Casey Crosson made it a clean sweep for marathon first-timers Sunday when she finished ahead of several more experienced favorites in the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon.
A 19-year-old from Los Angeles, Crosson finished in 12th place overall with a time of 2:50:49.
The eventual women’s champion was nowhere to be found in press releases about pre-race favorites, which came as no surprise since she had no official history in the event.
“Yep, this is my first marathon,” admitted the humble Crosson, a freshman at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. “It’s our Spring Break, so I flew home on Friday and drove up to Napa the next day. I wanted a marathon I could drive to and this worked out great.”
In Sunday morning’s 40th running of the marathon, which also is the Road Runners Club of America National Championships, 1,007 women hit the road in Calistoga in near-perfect running conditions for a marathoner: Partly sunny, temperatures in the 30s, no wind and a slight mist.
After several days of cold rain in the Napa Valley, the weather was on the runners’ side.
Crosson, who was a cross-country standout at Harvard-Westlake School in Los Angeles, said she also wanted to run a qualifying time for the 2019 Boston Marathon. She qualified well under the Boston Marathon qualifying time of 3:35:00 required for women 18-34.
“I wasn’t good enough to be recruited by Vanderbilt for track,” she said, “so I decided running marathons is what I’m going to do. I’m a distance runner at heart. Track is my worst nightmare.”
She is majoring in elementary education at Vanderbilt and wants to be a teacher when she graduates.
Crosson thought she took the lead around the 15-mile mark, and was hotly pursued right to the finish line by one of the pre-race favorites, 38-year-old Sarah Hallas of Cotati, finishing just 12 seconds behind Crosson in 2:51:01.
“Casey ran a smart race,” said Hallas, who finished second in the NVM for the second time – the first being in 2005. “I ran a PR (personal record) today, which is all I can ask for. I saw Casey ahead of me and I thought, ‘Man, to be 19 again!’
“She’s awesome. I was starting to catch her towards the end but I couldn’t quite make it.”
As she crossed the finish line, Hallas fell into the arms of a waiting trainer, saying: “Hold me, hold me!” Hallas said she gave it her all from the 25-mile marker to try to close the gap.
“By the time I finished, I wanted someone to hold me up because I was sure I was going to fall,” she said. “I definitely left it all out there. It was a tough day, but it felt great to have a PR.”
Hallas, competing in her 32nd marathon, said that, although chilly at the start, race conditions couldn’t have been any better.
“I’m a local girl, so I’m used to this kind of weather,” she said.
The Boston Marathon on April 16 will be Hallas’ next race, and her second time in the prestigious event.
“I ran it after knee surgery last time, but this time I will be able to run it hard if my body is up to it,” she said.
Another runner mentioned prominently in the pre-race favorites discussion was third-place women’s finisher Kristen Zaitz of Broomfield, Colorado, who recorded a time of 2:55:12.
Zaitz, who has qualified for the U.S. Olympic Trials three times, said this was her ninth marathon.
“This my first full marathon since having my daughter,” she said. “I wanted to see how I could do. I’m tired, but I feel pretty good considering I wasn’t able to train as hard I wanted to.”
Zaitz said she and her husband had enjoyed a few vacations in the Napa Valley before they had their daughter, which is how she discovered the race.
“Although I had to get up at 3 a.m. (this time), which is no vacation,” Zaitz said with a laugh, “I got to see all of the valley today and it was beautiful.”
Although race winner Crosson is only 19, she wasn’t the youngest woman in the race. Kia Kohler of Lakeport and Virginia Poe of Great Neck, New York, both 18, shared that honor. The oldest runner at 73-years-young was Carolyn Smart of Fairfield.
Although falling short of the race record for women, 2:39:36 by 29-year-old Devon Crosby-Helms in 2012, Croisson smashed the previous best by a 19-year-old of 3:13:10 set by Kristie Clemons in 1989.
Rounding out the top finishers for the women were Carissa Martinez, 29, also from Broomfield (3:01:21), Danielle Widenmann, 35, of Vacaville (3:02:53), and Sarah Evans, 37, of Corte Madera, (3:03:18).