North marathon goes south

Leon Sheridan (1142) leads out a crowd of South Whidbey half marathoners Sunday morning at Hilltop Elementary School in Oak Harbor, including Jeff Strong (1181), Frank Jacques (1432), Bob Thome, and Fraser Mann (behind 438). - Matt Johnson
Leon Sheridan (1142) leads out a crowd of South Whidbey half marathoners Sunday morning at Hilltop Elementary School in Oak Harbor, including Jeff Strong (1181), Frank Jacques (1432), Bob Thome, and Fraser Mann (behind 438).
— image credit: Matt Johnson

Matt Simms had no intentions of winning a marathon Sunday.

A last-minute entrant into the Whidbey Island Marathon, Simms told himself he was going to treat the annual race as a fast training run. That was before he pinned a number onto his singlet.

Racing as runner No. 226, Simms spent Sunday morning having a career race as he ran a meandering route from Coronet Bay to Coupeville along with 219 other marathoners. He spent the first 11 miles of the 26.2-mile event setting the pace for a small group running about 90 seconds behind the race leaders. As some of those leaders began to fall back, Simms surged. By mile 15, he was running past runner No. 1, Chuck Engle, the winner of the previous two Whidbey Island Marathons. And though Simms didn’t believe it at the time, that was the race. By the time he finished in downtown Coupeville, he was all alone, the winner in a time of 2 hours, 48 minutes, 29 seconds. Engle, a Mississippi resident, finished 2:20 later.

“It’s amazing what putting a number on does for you,” Simms said of his race.

A marathon and ultramarathon runner who has gained standing in the Puget Sound region over the past few years, Simms had never won a marathon until Sunday. He had placed in the top 10 twice at the Seattle Marathon and was second in the North Olympics Discovery Marathon two years ago. Leading and winning a race was entirely unexplored territory for the 36 year old.

“It was a blast,” he said.

Simms’ victory comes three weeks after he took sixth in the Chuckanut 50K in Bellingham, and the day after he ran 1.5 miles in 7 minutes, 51 seconds for his semi-annual Navy Reserve fitness test.

The marathon winner was not the only South Whidbey runner to find success in the marathon and a half marathon run the same morning as part of the road racing event. Behind Simms, three South Whidbey runners were marathon finishers. Bill Cusworth of Freeland was a top 20 finisher, taking 19th in 3:29:37. He was followed by Mike Zink of Langley in 3:43:49, and Mark Cook of Clinton in 3:44:55. No South Whidbey women ran the race. Tanja Bernson of Oak Harbor was the top island woman in the race, taking 25th behind 3:11:12 women’s winner Annie Thiessen of Tacoma.

The half marathon drew a much larger crowd. Of the 794 runners who started the 13.1-mile race at Oak Harbor’s Hilltop Elementary School, 22 were from Freeland, Langley, and Clinton. Forty-three year-old Leon Shordon of Langley was the fleetest among them, taking fourth overall in the race behind 50-year old victor Rick Becker of Selah. Becker won the race in a time of 1:15:21. Shordon’s finish time was 1:20:24.

Other top South Whidbey finisher’s in the men’s race included Frank Jacques of Langley (13th, 1:25:57), Jeff Strong (16th, 1:27:14), Bob Thome (40th, 1:35:49), and 57-year-old Frazer Mann (44th, 1:36:24).

In the women’s division of the half marathon, Rachel Salzberg of Langley was the top South Whidbey finisher, taking 48th in 1:48:46. The race winner was Cindy Price of Naperville, Ill. in 1:30:20.

The Whidbey Island Marathon is a qualifier for the granddaddy of all marathons, the Boston Marathon. Qualifiers from this year’s race are eligible to run in the 2006 edition of the Boston race.

Whidbey Island Marathon

Marathon — 26.2 miles

Men: 1. Matthew Simms, 36, Langley, 2:48:29; 19. Bill Cusworth, 37, Freeland, 3:29:37; 39. Michael Zink, 45, Langley, 3:43:49; 51. Mark Cook, 31, Clinton, 3:44:55, 120. Robert Atkins, 65, Coupeville, 4:45:08.

Women: 1. Annie Thiessen, 34, Tacoma, 3:11:12, 25. Tanja Bernson, 28, Oak Harbor, 4:13:31.

Half marathon — 13.1 miles

Men: 1. Rick Becker, 50, Selah, 1:15:21; 4. Leon Shordon, 43, Langley, 1:20:24; 13. Frank Jacques, 43, Langley, 1:25:57; 16. Jeff Strong, 19, Freeland, 1:27:14; 40. Bob Thome, 49, Langley, 1:35:49, 44. Frazer Mann, 57, Clinton, 1:36:24; 68. Kurt Johnson, 51, Freeland, 1:41:28; 87. Robert Martin Jr., 35, Coupeville, 1:43:52; 115. Rick Workman, 35, Clinton, 1:48:23; 122. Theodore Peterson, 40, Clinton, 1:49:01; 161. Kelvin Thomas, 47, Clinton, 1:54:46; 229. Jerry Millhon, 64, Langley, 2:08:58.

Women: 1. Cindy Price, 31, Naperville, Ill., 1:30:20; 18. Leonila Celestino, 18, Oak Harbor, 1:41:45; 48. Rachel Salzberg, 32, Langley, 1:48:46; 341. Mary Ann Schille, 54, Clinton, 2:23:15; 342. Deborah Sargent, 53, Clinton, 2:23:17, 369. Gerry Howard, 54, Clinton, 2:26:17; 394. Kelly Henriot, 44, Clinton, 2:31:00; 413. Jane Gerlach, 46, Clinton, 2:35:52; 426. Julie Hougom, 49, Clinton, 2:40:56; 439. Christi Messner, 31, Clinton, 2:47:26; 454. Heather Dubendorf, 38, Freeland, 2:52:41; 480. Georgene Jacobs, 63, Clinton, 3:41:28; 481. Diana Conners, 54, Clinton, 3:43:28.

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