CATEGORY: RUN Track & Field

AUTHOR: WHEELE

VERGUNST CAPTURES TUPELO MARATHON

By D.E. Wheeler

Daily Journal

The state of Mississippi has only three marathons each year, and Leonard Vergunst of Ocean Springs has something to do with two of them.

Only what does he enjoy more directing the Gulf Coast Marathon or winning the Tupelo Marathon?

At least for Sunday, it was winning. Two women's course records were set, thanks partly to a break in the weather with cloud cover that turned into rain, and Vergunst won for the second straight year as the Tupelo Marathon broke its record for total entrants.

"Today turned out better than I thought it would," said Vergunst, who ran a steady pace over the 26.2-mile distance for a winning time of 2 hours, 46 minutes, 15 seconds. "I was really expecting a lot of heat, but it was still warmer than when I won last year, but that's not bad."

The Tupelo Marathon's unique starting time of 5 a.m. helped the record 276 entrants beat some of the heat, and Vergunst beat all of them.

Still recovering from a torn tendon in his ankle from earlier in the year, Vergunst settled into about a 6:20 per mile pace. That pace helped him shed his last challenger at about the 15-mile mark, although it took him another five miles to feel comfortable about winning.

"I ran with someone else from about nine to 15 miles, then pulled away and was pretty much by myself," said Vergunst, whose winning time in Tupelo last year was five minutes faster. "I kept looking back at the turns, and at about 20 miles felt pretty comfortable I'd win."

The Tupelo Marathon's national flare showed with the runners that crossed the finish line after Vergunst. Michael Green of Rocky Face, Ga., was second with a 2:50:32 time, while Paul Sommer of Montclair, N.J., was third in 2:55:21

Two more runners broke the three hour mark in the marathon, part of the 140 runners who finished the race. David Branner of Tupelo was the first Northeast Mississippi finisher, running a 3:22:32.

Finishing seventh overall and breaking the old women's event record by five minutes was Joyce Deason of Shreveport, La., running a 3:05:53. Michelle Rial of Pearl was second in 3:23:27, and Christine Stewart of Oxford was third in 3:32:53.

A total of 27 women finished the marathon.

"I was real pleased with how everything went and all the tremendous help I had," first-year race director Pam Tucker said. "I thought today was going to be terrible with the heat, but we were blessed with the clouds."

The accompanying 14.2-mile race saw Michael O'Hara of Ocean Springs win in 1:29:14. Jerry McGath of Tupelo was second in 1:32:43 and John Lancaster of Killen, Ala., was third in 1:33:38.

Setting a women's course record was Canadian transplant and current Tupelo resident Allison Hobeika, who ran a 1:43:17. Second place went to Melanie Wright of Nashville in 1:54:40, with Marisa Quinomes of Dallas third in 2:00:12.

The race started and finished at the Tupelo Furniture Market Mississippi Building, and was sponsored by The Second Wind and the Tupelo Running Club.

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