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MailTribune.com
  • RUNNING

    Remembering Boston

    Returning Rogue Run champion placed 10th before bombs hit
  • As rewarding as Craig Leon's victory was a year ago in the Rogue Run Half Marathon, it was no match for the euphoric wave that washed over him months later on road racing's grandest stage.
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    • ROGUE RUN
      WHEN, WHERE: Sunday, Talent to Jackson County Expo, 13.1 miles.
      OF NOTE: The field of 757 runners is down slightly from last year, but there is an increase in elite-level competitors.
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      ROGUE RUN
      WHEN, WHERE: Sunday, Talent to Jackson County Expo, 13.1 miles.

      OF NOTE: The field of 757 runners is down slightly from last year, but there is an increase in elite-level competitors.
  • As rewarding as Craig Leon's victory was a year ago in the Rogue Run Half Marathon, it was no match for the euphoric wave that washed over him months later on road racing's grandest stage.
    In the Boston Marathon in April, Leon finished 10th overall and was the No. 3 American placer.
    "I've had a pretty good career," said the 28-year-old Eugene resident, who returns to defend his title in the Rogue Run on Sunday. "But to have that kind of a performance in the Boston Marathon "» for runners, it's the Super Bowl of marathons. To be able to run that well and have a great day on that stage, it was an important step for me as a runner."
    It was a day he won't forget, but not just for his running.
    It was also the day two pressure-cooker bombs ripped through the crowd at the finish line, killing three and injuring more than 250.
    The bombs were set off by two brothers. One was later captured and the other was killed. The explosions were about two hours after winner Lelisa Desisa crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 10 minutes, 22 seconds. Leon was four minutes back in 2:14:38.
    By the time of the detonations, the top finishers were back at the hotel that served as race headquarters, only 300 to 400 yards from the finish line "as the crow flies," said Leon.
    Needless to say, his sense of fulfillment muted as details trickled in.
    "For me, it was such an interesting day," said Leon. "On the one hand, in the morning, it was just kind of the highest of highs because I had a career performance. Then, obviously, everything happened during the day, and it was like the lowest of lows."
    Leon was finishing media interviews as the bombs blasted. He was in a lower-level ballroom of the old, stone and marble building and didn't hear them. He later talked to runners who were in their rooms above who heard and felt the explosions.
    "The next 24 hours were chaotic," said Leon.
    The hotel was locked down until the following day and cellphones were largely inoperable. Initial wire reports said local cellphone towers were shut down to combat remote detonation of more bombs, but phone companies responded that the towers were on but were overloaded.
    "People outside Boston had more of an idea about what was going on than we did," said Leon.
    Those in the hotel were herded to the lobby while a sweep for more explosives was made, he said.
    "That whole area was a crime scene," he added.
    Leon flew out the next day. He was in Oregon four days after the race when the suspects were taken.
    "That was something that helped me, too," he said. "There was some resolution to everything and you could kind of move forward."
    In that vein, he took plenty from the actual race.
    His strong finish prompted him to evaluate his goals and "set the bar a little higher."
    Last year, having used the Rogue Run as a tune-up two weeks earlier, Leon competed in the Chicago Marathon. He placed 20th in 2:15:38 but didn't necessarily feel as though he belonged.
    Boston now has him believing he needn't be timid about being up front in big events. He'll run in Chicago again in three weeks.
    "Last year, going into Chicago, I was almost gun-shy about putting myself up in the mix with the top runners," said Leon. "I won't have that same kind of fear this year. I'm excited to throw myself in and see what happens."
    He intends to set up a fundraising mechanism on his website (www.craigleonrunning.com) to help victims of the Boston bombings. It will be geared to his performance in the Chicago Marathon.
    As for Boston, he hopes to return in 2014.
    "At first I was a little hesitant," said Leon. "But as more and more time passes, I'd love to go back and be part of that. It'll be a special year and very emotional, but at the same time a great event."
    First up is his title defense in the third-annual Rogue Run. The 13.1-mile race begins in Talent and follows the Bear Creek Greenway to the Jackson County Expo in Central Point, where the Jackson County Harvest Fair will be under way.
    Leon heard of the race from a friend of one of the organizers and liked the idea he could see a different part of the state and satisfy his training and competition needs.
    Leon moved to Eugene in August 2011 from Ohio, where he ran for Ohio University. He works for the University of Oregon in the law school's career center. He found the environment in "Track Town USA" beneficial to his professional running aspirations and is one of about a dozen men and women members of Team Run Eugene.
    A teammate, Diego Mercado, will accompany him this weekend. They figure to be in contention along with Ashland's David Laney.
    The three have something in common: Each won at the Eugene Marathon and Half Marathon. In April, Laney, a former Southern Oregon University runner and the reigning champion of the Pear Blossom Run, entered his first marathon and won in Eugene. Mercado, a former Oregon runner, captured the half marathon.
    Leon won the Eugene Marathon in 2010. He didn't compete this year because at two weeks, it was too soon after Boston, from a recuperative standpoint. He was, however, invited to be a starter and say a few words about Boston as a tribute.
    Although the Rogue Run isn't of the magnitude of the Boston Marathon, it has its own appeal.
    Leon won last year with a time of 1:07.38. Kevin Hall was second (1:08.42) and Trevor Palmer third (1:08.49).
    Bend's Renee Metivier Baillie, 30, secured the women's title in 1:12.58. She was followed by Colleen Little (1:19:33) and Shannon Botten (1:24:43).
    "Every time you line up, the goal is to maybe run faster than the previous year and put yourself in contention to win," said Leon. "Every time you can win a race, it doesn't matter how big or how small, they all help. It's good to find a balance between races, ones where you can be in the hunt and potentially win and others that challenge you competitively but you may not win."
    Leon has won 11 races in the past 21/2 years.
    At 757 entrants, the Rogue Run has slightly fewer runners this year, said race director Darren Ravassipour, but there are more competitors who figure to run at the head of the pack.
    "The number of elite athletes has increased significantly," he said.
    The run began when Ravassipour and co-founder David Wright came up with an idea to bring a marathon to the Rogue Valley.
    If all goes according to plan, said Ravassipour, a 10-kilometer run will be added next year and a marathon the following year.
    Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email ttrower@mailtribune.com
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