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Last-minute entry pays off for Loader

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Ex-SOU runner wins men’s championship in 10-mile Pear Blossom Run

Gabe Loader was one of the last names to enter Saturday morning’s running of the Pear Blossom Run.

It wasn’t at the very last minute, but it was pretty close.

As it turned out, Loader was the first to cross the finish line in the 10-mile main event.

Running in his first Pear Blossom Run, the 24-year-old Loader — a former cross-country and distance runner at Southern Oregon University — claimed the men’s championship with a time of 50 minutes, 34 seconds to win the 46th edition of the annual race by more than five minutes.

“I ran pretty good,” said Loader. “I had set anywhere from 50 minutes on a perfect day and I figured 51 (minutes) was doable. I finished right there in the middle. I felt fine the whole way. I could have gone a little faster, but it was a good day.”

Entering the event, race director Chuck Whiteley had a hunch that the men’s field was wide open, with so many new names on the entry list after two years of virtual racing.

Loader, who works and lives in Ashland after graduating from SOU last year, decided Friday night to finally enter the Pear Blossom Run.

The reason was simple: Loader wanted to use it as a litmus test entering the Eugene Marathon May 1, a race he’s had circled for months.

“This was kind of like the last test for me,” said Loader, who last ran for SOU during the 2020 pandemic-shortened track season. “I wanted to see how fit I was. I’ve just been training a bunch and haven’t gotten a chance to race at all.”

His decision proved to be a wise one.

Loader had plenty of time to catch his breath before the next runner arrived at the finish line Saturday. Matt Palilla, another Ashland resident, finished second with a time of 55:40. Logan Pine — who helped pace women’s 10-mile champ Marci Klimek to her win Saturday — finished third at 56:21, while Garrett Westlake (57:42) and Tyler Goens (58:21) rounded out the top five male finishers.

Goens posted the top 10-mile time in last year’s virtual event.

“The field was great,” said Loader. “Just a lot of people out here. I was super surprised at just the amount of people after the last two years. It’s a cool community event.

“I knew coming in there would be some other Ashland guys that would be pretty fast, so I knew it would be a decent enough field to run.”

Because of the incredibly short time between entering the Pear Blossom Run and physically running it, it’s not like Loader had much time to craft any sort of strategy.

That meant he just wanted to keep it as simple as can be.

Or, at the very least, as chill as can be.

“I kinda wanted to keep it relaxed,” he said. “I knew there was a hill about halfway through, so I wanted to keep it relaxed until then. Then once I saw the hill, I realized it wasn’t as huge of a deal. On the way out, I noticed there was a bit of a net uphill, so on the way back I knew it would be a bit faster and I could roll on the way back.”

Loader was leading the pack from the first turn down Eighth Street, setting an early pace that few could match.

By the time he crossed the finish line, Loader had run a pace of 5:04 per mile, 30 seconds faster than his closest competition, Palilla.

Not bad for his first time out at the Pear Blossom.

Loader, who grew up in the small Northern California town of Sutter Creek, located between Lake Tahoe and Sacramento, was part of the SOU cross-country team that won the combined men’s and women’s national title in the fall of 2018. At that NAIA Championship meet, Loader was one of the Raiders’ top scorers in the race, running the 8-kilometer course in a time of 25:29.

He also placed 13th in the 5K run at the Cascade Conference Championships in 2019.

But since finishing up his collegiate career, Loader has expanded his running distances, with marathons becoming his main focus.

The Pear Blossom certainly fit into what he likes to run these days.

“I’m surprised how many people were out here running,” said Loader. “This is like marathon size compared to the Rogue Marathon.”

The Rogue Marathon was the last race Loader had run previous to Saturday.

This race exceeded his expectations.

“It was a blast,” said Loader. “Coming back on those few miles when you’re starting to see other runners, it’s insane how many people are cheering you on even though they’re breathing heavy and working hard. It’s crazy.”

And to get a win in his first Pear Blossom Run provided confirmation of what he was feeling already: Things are looking good entering his big race in May.

“I was pretty stoked knowing that I’m in this good of shape,” said Loader. “I’ve got a few weeks left (before going to Eugene), not a whole lot of big training, and just have to get ready. I have a few more workouts and I’m pretty stoked, pretty confident.”

Men’s Pear Blossom 10-mile run

Saturday’s Results (Top 50)

1, Gabe Loader, 50:34; 2, Matt Palilla, 55:40; 3, Logan Pine, 56:21; 4, Garrett Westlake, 57:42; 5, Tyler Goens, 58:21; 6, Matthew Kidwell, 59:50; 7, Taylor West, 1:00:24; 8, Robert Julian, 1:00:47; 9, Matt Langella, 1:01:12; 10, Neil Olsen, 1:02:00.

11, Joe Buel, 1:02:11; 12, Matthew Sullivan, 1:03:21; 13, Dilan Mathieu, 1:03:32; 14, Hunter Sandin, 1:04:28; 15, Jonathan Santarelli, 1:04:35; 16, Rylan Russell, 1:05:25; 17, Gregorio Alegria, 1:06:01; 18, Elijah Cunningham, 1:06:48; 19, Christopher Davis, 1:07:20; 20, Scott Cheers, 1:07:26.

21, Noe Salazar, 1:07:40; 22, Agustin Ambriz, 1:07:41; 23, Timothy Bartelt, 1:08:30; 24, Tirso Rojas, 1:08:39; 25, Rob Folsom, 1:09:02; 26, Alex Stitt, 1:09:11; 27, K.C. Taylor, 1:10:40; 28, Juan Berrelleza, 1:10:43; 29, Benjamin Ralph, 1:11:03; 30, Cedric Roberge, 1:11:06.

31, David Noble, 1:11:10; 32, Tanner Vannice, 1:11:14; 33, Jimmy Pedrojetti, 1:11:47; 34, John Duval, 1:11:53; 35, Paul Schoenbachler, 1:12:14; 36, Brandon Phillips, 1:12:33; 37, Richard Owens Jr., 1:12:45; 38, Chad Petersen, 1:12:48; 39, Grif Wilder, 1:13:12; 40, Tyler Williams, 1:13:26.

41, Jared Fuhriman, 1:14:03; 42, Rorty Mower, 1:14:14; 43, Sean Berry, 1:14:28; 44, Jim Bowling, 1:14:32; 45, Ken Croteau, 1:14:37; 46, Seth Hungerford, 1:15:08; 47, David Wright, 1:15:14; 48, Logan Ridges, 1:15:42; 49, Cody Rommes, 1:15:44; 50, Troy Zeitler, 1:15:48.

Reach reporter Danny Penza at 541-776-4469 or dpenza@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @penzatopaper.

Photo by Larry Stauth Jr Ashland resident Gabriel Loader with a commanding lead at the 5-mile marker of the 2022 Pear Blossom Run on Saturday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Gabriel Loader of Ashland crosses the finish line winning the Pear Blossom 10-mile run in downtown Medford Saturday morning.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Gabriel Loader of Ashland crosses the finish line winning the Pear Blossom 10-mile run in downtown Medford Saturday morning.
Photo by Larry Stauth Jr Ashland resident Gabriel Loader with a commanding lead at the 5-mile marker of the 2022 Pear Blossom Run on Saturday.
Andy Atkinson / Mail Tribune Gabriel Loader of Ashland runs through downtown Medford during the Paer Blossom 10-mile run Saturday morning.