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This Pear Blossom Run was one of a kind

This was a build-your-own event.

And, no, we’re not talking about pizzas.

We’re referring to the 2020 Virtual Pear Blossom Run, an occasion for which EJ Holland and Heather Johnson created the 10-mile routes they preferred to run, then went out and won their respective men’s and women’s divisions.

The race took on a substantially different look from the previous 43 because of the coronavirus. It was held from April 11 — the original race date — to April 30, and featured participants from across the country and around the globe.

Upon registering online, entrants created their own courses for the 10-mile and 5-kilometer races, then ran them as often as they wanted over the nearly three-week window and submitted their best times. The rules were lenient, allowing participants to run outdoors or even indoors on treadmills.

There were 311 entrants in the 10-mile race and 423 in the 5-kilometer event. Other shorter fun runs were canceled.

The number of participants was, understandably, well down from the average of about 2,500 for those two races, according to statistics provided by the Rogue Valley Family YMCA, which puts on the race. But that didn’t dampen race director Chuck Whiteley’s evaluation.

“We were just completely ecstatic about the turnout for a lot of different reasons,” said Whiteley. “One is, the alternative was to not have the event at all. And secondly, it got a lot of people out the door, and we were just excited that that many people wanted to get out and get involved.”

The field was spread wide. In addition to 25 states being represented, runners in four other countries — Bosnia, France, Taiwan and Thailand — dot the results list.

Holland, the Ashland High running standout who is preparing for his career at the University of Oregon, and Johnson, the 2018 champion who ran the race last year while 8 months pregnant, are no strangers to victory lane.

Their routes were similar, in that each chose to run on a section of the Bear Creek Greenway that stretches from Central Point to Ashland.

Holland’s overall winning time was 52 minutes, 51 seconds. Former North Medford cross country state champion and Washington State runner Drew Jordan, of Spokane, Washington, was second in 53:03. Travis Thompson, of Eugene, placed third in 58:27.

Johnson, of Medford, was the lone female to eclipse an hour, clocking 59:42. Medford’s Samantha Robertson (1:02:15) and Gale Robertson (1:03:13) were second and third.

Esperansa Morales, who shocked the racing community when she captured last year’s women’s race as a 10-year-old, came in fourth. The time for the Klamath Falls sixth-grader was 1:05:02.

Creating their own routes didn’t lead to times that approached the men’s and women’s course records for Holland and Johnson (they would not have counted as records, regardless). Cole Watson set the men’s mark of 49:05 in 2017, and Marci Klimek established the women’s record of 57:03 in 2015.

Grants Pass’ Corey Hartgrave won the wheelchair/handcycle 10-mile for the 13th time, clocking 43:26.

In the 5K, Medford’s Michael Maiorano had the top men’s time of 15:23, which was six seconds off the record set by Bend’s Travis Newman in 2013. Carmen Mejia, a former South Medford runner now in San Francisco, took the women’s race in 18:14, which is 18 seconds faster than the course record held jointly by Mercy Ray and Sera Mathewes.

Holland began his route near a parking lot in Talent, then headed north along the Greenway toward Phoenix.

“I just went out 5 miles, turned around and came back,” he said. “It wasn’t that super interesting of a route, but it was fast and flat. Not too exciting, but it got the job done.”

His father and personal coach, Neil, accompanied him on a bike, and EJ’s Ashland teammate, Reed Pryor, needed to get in a tempo workout and paced Holland for five miles.

Holland, who was one of three Pear Blossom scholarship recipients, treated it as a chance to open the throttle a bit, even through there were no competitors around him.

“It was a hard effort for me, for sure,” said the six-time state champion in cross country and track and field. “It was really more of a tempo kind of workout thing. I didn’t want to just absolutely destroy myself. My dad was like, let’s give it a good, hard effort, not do it as a long run pace, like 5:30 (per mile) or something. Try to get in a good, strong tempo effort.

“I was definitely working the last couple miles. It wasn’t like a jog or anything.”

As a testament, he bettered his personal best for a 10K with a time of 31:50. His previous record was 32:29 when he won the Ashland Fourth of July Run in 2018.

This was Holland’s first opportunity to run in the Pear Blossom. The race annually falls in the heart of the high school track and field season.

The distance is longer than he normally runs, and it was the furthest he’d gone since doing a half-marathon two years ago.

“It was fun,” he said. “It would have been nicer to have the whole race on and everything, but it’s still fun. It gave me an opportunity to do it and be out there with a couple of my friends and my parents, so that was nice.”

Johnson, who like Holland only made one running attempt, had a similar mindset.

“It was good to have something to work toward still,” she said, “then also to have everyone doing this and we’re all picking out our own routes. It was kind of fun to have the virtual camaraderie.”

She ran about 11/2 weeks ago, choosing a rainy day so it wouldn’t be as hard on her allergies.

“I was trying to avoid people, cars and anything, really,” she said.

Johnson’s Greenway route began in Central Point and took her south until she reached five miles, at which time she reversed course.

“I just ran until I hit 10 and actually had to run over my finish line because my watch wasn’t reading 10,” she said.

Her route was more arduous than she expected.

“I wish I would have picked another section, but it’s OK,” said Johnson. “There are some areas that are a little more flat than what I did. I felt like I would come up a little hill, then go down and there’d be another one. And, it kept turning. It wasn’t the fastest.”

Her time was within two minutes of the 57:56.78 she won with two years ago.

OTHER AWARDS

Most elevation gain, 10-mile: Neil Olsen, 4,938 feet.

Most elevation gain, 5K: Paul and Renee McCann, 1,331 feet.

Most weight pushed in a stroller, 10-mile: Julie Frederick, 57 pounds.

Most weight pushed in a stroller, 5K: Sara Liles Benedetta, 55 pounds.

Most years in the Pear Blossom Run: Tim Rose, Kenny White and Leonard Hill, all 44 years.

Farthest away from Medford, international: James Anderson, Thailand.

Farthest away from Medford, domestic: Tracy family (Eric, Wendy, Caroline and Julia), Falmouth, Maine, 3,205 miles.

Oldest runner, 10-mile: Patricia Ferguson, 79.

Oldest runner, 5K: Lee Wade, 80.

Youngest runner, 10-mile: Lilli Bozeman, 10.

Youngest runner: 5K: Paxton Zimmerman, 7.

Cutest four-legged running partner: Kenai Kesterson, running 10-mile with owner Maizy.

Best costume: Susan Moga, dressed as Yip Yip from Mars.

See pearblossomrun.com for full results

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

Michelle Meilicke pushes her 96-year-old grandmother, Mary Mallory, in her wheelchair as they both complete the 2020 Pear Blossom.