PHOTOS: Naples man tops the field for Marco Island Half Marathon

Runners are dedicated people. More than 300 got up early to assemble at the Shops of Marco on Sunday for the start of the Marco Island Half Marathon, while stars still shone in the dark sky, and the enormous full moon dipped toward the western horizon.

The people who organize races are even more dedicated. A group of volunteers showed up to staff the registration table at 5:30 a.m., set up the start and finish markers, and fill thousands of cups of water for the runners to gulp as they passed the checkpoints along the course.

Called the “Bridge Run,” the race, newly expanded from 10 miles to the half-marathon length of 13.1 miles, features two back-to-back ascents of the County Road 92 bridge at Goodland. The runners started just east of Barfield Drive on San Marco Road, ran through the gated community of Key Marco on Horr’s Island, and as soon as they climbed the bridge, turned around and scaled it again.

Overall winner and Naples resident Kurt Roeser credited the bridge for his victory.

“There were three of us up front,” he said. “I was waiting for them to make their move.” Running in a tight pod just behind the Marco Police Department’s ATV with its lights flashing, minutes ahead of all the rest, they made it a three-man race for the win.

“We were all running together, doing 5:20 miles. I think it was just my younger knees — I went faster going down the bridge.” Roesser, 24, who finished in 1:10:28 (one hour, ten minutes, 28 seconds) also won the Naples Fitness Challenge Triathlon in 2009 and 2010. He graduated from Naples High School in 2005, and ran at University of Florida as an undergrad, where he is currently enrolled in the master’s program for physical therapy.

Second place finisher Elias Gonzalez of Tampa, 34, won the recent Sarasota and Gasparilla Island half-marathons.

“I had my fastest time of all of three races this morning, but Kurt was just too good,” he said. Gonzales finished in 1:11:05. Placing third overall, Mike Korir of Hollywood, 35, who won the Marco Island race last year at the ten-mile distance, won the Philadelphia Marathon in 2002 and 2004, and has traveled around the world to compete.

Lindsey Ulrich, of Fort Myers, and Lisa Buohler, of Lehigh Acres, finished one and two in the women’s division, with times of 1:27:30 and 1:27:42. Third among the females was Vonnie Smid, 34, of Marco Island, with a time of 1:33:39. The tenth-place finisher overall, coming in at 1:27:22, was another Marco Islander, Joel Gonzalez.

The fastest male and fastest female each took home $250. In all, nearly $3,000 in cash prizes were awarded. For competitive purposes, race organizers divided up the runners into 12 age divisions, male and female, and presented Margarita Glass trophies, etched with the Marco Island Half Marathon 2011 logo to the top five in each division.

One competitor had to leave by ambulance. The unidentified man was brought in lying in the police ATV, which had accompanied the runners, to the race staging area by the Shops of Marco. He was able to stand, as he was transferred by EMTs and fire-rescue personnel to a stretcher, and then to an ambulance. The man was headed to the hospital for observation, said paramedics, but they had no other information they could share as of press time.

After the race, a party atmosphere prevailed, with music over the PA system, prizes being given out, and runners replenishing their fluids and calories with bananas, bottled water and pastries.

Jeremy Pincombe, his daughter Madeline Pincombe-Welker, and her stuffed friend Tiger Dog were reunited with Madeline’s mom, Marco dentist Dr. Megan Welker, who ran in the race, and whose offices are right along the race’s starting point,

Volunteers including Hedda Verinder placed medallions on ribbons around the neck of each finisher as they reached the end, and handed them a bottle of water.

A group of teachers, and at least one mom, from Royal Palm Academy in Naples wore matching shirts proclaiming, “Running is a mental game” on the front. The back added, “and we’re all crazy.”

The race was dedicated to the memory of Carole Sbertoli, and proceeds went to help the work of the Marco Y, the Marco Police Foundation, and the Marco Island Fire-Rescue Foundation. For complete results, go to www.marcoislandhalfmarathon.com.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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