Jerry Kiernan arrived in San Diego from Dublin, Ireland, to run in Sunday’s America’s Finest City Half Marathon. And, despite winning the race on a course that overlooks some of the picturesque San Diego coast, Kiernan hardly described his victory as a day at the beach.
“The weather out here worked against me,” Kiernan said. “It’s too hot to run. And I’m too skinny for the beach, so I didn’t know what to do.”
What Kiernan, 32, did was win the AFC Half Marathon in 1:03.15 on a hot and humid Sunday morning. Thom Hunt of Coronado, Kiernan’s only real threat after six miles, finished second in 1:04.37.
Former San Diegan Laurie Binder won the women’s division in 1:17.43, running down Melannie Hennis over the second half of the race. Hennis finished second in 1:17.55.
More than 6,000 ran in the race.
Both Kiernan and Hunt agreed the fate of the men’s division was decided on mile six at Harbor Island. Kiernan, Hunt and George Malley of Eugene, Ore. led at that point, but Kiernan quickly opened up a lead, a lead that expanded until the finish.
“The first 10K was very fast,” Kiernan said. “I knew the guys were running way beyond themselves. At six and a half miles, I went for the race. Nothing disastrous, just very, very lukewarm surges.”
The first 10K was run in 28:45, which was doubly fast considering the heat and humidity.
“Everywhere you turned on this course,” Kiernan said, “you turned straight into the sun.”
Still, Kiernan’s tactical move proved successful. And as Kiernan moved away from Hunt, the latter put away Malley. Third place eventually went to Don Janicki (1:05.34), who was 57 seconds behind Hunt. Malley failed to finish in the top 10.
“Jerry made a move at Harbor Island,” Hunt said. “From that point he ran a slightly faster pace the rest of the race. After eight miles, my legs were screaming at me and I had a long way to go.”
Hunt was the hometown favorite in the dual. Hunt, 27, still holds the national high school indoor mile record of 4:02.7, which he set in the then Jack-In-The-Box Indoor Games at the Sports Arena in 1976 while competing for Patrick Henry High School.
But it was Kiernan who sat surrounded by reporters at 8:20 a.m. Sunday, answering questions about his winning run. And Kiernan said the only runner he was worried about was Hunt.
“At the World Cross Country Championships in 1977, I saw Hunt win the junior title,” Kiernan said. “An impression like that makes an indelible mark.”
And that impression seemed to resurface as Kiernan, who finished ninth in the 1984 Olympic Marathon (2:12:20) for Ireland, entered the final two miles Sunday up Sixth Avenue with a 50 second lead over Hunt.
“I just told myself no matter how I struggled on that last hill, I knew Hunt wasn’t going to run any faster,” Kiernan said.
Again, Kiernan was right.
Binder, like the men’s winners, was bothered by the heat.
“I was scared at the beginning,” Binder said. “I didn’t even warm up for the race. I’m from the East Bay, it’s 20 degrees cooler there.”
But that fear may have been Binder’s key to success Sunday.
“I went out very cautiously,” Binder said. “At Harbor Island there was a nice breeze. I stepped up the pace.”
It wasn’t until 10 miles that the 38-year old Binder ran down the 22-year old Hennis. And the age difference may have been one reason for the amount of respect Hennis showed for the winner.
“I told (Binder) that I wanted to pace her,” Hennis said. “That I wasn’t trying to beat her. Later, I thought it was really stupid that I said that, but I meant it.”
Binder went on to win her second AFC Half Marathon. She first won in 1980 (1:14.36).
The top finishers:
1. Jerry Kiernan (1:03:15), 2. Thom Hunt (1:04:37), 3. Don Janicki (1:05:34), 4. Benji Durden (1:05:58), 5. Kirk Pfeffer (1:06:20), 6. Ralph Serna (1:06:25), 7. Ron Tabb (1:06:30), 8. Joey Gomez (1:06:33), 9. Gary Tuttle (1:06:43), 10. Chris Schallert (1:06:52).
1. Laurie Binder (1:17:43), 2. Melanie Hennis (1:17:55), 3. Emily Dowling (1:19:53), 4. Mindy Ireland (1:19:59), 5. Beth Milewski (1:20:35), 6. Kelly Foster (1:20:59), 7. Sylvia Mosqueda (1:21:52), 8. Oonagh Bruni (1:22:03), 9. Catherine Quintana (1:22:11).