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Record Pace for Napa-to-Sonoma Half-Marathon With International 'Shadow'

A National Guard battalion in Afghanistan ran their own race in synch with the wine country 13.1-mile run, which ended in Sonoma Plaza.

Tesfaye Alemayehu of Ethiopia grabbed the lead of the 9th annual right at the starter’s gun and never looked back to win the race for the third consecutive year.

“Is it really a race if the first guy is kicking your butt 100 meters off line?" said second place finisher Christian Hersch, who finished nearly 5 minutes behind Alemayehu. "I made a half-hearted effort to catch him, but it wasn’t going to happen. Today, Tesfaye meant business.”

Alemayehu bested his own course record (1:03.58 set in 2010) with a staggering 1:02.38, a time that even surprised him.

“I am very glad. It was a good run,” beamed Alemayehu moments after crossing the line. “I expected to beat my record, but I didn’t expect to run a 62 (1 hour, 2 minutes). I really expected a 63."

Hesch equaled his 2011 result by finishing second (1:07:13), while Kota Reichert of Alameda finished third (1:07:26). A total of 3,500 runners participated in the race, which began at 7 a.m. in Napa and ended, for one participant at least, 62 minutes later at the Sonoma Plaza.

Halfway around the world, United States National Guard soldiers stationed in Afghanistan staged a “shadow” race to mirror the Napa-to-Sonoma race. The 578th Engineer Battalion, based out of Manhattan Beach, Calif., approached event producer Destination Races about finding a half-marathon they could partner with. Task Force "Mad Dog" soldiers ran their own 13.1-mile race simultaneously, with soldiers from several states participating.

The connection between the two races was underscored by the American flag that flew over both starting line and finish line. It came from the Army base in Afghanistan, and was sent over specifically for this event.

“We are very proud to be able to raise this flag that flew half way around the world, and support our troops,” says Matt Dockstader, President of Destination Races. “The commitment on the part of these soldiers is amazing, and we are honored they choose to partner with us.”  

According to Captain Robert Couture of the Task Force Mad Dog unit, “It's ultimately about the enjoyment of connecting back to California, if only for a few hours.”

Back in our own back yard, first place for women went to Julia Mallon of Santa Rosa (1:18:13), who also won in 2009. She finished over 2 minutes ahead of second place Lisbet Sunshine of San Francisco (1:20:­­20) and third place finisher Cedar Smith of Eureka (1:20:28). Sunshine and Smith crossed within seconds of each other.

Winners of the "GunBunFunRun," a  5K race sponsored by local winery , were Nick Spector (men) and Quinn Jenson (women), both of Sonoma.

The full 13.1-mile half-marathon started in the vineyards of Napa’s Cuvaison Winery, wound through the scenic Carneros region, turned up Broadway Avenue and ended on Sonoma’s historic plaza at . A wine festival, live music, an awards ceremony and many other activities followed the race for runners and spectators.

The Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, presented by Subaru, helps raise funds for local charities such as Hanna Boys Center, Community Action Napa Valley, Native Sons of the Golden West, Sonoma Unified School District and others.  For more information visit www.destinationraces.com.

Final Half-Marathon Race Results:

Men: 1st: Tesfaye Alemyehu, Ethiopia 1:02:38 (new course record) 2nd: Christian Hesch, Hollywood 1:07:13 3rd: Kota Reichert, Alameda 1:07:26

Women: 1st: Julia Mallon, Santa Rosa 1:18:13 2nd: Lisbet Sunshine, San Francisco 1:20:­­20 3rd: Cedar Smith, Eureka 1:20:28

Men’s Master’s Division (over 40) 1ST: Nicholas Bowden, Los Angeles 1:14:06 2nd: John Litzenberg III, Sonoma 1:14:43 3rd: Steve Rowbury, Greenbrae 1:23:23

Women’s Masters Division (over 40) 1st: Verity Breen, Burlingame 1:23:38 2nd: Kathleen Phair, Seal Beach 1:32:27 3rd: Kathy Rapmund, Walnut Creek 1:32:37

Afghanistan Shadow Race: Men: 1st: Anania Lukwata 1:06:06 2nd: Captain Merrill Walker 1:38:58 3rd: Specialist Robert Robinson 1:41:42 Women: 1st: Captain Bridget Robshaw 1:50:28 2nd: First Lieutenant Kathryn Buckland 1:53:33 3rd: Captain Crystal Huff 2:11:50

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