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Runners celebrate home, while remembering national tragedy

by Kevin Cody

Former University of Santa Barbara runners Deanna Hadley and Jason Kolb were the top finishers in the women’s and men’s divisions of the Manhattan Beach 10K Saturday morning. Photos by Ray Vidal

With nearly half of the record 4,370 registered runners from Manhattan Beach — a number that represents one in four of the town’s households -- nothing could extinguish the proud, celebratory atmosphere of the 24th annual Manhattan Hometown 10K.

But not even a tradition as pure as a community run could remain unaffected by the Sept. 11, 2001 tragedy on the East Coast.

Runners in Halloween costumes, which were common in past Manhattan 10Ks, were replaced this year by runners carrying American Flags. Red, white and blue balloons lined the racecourse. And prior to singing the "Star Spangled Banner," which traditionally precedes the start of the race, former New York City Opera tenor Dennis McNeil led the runners in singing "America the Beautiful."

"The number of people killed by the terrorist attacks was even greater than the number of runners assembled here this morning," McNeil soberly noted. Race committee chairperson Russ Lesser announced that $1,000 plus $1 for every entry would be donated to a fund for the attack victims’ families.

Only then did Manhattan Beach Police Officer Andrew Harrod refocus the runners’ attention on the challenge at hand by raising his rifle to the sky and firing the starting shot.

Jason Kolb, who moved to Manhattan this year to work as an engineer at the Chevron refinery, won the race on his first try in 31:17. The 24-year-old former UC Santa Barbara runner said he ran almost the entire course stride for stride with Scott Crouter of Torrance. Then, with half a mile to go, Kolb said he saw that the third place runner Humberto Sanchez, also of Torrance, was closing in. So Kolb made his move to open up a 17-second lead over Crouter, who was followed across the finish line seven second later by Sanchez.

In the women’s division, another former UC Santa Barbara runner, Deanna Hadley of Fallbrook, won the race for the first time after half a dozen tries. The elementary school teacher said she drives up for the race because her aunt and cousins live in Manhattan and Hermosa. Her time of 35:18 was 45 seconds faster than second place finisher Edit Pakay of Lejto, Hungary.

Over the decades, the average age in the race has risen dramatically because, as Lesser pointed out, "There weren’t a lot of 50-year-olds running in 1977."

Corresponding to the increase in average age has been a drop in times for the older runners. Ed Avol, winner of this year’s 50- to 54-year-old category finished 16th overall in 35:33.

But a new contingency of younger runners is also making their presence felt this year.

Ten-year-old Kevyn Murphy of Manhattan knocked nearly four minutes off her last year’s time to win the 9- to 11-year-old girls division for the second consecutive year. Her 42:31 moved her up from 50th overall last year to 19th overall this year among the 1,861 women who competed.

In the boy’s 9 to 11-year-old division Matthew Mirick bettered his last year’s winning time by over three minutes to finish in 44:11. He was 223rd overall out of 2,097 men who competed, up from 392nd last year.

Two other young Manhattan runners who continue to show promise are Shana Strange, 13, and her 9-year-old sister Chelsea. After winning their age divisions last year, they finished fourth and 11th respectively this year. But both moved up an age division, which means they have two more years in their divisions to medal.

In a race that prides itself on family participation and team awards that include fastest father and son, father and daughter, mother and son, and mother and daughter, it was almost inevitable that for the next year’s 25th anniversary race a category would be created for fastest husband and wife team. Assuming the category is established, top contenders for the honor are former Manhattan 10K winner Jeff Atkinson, and his wife Alison, who finished fifth and seventh overall, respectively, this year; and Matt and Sara Harris who finished 10th and sixth overall respectively this year.

And there will definitely be a need next year for a new age category to accommodate local running legend John Hales of Hermosa Beach. Hales has run in every Manhattan 10K and has no intention of missing next year’s.

Four years ago, at Hales request, the race committee created an 80- to 84-year-old division. This year, Hales lost his lock on the division when Manhattan running legend Chang Tsu turned 80 and finished in 1:10. Next week the Shanghai native will compete in the Bejing 10K.

For the Manhattan 10K’s 25th anniversary, an 85- to 89-year-old category will be created. After that race, Hales said, he plans to retire.

Another notable loss next year will be the race’s chairperson for the past 24 years. Russ Lesser will be turning over his chairperson duties to longtime committee member Rachel Judson. Which is not to say that his presence will be missed. Lesser fully expects Judson to retain him as chief of the cleanup crew, a position he has been well prepared for by his years as chairperson.