Up For Grabs
Max King will take a break from reshaping the Pear Blossom Run record book.
That is, if you consider running 50 miles a break.
The seven-time men's winner of the 10-mile race that starts in downtown Medford will skip Saturday's 37th annual event in favor of the Lake Sonoma 50, a California trail race with considerable prestige.
King, who was selected Trail Runner of the Year for 2012 by Trail Runner magazine, will be joining other top-flight local competitors Timothy Olson, Erik Skaggs and Hal Koerner for the race.
All of which leaves open the opportunity for someone else to be crowned king of the Pear.
The women's race, meanwhile, will again have its defending champion. Marci Gage, formerly Marci Klimek, who starred at Phoenix High and Linfield College and now lives in Bend, will chase after her third straight victory.
If successful, she'll become only the second woman to win three consecutive titles. The other was Deanna Schiedler-O'Neil, who claimed six from 1991-96 and is the overall leader with nine victories.
Gage will be among the nearly 1,400 runners who will toe the line for the 10-mile race. The figure is down about 300 from last year, said co-race director Steve Buxton.
The 5-kilometer race has about 2,100 entrants, which is similar to last year.
Online registration ended on Thursday, but sign-ups will still be taken today during packet-pickup hours at the Rogue Valley YMCA, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The races begin at Eighth and Oakdale streets in front of City Hall.
The first is the 5K at 7 a.m. The 10-miler begins at 8:20 a.m. and follows Jacksonville Highway to Hanley Road, where a turnaround point sends them back. There also is a 10-mile wheelchair race and 1- and 2-mile Mayor's Cup runs.
Last year, Gage won with a time of 59 minutes, 23 seconds, beating former University of Oregon runner Bria Wetsch by 26 seconds. They were more than four minutes ahead of the rest of the field.
With a third overall triumph, Gage would tie Rosa Gutierrez for second all-time.
Handicapping the men's race is a bit more difficult than in recent years when King was entered. He captured the previous two races and owns the course record of 49:10.
A review of the entrants turns up several candidates to watch, and there's a chance — in the men's and women's races — that an out-of-area runner can come in under the radar and steal the show. It's happened more than once.
Among those in line to supplant King are two former Southern Oregon University distance runners, David Laney and Trevor Palmer. Another name that should catch the attention of those who follow running is Lauren Jespersen, once a standout at Klamath Union High before going on to Stanford to compete.
Laney appears to be the best bet. He led the Raiders to the NAIA national championship in his senior season of cross country in 2010, when he was the top American placer and fourth overall.
Since graduating, Laney moved to Michigan for a year, then returned to Ashland. The former Central Catholic High of Portland athlete works at Rogue Valley Runners, a store devoted to the sport.
This will be his first Pear.
"I've been wanting to do it for a few years now," said Laney. "I'm excited to be able to run it this year."
He could be very difficult to beat, for Laney went head-to-head with King a month ago in the Chuckanut 50K race in Fairhaven, Wash., and emerged victorious.
Laney's time was a course-record 3:40:17. King ran 3:43:06.
On his Facebook page, King posted: "That was a painful way to come 2nd at Chuckanut. Good on ya David Laney. You made me hurt."
"That was kind of a trial race," said Laney. "I just wanted to test out that distance. It went well. It was fun."
He'll use the Pear as something of a training run for his first road marathon in a couple weeks in Eugene.
His plan Saturday is to run a marathon pace, about 5:15 per mile, which would put him at 52:30 for 10 miles.
But if he's in position to win or gets pushed, well ...
"I usually go into a race with a plan," said Laney, "and I usually abandon it a mile in and start racing. I don't have very good self control."
As for competition, he noted, Palmer "is always a good runner."
Palmer is a former Crater High runner who excelled in track at SOU. He was the school's first four-time All-American upon graduating in 2007.
Palmer last ran the Pear in 2009, placing third to winner King and runner-up Glen Tucker in a time of 52:16. Conflicts with track events have since kept him from the Pear.
He's gravitating to longer distances and has looked forward to the Pear for some time. However, an Achilles' tendon injury sidelined him from November to January, and he's had only "two or three workouts."
"I'm not in peak fitness right now," he said.
He's hoping to make the top 10, he said, maybe the top five.
"It's the biggest race in the valley, so I've got to go out there and do it," said Palmer.
Jespersen, making his debut in the Pear, doesn't consider himself a threat. He and his wife, former North Medford High runner Molly Brophy, are also using the Pear as a training run for the Eugene Marathon.
Jespersen's best season at Stanford was his sophomore year, he said, when he ran a four-minute indoor mile and competed at nationals. As a senior in 2008, a hamstring injury left him with "an anticlimactic" finish to his college career.
He did run the Portland Marathon in 2009 and placed 13th. His time of 2:35.23 qualified him for the Boston Marathon but he didn't go.
Jespersen has done little competitive running since. He expects to run at about a six-minute pace Saturday.
"I have a brand new wife I like to spend time with," he said, "and running oftentimes takes more time than I'm willing to give it. I'm able to run every now and then for fun."
While Laney and the Jespersens are willing to do both the Pear and the Eugene Marathon, there are others who aren't. Buxton, the Pear co-director, wondered why entries were down a few hundred in the 10-mile, and some told him it was because the race is so close to the Eugene Marathon.
"I've had people tell me they've done 10 miles and were worn out and didn't recover fast enough for a marathon," he said. "They want to save themselves."
He also has seen reports that running is tapering off.
"It's been booming the last several years across the nation," said Buxton. "Maybe we're seeing a downturn. We've seen this boom-and-bust many, many times."
Buxton isn't tapering off, however. He'll run the event for the 30th time.
This will be the second year that Jerry and Zellah Swartsley haven't overseen the Pear. They turned over control to the YMCA following the 2011 race.
Jerry Swartsley is among six who have run in all of the races. He and the other five — Leonard Hill, Tom Glatte, Mike Barrett, Tim Rose and Kenny White — are all entered again. Len Ramp, who was part of the original "Lucky 7," as the group was dubbed, passed away prior to the 2012 race.
Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479, or email firstname.lastname@example.org