David Laney may have had an advantage in the 37th annual Pear Blossom Run Saturday.
With a strong, cold, head wind greeting entrants in the 10-mile race as they headed out Jacksonville Highway to Hanley Road, some appeared better equipped to handle the elements than others.
RECAP: Former Southern Oregon University distance All-American runner David Laney makes his debut in the Pear a successful one, breezing to a 37-second victory over Trevor Palmer, another SOU alum.
Or so Trevor Palmer mused.
Laney won the men's race, which starts and finishes in front of City Hall, in his first attempt, and Palmer was second, unable to mount a challenge.
"With the wind," said Palmer, "he's a skinny guy so it doesn't matter much to him. But I have a big core, so it slowed me down. I'm like a sail."
Palmer, of course, was joking.
Laney, a former Southern Oregon University All-American, had other things working in his favor, such as a distance pedigree and overall fitness. Palmer, also an SOU alum, has long competed in middle-distance track races and was coming off an Achilles' heel injury that hampered his training.
Laney triumphed in 52 minutes, 18 seconds, well off the course record but a time that suited him just fine. The 24-year-old Ashland resident plans to compete in the Eugene Marathon in two weeks and set as his goal a Pear pace of 5:15 per mile, which he accomplished.
"It was good," Laney, a 2011 graduate of SOU, said of his first foray into the Pear. "It was hard and challenging because it was a little windy on the way out. But it wasn't too bad."
Palmer, who competed at Crater High prior to SOU — where he was a four-time All-American in track and field — had a time of 52:55.
Keeping the SOU connection alive was third-place finisher Scott McIntyre, who was a senior on the Raider cross country team last fall. His time was 54:35. Orin Schumacher, of Eugene, was fourth in 54:49, and Orestes Gutierrez, also of Eugene, was fifth in 55:47.
In the wheelchair 10-mile race, Grants Pass' Corey Hartgrave won for the sixth straight time.
A notable figure was absent from the men's field this year. Max King, who has captured a record seven titles and set the course record of 49:10 in 2011, skipped the event to compete in a 50-mile race in California. King had won the previous two Pears.
Heading into Saturday's race, Laney appeared to be the favorite. He had beaten King in a 50-kilometer race a month earlier and didn't put much stock into who might or might not be in the Pear.
"I just like racing," he said, "so it doesn't matter who's racing."
He expected to have a pack to run with for the first half of the race or so but that didn't materialize.
"It broke up a little sooner than I thought it would, like right away," said Laney, who considered his effort to be "pretty consistent."
He hasn't yet determined what his best distance is, but he thinks it could end up being the marathon.
"I've been mostly like a 5K guy," he said. "I ran shorter races in college, then after college I've been experimenting with longer races, like 10 miles, half marathons, marathons and that type of stuff."
And he expects to put the Pear on his calendar again next year.
"Yeah, definitely," he said.
To which Palmer replied: "He and Max can go head-to-head for the course record."
Palmer, who graduated in 2007 from SOU, wouldn't mind being up there with them.
It wasn't in the cards this time around.
"I knew I wasn't going to go out with him with the pace he's talking about," said Palmer. "I wanted to be cautious."
He expected there to be a second pack behind Laney, but Palmer was as alone as the leader.
"It kind of just strung out that way," said Palmer. "I was by myself after about a mile and a half, and that's the way it stayed. About the halfway point, I think I maintained the same distance with David, but he was out there pretty far."
As for being slowed by the wind, "It's like anything else," said Palmer. "It's important to remember it affects the whole field. If you can get in a group and tuck in behind somebody, that's the best thing. If you're out there by yourself, that's just how it is."
Palmer hadn't run the Pear since 2009 because of track conflicts. He improved on his fourth-place finish of four years ago.
"I'm very happy," he said, adding that his Achilles held up nicely. "I've hardly done any fast work, so I didn't know how I was going to feel; 800 (meters) is the longest thing I've done in any of my workouts. I've been doing lots of aerobic training, but as far as workouts, you've gotta work out fast to run fast."
In the wheelchair, Hartgrave came in a bit slower than he had hoped.
The 32-year-old from Grants Pass, who lost the use of his legs in a car accident 15 years ago, had as a goal a time of 42 minutes. He clocked 46:21.
"The wind kicked my butt," he said. "I'm a little out of shape for not training enough this year, but I still got it done. I like to stay active, keep myself healthy and just keep myself out of the hospital."
Lee Rose was the second wheelchair racer to finish, coming in in 53:46.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email email@example.com