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UPDATED: One for the ages; Morales, 10, wins Pear

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Pick on someone her own age?

Esperansa Morales is running out of age groups to throw down with.

In one of the most remarkable stories in the 43-year history of the Pear Blossom Run, Morales, a 10-year-old fifth-grader from Klamath Falls, won the women's division of the 10-mile race Saturday in front of Medford City Hall.

Although documentation of the ages of all previous winners wasn't readily available, there's little question Morales is the youngest women's victor.

“That's crazy,” said Desiree Piter, the 28-year-old runner-up who captured the women's 5K last year before entering the 10-mile for the first time in seven years in the event. “She's super fast. She's got a lot of potential. I'm really proud of her.”

Morales' father, Sergio, himself a renowned distance runner in the Klamath Basin and a coach and constant training partner of his daughter's, was no less impressed.

As he often does, Sergio raced alongside Esperansa.

“Yeah, that’s incredible, right,” he said, referring to her winning the Pear Blossom at such a young age. “We didn’t expect that. That’s a big surprise.”

It was a performance for the ages.

Morales, who attends Mills Elementary School and will celebrate her birthday May 31, completed the slightly revamped course in 1 hour, 3 minutes, 24 seconds. Her time computes to a 6:21 average per mile.

The only other time she ran a 10-mile race, she said, was last year, when she was the first entrant as young as 9 to finish Pear Blossom’s marquee race, collecting that age-group record with a time of 1:14:59.

“I do remember there were a lot of people (running) around me,” she said.

Not so this time for the youngster with Olympic dreams.

Morales set out to break the 10-14 age-group mark. She did so by 7 1/2 minutes.

Winning the race was sweet, sweet icing on the cake.

“It’s a great honor, to be honest,” she said.

Piter, of Medford, was about 2 minutes back, in 1:05:20. Sierra Brown, 24, of Jacksonville, was third in 1:05:46.

Heather Johnson, last year’s winner who is 8 months pregnant, didn’t intend to repeat as the winner but wanted to run despite her condition.

She handled it well, aside from a bit of soreness, and finished in 24th place in 1:17:22, or a 7:45 mile pace.

The course was altered at the beginning, sending runners five blocks east at the start before returning to the original route out West Main to Hanley Road. The change was made at the request of the Oregon Department of Transportation, said race organizers, so a key part of Highway 238 would not be blocked.

Morales’ exploits aren’t roundly known here, but she’s enjoyed plenty of success.

In the fall, she was allowed to run for Ponderosa in the Southern Oregon Middle School Athletic Conference cross country championships and won the 3,000-meter race by 42 seconds over girls up to three grades higher.

Last June, Morales qualified for the TrackTown Youth League Championships at Hayward Field in Eugene for the third straight year and set the 1,500-meter record in her age group with a time of 5:05.96.

To train for that, she and her father ran five days a week at 6 a.m.

“We run all the time,” Sergio said Saturday. “This is the fastest she’s ever run. I think she just felt the energy because when it’s just her and I running alone, I’m sure she gets a mental drag. This was a lot of experiencing the crowd and feeling the energy.”

Esperansa had no shortage of energy at the outset, bolting away from all the other females.

It was her plan.

“My strategy,” said Morales, “was to blast, gas and relax. Go hard and gas myself out, then relax, and once I got myself back, to blast again.”

She ran with men at a 6-minute pace early, and on the way back from the halfway point, she crossed paths with women going the opposite direction.

A hill at the turnaround barely fazed her.

“I’m used to running hills,” said Morales. “I’ve been doing a lot of mountain training. It was mostly that last 3 miles that was the hardest for me because I was already really, really tired. And I had to pretty much sprint in order to get that 1:10 (the 10-14 age record).”

Piter, who took up running after figure skating injuries took their toll in her youth, fell behind when Morales blasted.

“I felt like I had her in my sights for a little bit,” said Piter, “then I realized I’m just going to try and do my race. I can’t control others. I try to keep my pacing. I usually go out a little fast, but I had to rein it in or I was going to pay for it later.”

Piter closed the gap later in the race, but Morales responded.

“She had a lot of energy in the tank,” said Piter.

Sergio said his daughter felt pressure from Piter and “it woke her up and gave her some bright eyes.”

Esperansa’s long-range goals — beyond figuring out which junior high she’ll attend next year — are “to at least try to get to the Olympics, then travel the world.”

Dad won’t get in her way. Quite the contrary.

“I believe she can do it,” said Sergio. “It’s tough and it’s hard and it’s such a long way, but if you just stick to the process and to the work and accept it, you’ll achieve things like this.”

And lest we forget, things do get better with age.

Reach sports editor Tim Trower at 541-776-4479 or ttrower@rosebudmedia.com

Esperansa Morales, 10, of Klamath Falls, talks to reporters after winning the women's Pear Blossom Run 10-mile race.
Eagle Point's Tyler Van Dyke crosses the finish line of the Pear Blossom Run 10-miler to win the men's division.jpg