Quite a pair in the Pear
Former Medford High standout Baldovino returns to his hometown for his first Pear win
From the time he ran in the Pear Blossom as a high schooler in the mid-1980s, Damian Baldovino envisioned the day he would win his hometown's biggest road race.
That day came Saturday.
The Lakeview runner dispatched two-time champion Tim Julian in the last half of the race and cruised home. Julian was second in 52:10.
"It feels really good," said Baldovino, who placed fourth last year. "It feels even better than I thought it would. Even with a slow time, I'm so happy to win it."
Salem's Chris Cook (53:26) and Bend's Jason Finch (53:29) were third and fourth, followed by the top Rogue Valley placer, Trevor Coolidge, who clocked 53:32.
Baldovino graduated from Medford High in 1985 but had entered the Pear Blossom only four times since then and only once in the previous five years.
Upon crossing the finish line, it was obvious he had given everything he could. He wilted into the arms of a former high school coach, exertion stealing strength from his body but unable to rob the smile from his face.
The Pear Blossom was Baldovino's third straight win. The only race he's entered since Feb. 9 and not won was the U.S. Cross Country Championships, in which he finished 59th.
The contrast between Baldovino, with his stepped-up training, and Julian, who has little time to work out following the birth of his first child and working two jobs, was evident along the out-and-back route.
The race starts at the courthouse, turns onto West Main Street, follows Jacksonville Highway to Hanley Road, then goes over Hanley Hill to the turnaround.
The two ran the first half of the race together, making the turn a stride apart, but Baldovino pulled away from there.
"It wasn't much of a race," said Julian, who had won it the previous two times he competed, in 1995 and '98. "I'm just out of shape, and Damian ran really well. He's a lot fitter than I am."
Baldovino's plan was to start out conservatively.
"I usually try to stick with my plan or be real close to a plan that is based on my fitness," said Baldovino. "But I was real anxious at the start. Once I got into the race, I tried to be patient. I didn't want to wear out in the first half of the race. Last year, I hit the wall halfway through."
He stayed the course for a mile, covering it in 5:10, then decided he had his A game, so he'd go to Plan B.
"I changed my strategy right there," said Baldovino, who normally would expect a 5-flat opening mile. "I was confident I was as fit as anyone else, and I didn't want to give anyone a chance in the last mile or two."
While the first mile was tame, the next four weren't.
Baldovino gradually sped up, and each mile was faster than the previous until he got to Hanley Hill.
Baldovino joined the Nike Portland running team in the past year and got a tip from new teammate Ian Solof, the winner of the Pear Blossom the last two years. Solof, who didn't run this year because of an injured knee, encouraged Baldovino to increase his training miles dramatically.
Baldovino did, doubling them to 80 miles per week, and the extra work shows.
"I tried to stay with Damian as long as I could," said Julian, an Ashland product who is now an assistant track and cross country coach at the University of Portland.
His expectations weren't lofty, he said, "but I don't expect to run that slow, ever. I didn't know how Damian would do, but I knew I didn't feel good. I struggled to keep up with him right from the beginning."
After the turnaround, Baldovino opened about a 10-meter lead on Julian coming back up Hanley Hill.
"At that point, I was pretty sure I had it," he said. "I didn't want to drop him too hard, or run away too much right there because I thought he might be saving something for the highway."
The challenge didn't come and Baldovino finally had his hometown title.