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A day at the beach

One way or another, people were going to cheer for Jenn Shelton.

If not for her running ability, then for her attire.

As it turns out, both attracted attention.

In her second Pear Blossom Run, Shelton, a 26-year-old transplant from Virginia Beach, Va., improved on her personal-best 10-mile time by three minutes and won the women's division of the 34th annual event in downtown Medford Saturday.

Shelton, who lives in Ashland, pulled away from Portlander Kristen Rohde in the final four miles and triumphed in 59:50. She placed third a year ago.

Rohde was clocked in 1:00:12, and defending champion Alanna Steinert-Garcia of Grants Pass was third in 1:01:57, which bettered her winning time in 2009 by 17 seconds. Ashland's Holly Hight was fourth and Melissa Schweisguth fifth.

Shelton drew double takes before the race even started. Her scant outfit was fittingly decorated with pears and was suited as much for the beach as anywhere.

"Yeah," she grinned. "I knew I was running the Pear Blossom and I like people to cheer for me. If you wear a bathing suit, you usually get some cheers."

There also was reason to cheer her running.

Shelton, who works as a Web designer for Earthly Goods in Ashland, is an acclaimed ultrarunner. She'll compete in the Miwok 100K Trail Race in the San Francisco area next month. The 62-mile event is a qualifier for the Western States 100 this summer.

Shelton also ran in the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach three weeks ago but didn't fare well.

"I didn't focus on the Pear Blossom," said Shelton. "Things just kind of came together. I was training for a marathon three weeks ago, and that marathon went poorly, which meant I had fresh legs for today. I just blew up and had to jog it on in. That left me open to do well today."

Shelton isn't your conventional distance ace. She was a gymnast in high school and rugby player for a year in college at North Carolina after getting kicked off the cross country team, she said.

"I wasn't fast enough," said Shelton.

She's quoted in the book "Born to Run" by Christopher McDougall and in it speaks to the peace that running allows. But she's also depicted as one who lives as hard as she runs.

Indeed, she didn't mince words when asked by a TV reporter her thoughts as she crossed the finish line Saturday.

"I was just kinda like, f—- yeah," she said. "I didn't expect to be running that fast, so I was pretty excited to see that time on the clock because it's a big race for me. It was under 60 (minutes), which is a bench mark. You always want to measure so you know you're doing something right."

Shelton, Rohde and Steinert-Garcia ran together for the first four miles. Then Steinert-Garcia — who graded her race a success despite not winning because she PR'd — dropped back.

"I actually felt good," said Steinert-Garcia. "But when those other women passed me, they were chatting with each other, and I thought, 'Gosh, I don't think I can keep up with them.'"

Rohde, a former University of Portland runner who was one of three Bowerman Running Club members to compete, actually took the lead from Shelton as they headed uphill on Hanley Road.

But Rohde is used to races of about a third the distance and couldn't fend off Shelton. The eventual winner made her move at six miles.

"She's a strong little runner," said Shelton. "I finally caught her, and when I caught her, I just tried to go as fast as I can and tried to break her spirit. When you pass someone, you have to go as fast as you can and act like it doesn't hurt.

"But it hurt a lot."

The pain clearly had subsided by the time she left the finishing chute with a sense of accomplishment.

Southern Oregonians, she noted, want to know one thing when they come across a runner: How'd you do in the Pear?

"So I did good," she said.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or e-mail ttrower@mailtribune.com

Jenn Shelton runs up Hanley Hill during the Pear Blossom 10 mile run on Saturday. - Jamie Lusch