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Santa Ana winner blows to the finish
Juan Ramirez, of Santa Ana, Calif., sprints to the finish line as he wins the men’s title at the Napa Valley Marathon on Sunday. J.L. Sousa/Register

Juan Ramirez got the inside scoop about the Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon from some friends of his who ran the 26.2-mile race from Calistoga to Napa a few years ago.

They told him that it was a nice course, that there were some hills to it, and that he’d enjoy it.

They didn’t say anything about the winds. But there hasn’t been any serious wind-related issues in recent years to talk about involving this race, which is conducted on a USA Track & Field-certified point-to-point course.

That was until Sunday.

Cold winds out of the northwest kicked up, gusting to as much as 20 to 25 mph at the start line at Rosedale Road and Silverado Trail. It provided a welcome tailwind, helping push the field of long-distance runners south, through St. Helena, Rutherford, Oakville, Yountville and to the finish line at Vintage High School.

Ramirez, a resident of Santa Ana, Calif., didn’t get the time he wanted, but he got an overall win in the 30th annual race. He pulled away from Michael Arnstein of Yonkers, N.Y., and crossed the finish line in a time of 2 hours, 32 minutes, 12 seconds.

“The wind was helping a little bit, so that kind of motivated me to just keep going,” he said. “There were a couple of places where I felt more of a crosswind.

“Overall, it was a good race, even though I didn’t get the time that I wanted to. I liked the course. I just don’t think I was prepared as I thought I was. I wouldn’t mind trying it again. I like the rolling hills.”

It was Ramirez’s 17th marathon and his first win at that distance. He’s been a Top 20 finisher at the Los Angeles Marathon. He’s also run the Boston Marathon twice.

For Ramirez, getting a time is more important than where he places. But he still leaves town with his weight in Napa Valley wines provided by the Silverado Trail Wineries Association. The race was also selected by the Road Runners Club of America as its National Marathon Championship.

He wanted a 2:30 yesterday. His per-mile pace was 5:49.

“My goal always is time,” said Ramirez, 39, who works at the front desk of a hotel. “So I’m competing against the clock basically. I have a goal time. I don’t really care if I win or if I was third or fifth. When I was in the race and I saw my pace slowing down and I knew that 2:30 was kind of hard, that it wasn’t going to happen.

“When I found myself at the front, my mentality changed and (I thought) I will at least try to hold my place. I guess I got a little competitive at that point. But I wasn’t really shooting for a win or a second place.”

Arnstein was second, 2:34:07; James Beyer of Dayton, Ohio was third and the men’s masters champion, 2:36:38; Ryan Gall of Pacifica was fourth, 2:38:58; Christofer Ratliff of Santa Cruz was fifth, 2:39:46; Michael Simpson of West Vancouver, B.C., was sixth, 2:40:31; Bee-Oh Kim of Daly City was seventh, 2:41:50; Chris Badolato of Reno was eighth, 2:42:10; Dan Mancini of San Francisco was ninth, 2:42:52; and Alan Whalen of Eugene, Ore., was 10th, 2:43:09.

Dick Beardsley, the course record holder, the fifth-fastest American of all time for the marathon, and a two-time Olympic qualifier, finished 21st in 2:49.09. He makes his home in Austin, Texas.

At the starting line, Beardsley said he liked the conditions.

“On a cool day, I think it’s good. On a warm day, it’s almost like an oven because you don’t get any breeze to kind of cool you off. But you can’t ask for a better day than this to run a marathon.”

Beardsley was followed by St. Helena’s Juan Sanchez, the top Napa Valley finisher, who was 22nd in a time of 2:49:16.

It was some kind of a day for the NVM. It set records for registered runners (2,317), starters (1,967) and finishers (1,757). The course was closed at 1 p.m., following  a six-hour time limit to finish.

The top female masters finisher was Lisa Miller, 42, of Pacific Grove at 3:18:02. Helen Klein, 85, a former NVM race director, broke her own world record by 13 minutes, finishing in 5:36:18.

“Our 30th anniversary marathon was probably the best we’ve ever had,” said Dave Hill, a race director. “It was just really outstanding. We had some good times. It was a super weekend.”

Ramirez started to separate himself from Arnstein between miles 19 and 20, an uphill climb. He maintained his pace.

“At 18 miles I didn’t really pick it up, he just slowed down a little bit,” said Ramirez, whose personal record is a 2:30:41. “I just kept going and tried to maintain my pace.”

When he made his home in San Francisco, Ramirez used to run in Pacific Association/USA Track and Field road race circuit events.

The marathon had all kinds of support from medical professionals and volunteers. The last nine aid stations were staffed by a physician, nurse and physical therapist. There were also doctors and nurses along with physical therapists and massage therapists at the finish area.

For full race results, visit www.napavalleymarathon.org.

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