Trevor Palmer was beginning to think, "What have I gotten myself into?"
The Medford runner, the favorite to win the 38th annual Pear Blossom Run, made the turn at the halfway mark of the 10-mile race Saturday, but there were three other runners with him.
RECAP: Former Southern Oregon University track and field All-American Trevor Palmer wins the Pear in his third attempt with a time of 53 minutes, 10 seconds. He was third in 2009 and second last year.
1. Trevor Palmer
2. Justin Gindlesperger
3. Brad Taylor
4. Chris Clancy
5. Frans Alajoki
6. Alex Jones
7. Neil Olsen
8. Michael Lynes
9. Jon Buel
10. Robbie Nutter
Rarely is there that big of a lead group that deep into the race, an out-and-back affair that begins and ends downtown.
Palmer's thoughts at that moment?
"That I had misjudged the field," he laughed. "Maybe I should have picked a different year."
That wasn't necessary. Palmer fell behind a couple runners, then overtook them and cruised to victory in 53 minutes, 10 seconds.
It was the third appearance in the Pear for the 30-year-old, who ran in high school for Crater and was Southern Oregon University's first four-time All-American in track and field, where he was a middle-distance competitor.
Winning simply made sense for Palmer. He placed third in his first Pear in 2009, then was second to David Laney last year.
Justin Gindlesperger of Grants Pass placed second in his Pear debut with a time of 53:21. Ashland's Brad Taylor was third in 54:32, and Portland's Chris Clancy placed fourth in 56:11.
Corey Hartgrave of Grants Pass used a newly acquired handcycle to win his seventh straight wheelchair title with a personal-best time of 35:39.
There were 1,100 runners who finished the race.
Laney and another notable runner, Max King, who owns the all-time win record of seven, skipped the race. They competed in a 50-mile event in California.
Palmer figured that their absence would provide him an opportunity to capture the region's iconic running event.
Having battled an Achilles' tendon ailment through the winter, he determined only the Monday before he was fit enough to race.
"It's unbelievable," said Palmer. "I can't believe a week ago I was planning on not doing it. I'm really happy. I'm glad to bring it (the title) back to Medford."
Laney is from Ashland and King, who won in 2012 and '11, lives in Bend.
It's not uncommon for an unfamiliar, top-flight runner to show up at the start of the Pear. Palmer knew Gindlesperger's name from other recent races in the area, "but I didn't know he was going to be up there," he said.
The same went for Taylor.
"They both put gaps on me," said Palmer, "especially Justin. Right after the turnaround, he put a gap on me about Mile 7. It was probably 10 meters at the most, but I couldn't close it for a few miles."
Gindlesperger, 35, moved to Grants Pass in August from Boulder, Colo. He competed in college for Shippensburg University in Pennsylvania.
Up a hill near the turnaround, Gindlesperger threw in a surge that thinned the front pack and allowed him to move in front of Palmer, but he couldn't sustain the lead.
"We kind of battled it out and then he kind of just kept pulling away from me," said Gindlesperger. "I felt like I was reeling him in down here before we made the turn (to the finish line), but I just didn't have enough left in the tank. With right around a mile to go, he started kicking it in, and he just had too much time on me. He had a little gas left in the tank."
Gindlesperger said he was deceived a bit by the difficulty of an uphill stretch on Hanley Road that took more out of him than he anticipated.
Palmer hadn't done any fast training because of the Achilles' injury and developed a blister in the first three miles.
"It was kind of nice to be able to focus on that instead of the pain everywhere else in my body," he said.
In the early stages of the second half of the race, when Gindlesperger and Taylor both had leads on him, he was further tested.
"It's like the swings in the race as far as momentum," said Palmer. "If you're in the lead, you're feeling good and you're full of confidence. If someone gaps you, you have to start fighting those negative thoughts, like, 'Oh, maybe I didn't prepare enough,' or, 'This isn't my year.' But I just put it out of my mind. I started counting my steps to keep my mind off it, and he (Gindlesperger) eventually came back to me."
Palmer said he didn't know if he could finish the last mile.
"It was a death march," he said.
But encouragement from spectators calling out his name "probably every 15 seconds" helped push him, and he had a rush of energy as the finish came into view.
Hartgrave, meanwhile, blazed to victory in a handcycle purchased five months ago through a grant from the Challenged Athletes Foundation.
He lays down in the cycle, as opposed to sitting up, making him more aerodynamic and works the gears.
"It's easier on me, easier on the chair," said Hartgrave, who lost the use of his legs in a car accident 16 years ago.
Hartgrave said he's trained harder this year in anticipation of a race in July from Seattle to Portland.
"I've been pushing a lot more this year than I ever have in previous years trying to train for this big 200-mile race," said Hartgrave, 33. "I give a lot (of credit) to the chair and a lot to the training."
Tony Ellis of Medford was second in the wheelchair in 45:30 and Bob Rose of Murphy third in 1:08.1.
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