Seattle's Nick Shalygin takes first at San Juan Island Marathon

Top: Kim Wickman gets a helping hand at the finish line of the half-marathon from her daughter, Emma, Sunday at the county fairgrounds. Middle: Mount Vernon
Top: Kim Wickman gets a helping hand at the finish line of the half-marathon from her daughter, Emma, Sunday at the county fairgrounds. Middle: Mount Vernon's Jodi Brautaset, No. 47, topped the female field of marathoners with a time of 3:27:17, finishing fourth overall. Friday Harbor's Jared Dallman finished first among local runners, sixth overall, by completing the marathon in 3:28:20.
— image credit: Scott Rasmussen

Nick Shalygin is no stranger to long distances.

But he'll take a trail in the woods over pounding the pavement for a couple of hours on just about any day of the week.

Still, the 23-year-old from Seattle felt right at home Sunday on scenic San Juan Island and, in his first-ever marathon on pavement, was first to complete the 26.2-mile course, crossing the finish line in a respectable three hours, nine minutes and 55 seconds. That's about 31 minutes shy of the course record set last year by Manuh Santos of Ellensburg.

So why San Juan and its notoriously hilly course for a first-ever long-distance run on asphalt?

"I like the pretty ones," said Shalygin, a University of Washington student who frequently competes in 50 kilometer (30 miles) and 25 kilometer (15.5 miles) trail runs.

"It wasn't that hard on me aerobically, but it definitely was hard on my feet," he added. "The hills got to me a bit near the end."

He's not alone.

The seventh annual San Juan Island Marathon and Half Marathon, sponsored by Kings Market, drew a total of 324 participants; 64 braved the full 26.2 mile course and 260 either ran or walked the 13.1-mile half marathon. That's roughly 60 more than a year ago, but about 100 less than the previous two. The total doesn't include the 38 children that took part in the 1.2-mile Kids' Race.

For many, like Andrew Pohlscheider of St. Paul, Ore., Sunday's long-distance run on San Juan Island marked a first-time and memorable achievement.

Cautionary tales, Pholscheider said, don't do justice to the reality of the course's ups and downs or the toll it takes in tackling its rolling hills. The 26-year-old battled the terrain to finish his first-ever marathon in three hours, 57 minutes and nine seconds.

"They told me about the hills, but I wasn't expecting that," he said.

Friday Harbor's Irina Bell took up running just three months ago. Bell hit the road to get in shape after she quit smoking and put on a few pounds. She had never run farther than six miles before Sunday. Nevertheless, Bell completed the marathon in 4:34:02 thanks to the support of her husband, Scott, and several friends who helped her train for the event.

"I'd been running some hills and that helped," she said. "I just kept going at a even pace."

Friday Harbor's Jared Dallman was the first local runner to finish the marathon. Dallman, 29, crossed the finish line at 3:28:20 and sixth overall. Jodi Brautaset of Mount Vernon was the first woman to complete the marathon and fourth overall, clocking in at 3:27:17. Friday Harbor's Jennifer Ayers was the first local woman to complete the marathon, at 4:32:35.

In the half-marathon, Steve Francis, 39, was first to cross the finish line, at 1:26:41. Francis, who's in-laws live in Bellingham, took a break from a four-month-long vacation from missionary work in Thailand to compete in the local run, his first appearance, and was blown away by the scenery.

"I really enjoyed it," he said of the event. "The scenery was absolutely gorgeous, but that last hill was a killer."

At 72, Friday Harbor's Fred Henley was the oldest person to participate in the half-marathon, and Tanner Wilson, also of Friday Harbor, was the youngest. The 8-year-old, along with his father, Ron, clocked in at 2:53:49, while Henley tallied a 3:22:13 mark. Whidbey Island's Mary Ann Safford, boasting more mileage than any other woman in the half-marathon -- in age -- completed the course in 2:23:43.

San Juan Island's 26.2-mile course is certified by USA Track and Field and runners can qualify for the renown Boston Marathon or the U.S. Olympic Trials based on their results. As in the past, the event drew participants from as far as Massachusetts, Ohio, Texas and Cave Creek, Ariz., home of 37-year-old April Baker, who, at the 1:35:08 mark, was the first woman to cross the finish the half marathon.

The local long-distance run had an international flavor as well. Carolyn Bennett, 47, and fellow Canadian Denise Sefton, 55, both of Victoria, B.C., joined hands as they crossed the finish line in tandem and completed the marathon in 4:27:34. They were delighted by the scenery, the small-town atmosphere and the amount of support the community provides.

"It's inspiring to see all those families out there holding signs and cheering you on," Bennett said. "And look at these hand-made medals. Can you beat that?"

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