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On a cool windy Saturday morning, more than 200 runners warmed up around the Publix parking lot at Shops of Marco in preparation for what some refer to as the roughest course in Southwest Florida.

The Hills Race has been going on almost 40 years with 17 hills to challenge the runners for five miles.

“People don’t believe there are hills on Marco Island,” said Lisa McGarity, volunteer and wife of race director Mark McGarity. “But there are steep hills and they run them multiple times.”

To be exact, 216 runners from around the country participated in the Marco Hills Race that takes place every year in December.

“Many runners are college students from around the country who come home to see their parents for Christmas and run this race, “ said Lisa McGarity.

“We’ve even had International compete,” she said, remembering one female runner last year from Finland.

The coveted awards are beer steins for men; the women who place get wine glasses along with a ribbon, a T-shirt and recognition from fellow athletes and the crowd.

The race benefits the Lely High School Road Runners running team -- a club and not the actual track team. Several Lely students ran the race and others were volunteers along the course, passing out water and helping with awards.

Winner

Jesse Armbruster, 30 of Columbus, Ohio, took first place with a time of 27:46.

Ambruster comes to Marco in December to vacation. This the third time he has run in the Hill Race. He has never done a marathon but has participated in several 5k and 10kraces.

“The hills were tough. It’s not that hilly in Columbus. Coming up a couple of those hills there was a headwind,” said Ambruster.

Top male overall finishers

First: Jesse Armbruster, age 30, of Columbus Ohio

Second: Adam Cholewin, age 32 of North Carolina

Third: Nick Kamen, age 14 of Naples

Top female overall finishers

First: Jennifer Rapaport, age 51, of Medford, Mass.

Second: Rosie Poling, age 16, of Marco Island

Third: Beth Schadd, age 41, of Boise, Idaho

Family runners

Dr. Bob Poling, Dr. Patricia Poling,son, Michael Poling all placed in the top 5 in their respective age groups. Daughter, Rosie, came in with a strong 2nd overall female finisher.

Marco Island runners

Logan & Karla Meester, Lori Havemeier, Greg Havemeier and Teagan Havemeier; Jim Chamberlin & Ana Chamberlin; Luke Mockler & Dane Mockler and Nicholas Mockler; Charles & Maria Lamb; Bruce Kretchmer, Scott Decker, Ryenn Hart, Jennifer Hart, Paul Grisko,Lori Reckley, Kelsey Halaschak, Susan Linn, Ray Trevino, Rebecca Anderson, Fran Fernandez, Emma Fernandez, Dawn Snyder, Paul Tateo, Sally Neeks, Liz Fitz, Cristin Oliver, Carrie Bamberger, Chris Black, Cindy Roloff, Karin Gsell, Michael Mertens & Inga Mertens.

Competitive age group field of 75 years & over, Craig Carlson of Marco Island finished a strong 2nd place.

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