Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News

Chris Tucker/Peninsula Daily News

SPORTS: A marathon of firsts for North Olympic Discovery races

PORT ANGELES — It was a day of firsts at the 10th annual North Olympic Discovery Marathon on Sunday.

Ginger Gruber of Port Orchard broke her runner-up jinx in the Sequim-to-Port Angeles 26.2-mile race while Port Ludlow native Jill Steele captured second in her first-ever marathon.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s Shane Ruljancich won his first marathon in just his fourth try with the fifth-best time in the course’s 10-year history.

Gruber has been running the North Olympic Peninsula marathon since 2006 and earned her first victory on this course in her seventh try.

Her winning time was 3 hours, 28 minutes.

She was runner-up in 2008, 2009 and 2010, finished out of the top five last year because she was recovering from an injury, but she broke through Sunday.

“This is one race I’ve been after,” she said.

After the race, Gruber was all smiles even though she was limping and had to be helped to a medical tent because her right thigh was cramping up on her.

“I was hoping to run faster,” she said as she fought through leg pain.

Gruber had better times in her 2008 and 2009 races, and was surprised she won this year with a slower time.

“I guess it depends on who shows up [to race],” she said.

Gruber now has five wins in 47 marathons.

Now 42, she started running marathons in 2000.

“It was a new century, and I had a new goal,” Gruber said.

Steele, meanwhile, was just a couple of minutes behind Gruber for second place.

Steele, 31, was competing in the first of what she says could be many marathons.

Is she coming back next year?

“Absolutely, it was amazing [this year],” she said.

Steele, who lives in Seattle but grew up in Port Ludlow and graduated from Chimacum High School, runs 16 to 18 miles a day for fun.

“I run before I go to work every day,” she said. “I’m a fitness nut.”

Her first marathon went so well, Steele can see more in the future, especially the North Olympic Discovery race.

“It was beautiful today, and the weather was perfect,” she said. “There was just a couple of hills on the course.”

While Gruber was aiming for her first win in Port Angeles, men’s winner Ruljancich was trying for a win and breaking the 2-hour, 40-minute mark.

He was oh-so-close to breaking the 2:40 mark.

“My time was 2:40:15,” he said while looking at his watch.

Despite his first race on the Peninsula, the 35-year-old Ruljancich was looking to take first place.

“I thought I had a good chance to win based on previous times,” he said.

The mapping technician for the Canadian regional government in Victoria, said he enjoyed running on the Sequim-to-Port Angeles course.

“The course was nice,” he said. “It was scenic with a lot of running on the [North Olympic Discovery] trail.

“There were a couple of dips down by the creeks and meadows, but not too hilly.”

His competition, though, noticed the hills a little more. Two runners finished almost 15 minutes behind Ruljancich.

Pascal Spino, 45, of Vancouver was runner-up in 2:54:56 while Kevin Saur, 37, of Snohomish claimed third place a few seconds behind.

Saur was the runner-up for most of the race but Spino passed him just before the finish line.

“I never thought I was going to catch him,” Spino said. “I was following him the whole way. He kept getting smaller in front of me.”

But then Saur hit a running wall and started to lose 1 minute to 1½ minutes on his pace time.

“I was just dying a bit during the last few miles,” Saur said.

The hills hurt their performance.

“The course is beautiful, and the people are nice,” Spino said, “but I didn’t expect those hills.

“They’re short but they just took it out of you.

“But the bridges are just spectacular. I’m going to bring my boys back [in their early teens] to see the bridges.”

Despite slowing down at the end, Saur said he also enjoyed the course.

“The course was great but the hills got to me,” he said.

“They looked shorter in elevation on the map.”

In the shorter 10-kilometer and 5K races, the combined Wilson and Wilhite families of Port Angeles and Olympia performed well as usual.

Ariel Wilhite, 13 and a middle-school student at Komachin in Olympia, was the second-best female in the 5K race in 21 minutes, 34.5 seconds.

“Ariel is an honorary Port Angeles resident because she stays with us so much,” her grandmother, Merri Wilson of Port Angeles, said.

Ariel had no problem with the 5K.

“I felt my time was pretty good,” she said. “The course was easy for me.”

Ariel’s little sister, 9-year-old Trinity, medaled in her age group for the 10K this year.

Both Ariel and Trinity ran in the Olympic Medical Center 10K run last year.

The sisters both run for Speed Unlimited, which is a youth elite running club based in Bellevue.

Ariel is a four-time Junior Olympic Nationals competitor.

Grandfather Russ Wilson, meanwhile, was a repeat champion in his age-group (50-59) in the 5K.

“I had to come back to defend my title,” he said with a smile.

Merri Wilson, meanwhile, competed in the 5K for the first time this year.

“I mostly walked it,” she said. “This is a whole-family thing for us.”

Russ and Merri Wilson’s daughter, Brenda Wilhite, captured second in her age group (30-39) in the 5K.

And to complete the whole-family thing, Brenda’s husband and Ariel and Trinity’s father, Russ Wilhite, was running in the marathon race while the rest of the family were picking up their medals for the 10K and 5K races.

“He ran the marathon last year, too,” Merri Wilson said.

The Wilson and Wilhite families will be back next year, Merri Wilson promises.

There were more than 2,000 runners in the four races representing 48 states and three countries at this year’s event.

Winning the men’s 10K was 31-year-old Chris Callendar of Victoria in 37:38.2 while 45-year-old Sue Weidemier of Sequim captured the women’s 10K race in 44:35.5.

Complete list of winners will be posted on www.nodm.com.

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