Homer's Annie Ridgely wins Kenai half marathon

Assistant Homer cross-country coach wins full marathon

  • Victor Samoei runs in the Kenai River half-marathon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)
  • Runners Kimberly Buskirk (left), Kate Swaby, and Candace Cartwright run in the Kenai River half-marathon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)
  • Runner Jen Novobilski pushes toward mile 11 of the Kenai River half-marathon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 alongside the Kenai Spur Highway in Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)
  • Sondra Stonecipher runs in the Kenai River half-marathon on Sunday, Sept. 24, 2017 near Kenai, Alaska. (Photo by Ben Boettger/Peninsula Clarion)

One did it using a handcycle after breaking his back seven years ago. Others competed after coaching at — or even running in — the Region III meet just outside of Palmer the day before.

Another finished after a spill that had him looking more like a Mount Marathon finisher than a Kenai River Marathon finisher, and still others chased The Boston Marathon qualifying time while trying to raise a family.

But the one thing all — 178 runners plus 10 relay teams — had in common is having the courage and commitment to sign up to run five kilometers, a half marathon or a marathon, then coming through no matter what a rainy, overcast autumn day or their finicky bodies threw at them on the courses that loop between Kenai and Soldotna.

The men’s marathon was won by Pedro Ochoa, 21, while the women’s half marathon went to Annie Ridgely, 35.

Ridgely is the head coach for the Homer High School cross-country team, while Ochoa is an assistant.

Saturday, the Mariners were just outside of Palmer for the Region III meet, where the girls won a fourth straight Division II title and the boys finished second in the quest for a third straight title.

The two coaches went all the way back to Homer with the team Saturday night, arriving just before 11 p.m.

Ridgely’s alarm then went off at 6 a.m. Paul and Annie Ridgely soon had their four kids fed and ready to head to Kenai.

“He’s the real champ,” Annie said of her husband.

Ridgely actually raced in the same clothes she wore at the region meet, never having had time to change them.

After going through all of that, the jockeying in the three-person lead pack in the race wasn’t a big deal.

“I had to race smart,” she said. “I was pretty tired.”

The big point in the race was with less than 10 kilometers left, when Anchorage’s Jessie Pierce, 21, came from fourth to take a run at the lead.

Ridgely rode Pierce to the front and stayed there. Ridgely won at 1:39:56, while Pierce was second at 1:40:05.

In the end, Saturday’s coaching trip may have been the difference.

“They are so inspirational,” Ridgely said of her team. “I thought of a different runner each mile.

“I thought of all the heart and battle they showed yesterday.”

Ochoa used a similar tact in winning the 26.2-mile race in 2:56:06, going under three hours for the first time in his third marathon.

“Running with them is an inspiration,” Ochoa said of his runners. “It helps build the flame.”

Ochoa did not have plans of going under three hours, but Samuel Atkinson, 22, of Kotzebue, set a strong pace and Ochoa followed.

About Mile 21, Ochoa, who has qualified to run for the Army National Guard team, noticed Atkinson was slowing down, so he sped by him to take the win. Atkinson was second at 3:02:50.

Ochoa said Team Homer actually had its eyes on the triple crown Sunday, but driving back on the bus Saturday, assistant Robert Ostrom learned it was too late to register for the five-kilometer race.

“The running culture just keeps growing in Homer,” Ochoa said.

While Ridgely and Ochoa get kudos for running after coaching Saturday, at least they didn’t actually race Saturday.

For full results, see the full story by the Peninsula Clarion.

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