GAMBIER — It was a day of firsts at the fourth annual Earth Day Challenge Marathon and Half Marathon on Sunday.
Jeff Henderson of Columbus clocked a 1:24:46 in his first running of the Earth Day half marathon. The 6-foot-11 Henderson led the field from the start.
“The race management and the course is amazing, it’s absolutely beautiful,” said Henderson. “It’s an absolutely beautiful course running along the Kokosing.
“The weather was not bad — it got a little toasty. The volunteers gave incredible support all along the course,” he continued. “I have been wanting to run it the last couple of years.”
Henderson, who said he is familiar with the area because he does a lot of kayaking in Knox County, plans on running the race again next year.
Temperatures at the start of the race were ideal, but the sun appeared and the humidity rose as the day wore on. Two rain showers which came through between noon and 1 p.m. cooled things off for the remaining runners. The heat was a factor for Amy DeMania, the overall women’s winner in the half.
“I’m from Nashville, Tenn., so I should be used to this,” said DeMania, who turned in a 1:38:43 for an overall 12th-place finish. “It was very hot, but it was a beautiful course. There were a little more hills at the beginning than I thought.”
DeMania, who had hoped to run under a 1:34, heard about the race from a friend at Kenyon.
“I have a good friend who teachers here at the college,” she said. “I came up to do his hometown race.”
Her friend is John Hofferberth, a chemistry professor at Kenyon.
Mark Porostosky, a senior at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, won the men’s marathon in 2:54.
“It was my first marathon,” said Porostosky, who ran cross country for MVNU. “My friend and I decided to run it together.”
His friend is Nate Winters, a freshman at MVNU, who finished second in a time of 2:55:49 in what was his first marathon, too.
“It definitely felt really good the first 15 miles,” said Porostosky. “Then at 20 miles, our legs ... We maybe went out too hard. My legs hurt really bad right now.”
He did not have a problem with the weather.
“The weather was perfect,” he said. “It was a little cloudy, but not hot.
“We just wanted to run under three hours,” he continued. “I am not so sure we trained well enough.”
The winner on the women’s side for the marathon was Karen Meraw of Detroit, Mich., who finished eighth overall.
“My friend wanted to run her first half marathon, so I told her to pick one around this time [of year],” said Meraw, who will graduate from pharmacy school next weekend, as will her friend, Deidra Gosline.
Gosline finished her half marathon in a time of 2:08:13.
“That’s the farthest I’ve ever run,” she said.
Of the course, she said it was challenging.
“There was lots of shade, though, which I appreciated,” said the red-head.
Earth Day Marathon was the third marathon for Meraw, who will run Boston next year. She has also qualified for New York. Her 3:20:37 on Sunday was four minutes faster than her previous best.
“I just hoped to finish, and come close to a PR,” she said. “A PR is nice, but there’s so many things to consider. Like the weather. It is definitely the warmest marathon I have ever run.”
Meraw, who said she is not really a fan of out-and-back courses, nevertheless liked the Gambier course.
“There was lots of shade, and it was nice being on a bike trail because you don’t have to worry about cars,” she said. “I actually prefer smaller marathons,” she added. “They are better run, and go more smoothly.”
Christine Gerst of Westerville was the first walker to finish the half marathon, and was greeted by her trainer as she crossed the finish line.
“This is my first race in 15 years,” said the 54-year-old, who started training in January. “It was incredible. I can’t think of a better place to be on a Sunday morning - God was everywhere.
“The course was wonderful, the people were wonderful,” she continued. “The support - I felt it propelled me.”
Gerst finished in a time of 2:31.
“That’s 1 1/2 hours faster than I hoped to do,” she said. “My trainer said, ‘you can do so much more when you are actually in the race.’”
Next up for Gerst is the Race for the Cure on May 15.
There were 266 runners who completed the half marathon; 119 completed the marathon.