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Thrice as Nice

Marci Klimek Gage leaves no doubt what her Pear Blossom Run goal is.

"One day, I want that course record," she said.

On Saturday, she had to settle for another distinction when she became only the second woman in the 37-year history of the annual run to win three titles in a row.

Gage showed no ill effects from a knee injury she incurred four months ago and cruised across the finish line in a personal-best 58 minutes, 3 seconds, beating Eugene challenger Renee Gordon by nearly three minutes over the 10-mile race.

Gage, a 25-year-old former Phoenix High runner, trails only Deanna Schiedler-O'Neil, who won six straight Pears, the last of the string coming in 1996. Schiedler-O'Neil is the all-time leader with nine victories.

Gage, who lives in Bend, is now tied with Rosa Gutierrez for second place in career Pear wins.

Gutierrez, 49, returned to the race for the first time in four years and placed fifth in 1:05:45. She last won in 2004.

Gage admitted that Saturday wasn't the day to break the course record of 57:07, set by O'Neil in 1995.

A chilly head wind taxed the runners on the first leg of the race along Jacksonville Highway to Hanley Road, and to further hinder her chances, no one presented a challenge.

"I want it though," Gage said of the record. "I'll be back to give it another shot."

At the rate she's going, that might be all it takes. Gage has run the race only three times, and each time she's improved her time by more than a minute over the previous year. Her time in 2012 was 59:23, and in 2011, it was 1:00:37.

Gordon, who, with her husband, Josh, moved to Eugene from Boston in 2010, clocked 1:00:50. In Boston, she belonged to the Boston Athletic Association, which operates the Boston Marathon.

Third place went to Jill Pettibone, of Roseburg, in 1:02:39, while Sera Mathewes, of Gold Hill, was fourth in 1:05:09.

Gordon had designs on challenging Gage.

"Yeah, of course," said the 33-year-old, who was born and raised in New Jersey. "I love to compete, and I would have loved to be on her shoulder."

Gordon's goal was to eclipse one hour, but her legs refused to cooperate.

"I felt a little flat today," she said. "It just didn't happen with the wind and feeling a little flat. Some days are better than others, and today it wasn't one of the better ones."

The last race Gage ran in was the California International Marathon in December in Sacramento, which Gordon also competed in.

Gage set a personal best by eight minutes but came away with a twinge in a knee. When it got worse over the next couple weeks, she confined her workouts to simulated running in a pool.

She did that for 21/2 months before returning to traditional training.

"It feels so good to be back," said Gage. "I'm so happy. It's like the best way to come back.

"I just love this race, I love being home, I love the energy, so I knew it was going to be a good experience no matter what, and it went better than I hoped."

She has a gentleman in an orange shirt to thank for that.

With the wind an issue, Gage found a male runner who was going at her desired pace and stayed directly behind him. Using him to shield the wind allowed her to conserve energy.

"He was really kind to let me sit on his shoulder the whole way out," she said. "I have to go find him and thank him. I kind of used him a little bit, then dropped him at the turnaround after he broke the wind for me the whole way out. Sometimes that's what you've got to do."

He probably knew what she was up to.

"I kept clipping him, so he knew I was there," Gage laughed. "I don't think he was too happy."

At the turnaround, Gage also took note of Gordon, realizing for the first time there was someone who could compete with her.

"She was quick," said Gage, "so I thought, 'I've gotta get going.'"

By then, Gordon had resigned herself to the notion it wasn't her day.

"At about four miles," she said, "I just couldn't get my legs to settle into the pace I wanted. At that point, I just said, 'OK, keep picking off the men when I can and keep having fun,' and that's what happened."

Gage, meanwhile, closed out the race strong.

She serves as an assistant track coach at Mountain View High in Bend and has reaped benefits from the experience.

The girls she coaches are passionate about running, said Gage.

"It gives me a lot of perspective on racing," she said. "It's definitely motivating."

Gage's next planned run is the Bloomsday Run in May. In June, she's targeting the Portland Track Festival and the national road half-marathon championships in Duluth, Minn.

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

Marci Klimek Gage crosses the finish line Saturday for her third straight 10-mile Pear Blossom Run title. - Jamie Lusch