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Kemp, Diaz win inaugural Napa Valley Half Marathon
Napa Valley Half Marathon

Kemp, Diaz win inaugural Napa Valley Half Marathon

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Temperatures were in the mid-50s, skies were overcast, and the pavement was dry.

Conditions that pleased runners and race organizers alike were the order of the day Sunday morning for the inaugural running of the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Half Marathon.

New race director Michelle La Sala couldn’t have been happier.

“The rain is holding off and we’re having a lot of fun,” she smiled. “I’ve gotten a few reports from runners coming down the chute who agreed it was great out there this morning. We started right on time and the race has gone off without a hitch.”

In the 41st year of the 26.2-mile Napa Valley Marathon, La Sala said the organizers added the 13.1-mile race this year to bring out runners who would not have participated otherwise.

“We knew the half marathon is a really popular distance and it has turned out to be a good decision,” she said. “We sold out in our first year, and had over 150 participants from Napa alone. By adding the half marathon, we doubled the number of runners we would have had with a marathon alone.”

Crossing the line first for the men was 29-year-old Chandler Kemp of Stanford, with a time of 1 hour, 8 minutes and 23 seconds.

“My coach suggested I run this race and I was excited to come up and do it today,” said Kemp, who sprinted home to the cheers of the crowd nearly a minute ahead of the second-place finisher.

Kemp said he started training year-round when he was a 13-year-old freshman at Haines High School in Alaska, just north of Juneau, and was the captain of his Cornell University cross country team as a senior before graduating from there in 2013.

“I focus on two-mile and half-marathon distances,” he said. “This half marathon early in the spring fit well into my training plan and I hadn’t been to Napa before. It was a good, fast course and I was able to beat my personal best by over a minute, which is really good for me. The conditions were perfect out there. The air was cool, not much of a wind, and no rain.”

Kemp said he got into a nice rhythm of a 5:12-mile pace and just wanted to stay within striking distance approaching the finish.

“I felt strong throughout,” he said.

The fastest local finisher was 18-year-old Gustavo Navarro, who finished 25th in a time of 1:20:38. Navarro competed in track and field last year for Napa High School, where he holds the record for the 3,200 meters, before graduating last spring.

The women’s winner was 27-year-old Samantha Diaz of Jackson, Wyoming, in 1:15:44.

“I was looking for a spring race; I have family in the Placerville area, so this was the perfect way to get a little family time in and get a good race in,” Diaz said. “I’ve traditionally been a middle-distance runner, so shorter distances are good for me. But I am setting my sights on running my first marathon, the Chicago Marathon, in the fall. So right now, I’m slowly easing my way into longer distances.”

Diaz, who said she has been running since the fourth grade, wasn’t sure how she would do in the race.

“I was surprised to win the race because I had no idea what to expect, given this is the first year Napa has offered the half marathon,” she said. “The course was beautiful, the weather was perfect, and I was feeling good, so I just tried to stay nice and relaxed and pull the trigger at the end.”

Diaz finished more than three minutes ahead of the second-place finisher.

“I was hoping to break 76 minutes, a huge personal best for me, and I finished just under that,” she said. “It felt good.”

The top local women’s finisher was 19-year-old Ana Palafox, who finished 47th in a time of 1:37:02. Palafox, a 2018 Vintage High School graduate, is a freshman at Santa Rosa Junior College and competes for the Bear Cubs’ cross country team.

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