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Rono runs away with Pear

Surprise entrants are part of the allure of the Pear Blossom Run.

Well, surprise, surprise.

Rarely have organizers of the 34th annual event been taken aback like they were Saturday, when Aron Rono showed up toting a list of accomplishments seemingly as long as the 10-mile race.

Now the 27-year-old Kenyan, a 21-time NAIA All-American in cross country and indoor and outdoor track and field, has another championship to add to his cache.

Rono won the race in 49 minutes, 49 seconds, the third fastest time since the distance was changed to 10 miles in 1990.

Only Max King, last year's champion, has gone faster. King set the record of 49:21 a year ago and went 49:29 in 2005.

"Nobody knew, that's true," Rono said of his under-the-radar status.

Rono is the boyfriend of Lisa Louie, a former North Medford pole vaulter. Both graduated from Azusa (Calif.) Pacific University and are in town visiting Louie's family.

Rono competed briefly for Lindenwood University in Missouri before transferring to Azusa. He captured four NAIA titles in the 10,000 meters, has won national championships at every distance down to 1,500 and finished his career last May with 1,500 and 10,000 titles. He twice won cross country national championships as well.

Pear Blossom runner-up Kirby Davis of Portland competes for the Bowerman Athletic Club.

He, too, was in the dark.

"For a runner," said Davis, whose time was 50:21, "I don't know much about the sport, so I had no idea who he was. Then Bob Lathen came up to me and said, 'Do you realize who that was?'"

Lathen is an official for USA Track and Field.

Jonathan Marcus of Portland was third in 52:41. He was followed by 2002 champion Damian Baldovino of Lakeview in 53:52 and Dennis Brands of Canby in 55:24.

Rono grew up in Eldoret, Kenya, "Where all the distance runners come from," he said.

Indeed, its most famous son is Kip Keino, the two-time Olympic gold medalist.

Rono came to the U.S. to attend college and, having graduated, now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he's a recent addition to the AmeriKenyan Running Club.

In fact, with little training, Rono entered a San Diego five-mile race in March and was second by only seven seconds to new teammate Haron Lagat, the cousin of another famous Kenyan runner, Bernard Lagat.

The men's division of the Pear Blossom already figured to be a tossup because the top six runners from 2009 were unable to compete due to other commitments or injury.

King and Rono might have had a spirited battle, but the former, who has won a record five Pear Blossoms, attempted to defend another of his titles in the American River 50-Mile Endurance Run in Sacramento, Calif. King finished third in that race Saturday in 6:01:17.

Rono's recent success comes after he took about six months off because of a hip injury. He's now training regularly and looking forward to a strong season. His ultimate goal is to make the 2012 Olympic Games in London.

"It feels really good to win," said Rono. "I'm just tired. I feel it now for this distance. My limit is six miles and down."

You couldn't tell it by his race.

Rono, Davis and others went out at a "moderate pace," said Rono. Rono's first mile was in 5:02, and he said he wasn't thinking about the course record.

"I just wanted to run 50 minutes flat," he said.

Davis stayed with Rono until three miles remained and believed he had a chance to win. That notion was quickly quashed.

"I started moving and pushed the pace a little bit," said Rono, "then I maintained it."

Davis saw it differently.

"Running with Aron, that was impressive," said Davis. "We were running side by side, and I thought for a second he was getting a little tired. His cadence dropped off ever so slightly, almost imperceptibly.

"Then he turned on the gas. That was it. I guess he just wanted a two-second breather. When he put that on, it showed pure dominance. I was very impressed by the move. I kind of wish he hadn't done it so violently, but that's OK."

Davis, who is training for the Chicago Marathon, was about 10 seconds ahead of his preferred time, a 5:03 mile pace.

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

Aron Rono, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, crosses the finish line, winning the men's 10-mile run. - Jim Craven