Eugene marathon runner Craig Leon kept his back to the competition at Sunday's third annual Rogue Run Half Marathon, cruising to his second top finish in two years at the event and setting the course record on his way.
Leon, 28, crossed the finish line at Jackson County Expo Center in Central Point in 1 hour, 4 minutes and 39 seconds. He started in Talent with 756 other competitors, all of whom ran or walked through four Rogue Valley cities along Bear Creek Greenway.
"I think that this was part of the goal," said Leon, a former Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier who grew up in Ohio and ran at Ohio University. "It was a hard effort. I had to come here and run hard."
Like last year, Leon used Sunday's halfer as a tune-up race for the Oct. 13 Chicago Marathon, where he placed 20th in 2012.
"This was a really hard effort before I start to back off for Chicago," he said. "This year, I'd like to be top 15, top 10 ... I've raised the bar for myself a little bit."
Finishing in 2:14.38 at the Boston Marathon in April, Leon placed 10th overall and was the third American to cross the finish line, about four minutes back from Ethiopian winner Lelisa Desisa, who came in at 2:10.22.
Competing in the Rogue Run for his first time, David Laney finished second overall in 1:05.38. The 25-year-old is a former Southern Oregon University All-American distance runner and standing champion of the Pear Blossom Run.
"David Laney, he is a good runner. It's nice to have someone to push you," said Leon, who clocked a 1:07.38 in last year's 13.1-mile race. "(Laney) was right with me probably through seven miles."
Laney said Sunday marked his first hard effort of the season, which, for him, takes a more serious turn at the Dec. 8 California International Marathon in Sacramento.
Laney will be back for next year's Rogue Run.
"It's a great course, very fast," Laney said, adding, "(Leon) is like a metronome."
Eugene's Kimber Mattox, 24, finished first among women and ninth overall in 1:19.38, about seven minutes shy of the women's course record set last year by Bend's Renee Metivier Baillie, who did not compete this year.
"It was my first time, so I really had no idea what to expect here ... the results were good," Mattox said. "It's such a beautiful course ... I would like to come back."
Mattox and Leon are members of the non-profit organization Team Run Eugene, and travelled to Sunday's race together.
One of the very young competitors Sunday was 14-year-old South Medford High School freshman Gray Bastian.
Bastian, a member of the high school cross country team, finished in 1:31.54, topping his time at the Rogue Run last year by about 20 minutes, he said.
"It was really fun. I did way better than I did last year. ... This was the first summer I have ever trained and I think it helped," he said.
After about six miles of keeping a steady pace, Bastian said he decided to cut loose and start passing people, and he did just that, finishing 36th overall.
"Wow, that kid's got a future in running, don't you think?" said race director David Wright. "We had a really fast field this year ... it was incredible."
First, second and third overall female and male finishers took home $1000, $500 and $200, respectively. In addition, the top three female and male finishers in four separate age divisions took home $200, $100 and $50, respectively. The age divisions were: under 30, ages 30-39, ages 40-49 and 50 and over.
A light rain fell sporadically along the course during the race, but the cool, overcast weather received only praise from competitors.
In two years, the Rogue Run Half Marathon has raised and donated over $30,000 to the Medford Parks and Recreation Department and youth activities in local schools, Wright said. Last year donations to the Parks Department helped fund extending the Greenway path from Pine Street to Upton Road.
The run began when Wright and co-founder and race director Darren Ravassipour came up with an idea to bring a marathon to the Rogue Valley.
If all goes according to plan, said Ravassipour, a 10-kilometer run will be added next year and a full marathon the following year.
"I think the marquee attraction will always be the half marathon, but I'll be nice to have a full marathon for runners here and to attract people to our area," Ravassipour said.
Some of about 300 volunteers — many high school students from the area — helped operate a half-dozen aid stations along the route, said Brent Barry, volunteer coordinator for Rogue Run. The stations were handing out snacks, fruit, water and other supplies mostly donate by Safeway, Barry said.
Wright, who expects the race to raise about $20,000 this year, said competitors traveled to the half marathon from as far away as Alaska.
"It's just a great atmosphere ... the community support for this is just awesome," he said.
After the race, Ashland competitors Bob Julian, 45, and Tim Julian, 43, were halfway through with their locally brewed beers before many of the competitors had crossed the finish line, which ended at the front door to the Jackson County Harvest Fair.
Tim has always been fastest, said his brother Bob, and it was no different Sunday. Bob came in at 1:14.17 and Tim at 1:15.27.
"I might have been sixth overall, but I was first to the beer!" said Tim, who also placed first in his age division.
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.