EUGENE — Approximately 7,800 runners registered for Sunday's Eugene Marathon and Half-Marathon, and early on, first-time marathoner David Laney was sardined among them, waiting for the pack to thin out so he could get a look at the leader.
But when the course split and the half-marathoners headed off in another direction, Laney was suddenly all alone and on his way to a victory.
The 24-year-old from Ashland finished the 26.2-mile course on the track at Hayward Field in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 34 seconds to win the seventh annual race.
"I was way behind at 10 miles, then the half guys took a turn and I was in the lead," said Laney, who won the 37th annual Pear Blossom Run earlier this month. "I was hoping that's what was going to happen."
He just had no way of knowing until the course split on the north side of the Willamette River just across the Knickerbocker Bridge. That's when the half-marathoners headed west, back into Alton Baker Park, and the marathoners went east into Springfield.
"The first half I didn't know who was in the full marathon and who was in the half," Laney said. "So at the halfway point when everyone split, it was nice. It was a good feeling. It felt a lot better."
It was an uncontested victory for Laney. Runner-up Ben Mangrum finished in 2:25:56 and Henry O'Neill was third in 2:27:52.
The half-marathon was won by former UO runner Diego Mercado in 1:06:37.
"I wanted to run a 5:20 pace, which would've been 2:20:00," Laney said. "But the last six miles were definitely hard on me so I slowed down a little bit."
Laney's finish was well off the race record of 2:18:38 set by Matt Hooley in 2009, but it was faster than the 2:23:15 posted by Craig Leon in 2010. Leon, like, Laney, also won the Eugene Marathon that year in his first career race but has since become one of the top marathoners in the United States. He recently finished 10th overall at the Boston Marathon with the third fastest time by an American in that race.
No doubt Laney would like to follow a similar trajectory. A former NAIA cross-country all-American for Southern Oregon University, Laney also ran the 5,000 meters.
"I've done some longer trail races, but (this) was my first road," Laney said. "I was an OK 5K runner. I ran 14-something. But honestly, 14 minutes doesn't get you very far. So I just wanted to do something different. I thought it would be fun."
He certainly picked a good race to make his debut, with the Eugene Marathon quickly becoming known for its flat, fast course.
"I didn't really think about the course, I just wanted to run in Eugene," Laney said.
He also wanted to win.
"That's always the expectation," Laney said.
Sunday, it was also a reality.