing down at Mile 12 and dropped out three miles later.
Now it was all Mocko, a Palo Alto resident, who was running in just his third career marathon. Everyone was behind him.
“I had never been in that position before,” said Mocko. “Going in, we knew about Kevin and his hopes to go for the Olympic Trials. I knew I wasn’t capable of running that fast. Going out a little bit slower made sense to me. I was definitely hurting that last six miles or so. Somebody told me it was supposed to be downhill, but it sure did not feel like that.”
Mocko had enough left in the tank to win the overall title of the 33rd annual race on his 25th birthday, clocking a time of 2 hours, 27 minutes and 2 seconds for the 26.2-mile road race that began on the Silverado Trail in Calistoga and finished at Vintage High School. This year’s race was also the Road Runners Club of America Western Regional Marathon Championship, making the day all the more sweeter and satisfying for Mocko as he ran a personal record on the rolling point to point course.
“It was definitely awesome to see Mocko win the race, especially on his birthday and everything,” said Kota Reichert of Menlo Park, who was second in a time of 2:30:29. “That was really cool.”
The target for Mocko, who works at Intuit, a software company in Mountain View, was 2:28. Running a mile pace of 5:37, he was cheered by spectators as he made his way down the long finish chute in the Vintage High parking lot area on Trower Avenue on a rainy day. His dad, Paul Mocko, was also on hand to see the finish.
“It was a nice target – I did that, so I’m very excited,” Mocko said. “Given the elite runners in the field, I didn’t think (winning) was going to be possible. But I’m ecstatic that it happened. I was able to hang on.”
Mocko had the experience of just two other marathons to draw upon. He was 38th at the California International Marathon in Sacramento in December in 2:32.
Men’s and women’s champions each receive their weight in wine from the sponsoring Silverado Trail Wineries Association. Each runner received a finisher’s medal before the 1 p.m. course closure. Those completing the race after 1 p.m. got a participant’s medal.
There were 1,853 starters, one of the largest fields in Napa Valley Marathon history. There was a light rain at the start line in northern Napa County, but 52-degree temperatures made the weather seem mild. The rain intensified later on in the race, which Runner's World magazine selected as one of the top 20 marathons in America and one of the top 10 U.S. marathons for first-time marathon participants.
“I’m not a big fan of warm weather, so that was good,” said Mocko. “The wool socks may have been a little bit heavy … got a little soaked there for a while. But I was fortunate enough to have people around me. I was thinking a lot more about just sticking with them, looking at their backs than worrying about the rain. There was nothing we could really do about that.”
Rich Benyo and Dave Hill, the co-race directors, didn’t seem to mind the rainy weather.
“We knew it was coming, and it wasn’t like it was a hard rain,” said Benyo. “If you are going to run, this is a lot better than having the sun coming up early and beating down on you. Once they get the first couple of miles in, they’ll get warmed up enough, that this will keep them comfortable. It’s like being in a tropical shower.”
Over 2,000 runners were at the Napa Valley Marriott, the race’s headquarters, to pick up their numerical bibs Friday and Saturday. A sports and fitness expo was held over the two days. There were 1,755 finishers.
“People are smiling, people are happy. They’ve been happy over the weekend,” said Hill.
Mocko, originally from McLean, Va., ran part of the race with Magdalena Lewy Boulet, the fifth fastest U.S. woman ever at the marathon distance with a 2:26:22 personal best. Boulet ran in the 2008 Olympic Marathon in Beijing, China for the U.S.
Boulet, an Oakland resident who was second at the Olympic Marathon Trials, used Sunday’s race as a fast-paced 20-mile training run.
“I was fortunate enough to be running with Magdalena,” said Mocko. “I figured if I was going with her, that was a good place to be. Going out, they did a lot of the work, I was really grateful for that.”
Nathan Yanko of San Francisco was third (2:33:07), Chad Worthen of Sacramento was fourth (2:33:31), and Ian Sharman of San Jose was fifth (2:40:06).
Rounding out the top-10 was Bob Shebest of Santa Rosa, sixth (2:40:13); Mark McDermott of San Francisco, seventh (2:41:15); Camille Herron of West Lafayette, Ind., eighth (2:42:20); Andrew Blaich of Menlo Park, ninth (2:42:42); and Paul Laeseke of Menlo Park, 10th (2:43:45).
Herron was the top overall women’s finisher. Herron ran a personal best marathon of 2:38:23 for eighth place at the 2009 Twin Cities Marathon, a race that served as USA Track & Field's national marathon championship. She qualified for the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials, and has already met the standard for the 2012 Trials in five different races.
Calistoga to Napa
Runners took the Silverado Trail south to Oak Knoll Avenue, and followed Oak Knoll to Big Ranch Road, then El Centro Avenue, Solomon, Martin and Stover streets.
Mocko (6-foot-3, 170 pounds) ran the steeplechase in college for Stanford. He doesn’t worry about his weight as a marathon runner.
“I’m a big guy,” Mocko said. “I definitely prefer being a little bit lighter. But the confidence of having some good workouts kind of trumps anything else. As long as things are going well, you really can’t worry about the weight when it comes down to it.”
Reichert was in the lead for a short time, assuming the top spot when Pool dropped out. Pool’s best marathon to date was at the 2009 California International Marathon where he ran 2:22:23. Pool placed 24th at the USA Half Marathon Championships last month in Houston in 1:06:30.
“You hate to see anybody go for it and have to come up short, because as many people as we can get to make the Trials, I think that’s the bigger thing,” said Reichert.
It wasn’t long before Mocko caught up to Reichert and took the lead.
“I told him right away that I wasn’t feeling great, just so he would know that at any point he could go for it whenever he was comfortable,” said Reichert.
Weaver said he dropped out of the race after experiencing symptoms related to his heart. The Sacramento resident, who trains with Pool, has been seeing a cardiologist for the last year and a half.
“Fitness-wise, I’m in really good shape,” said Weaver. “It just comes on you, almost like an asthma attack. Once your heart starts fluttering and you get kind of choked off, you just have to stop.”
Pool had a four-minute lead at one point, but slowed considerably.
The top Napa Valley finishers were Jorge Maravilla, Napa, 15th (2:49:12); Brian Miller, Napa, 19th (2:49:57); Juan Sanchez, St. Helena, 61st (3:06:21); and David Smith, Napa, 70th (3:08:44).
‘All Things Boston’
Race organizers themed this year’s marathon “All Things Boston,” as a way to celebrate the 115th anniversary of the Boston Marathon, which takes place on April 18, Patriot’s Day, starting in Hopkinton, Mass. The Napa race is a qualifier for Boston.
Bill Rodgers, a four-time winner of the Boston Marathon, was in Napa for marathon weekend and ran 13 miles of the course yesterday as a training run. It was his first trip to the Napa Valley.
“It’s a very beautiful course, but there’s a heck of a hill at 19, 20 (miles),” said Rodgers. “It’s longer than any hill in the Boston Marathon course. It’s a real marathoner’s hill that’s not too steep, but it’s still very significant for a marathon. What I think it adds to the course is quality. This is a strategy course.
“To see the course and run through this area of the U.S., this is a unique place.”
Rodgers, who retired from running marathons in 1996, was part of a special group of VIPs from the Boston Marathon that visited Napa and took part in this year’s race and the sports and fitness expo.
Jeff Wilson of San Francisco won the Kiwanis Fun Run 5K in a time of 16:22. Efren Torres of Napa was the top local placer, taking sixth in 17:55.