NAPA, Calif. — 2012 Kaiser Permanente Napa Valley Marathon champions Chris Mocko and Devon Yanko (née Crosby-Helms) will return to the 35th edition event to defend their titles on Sunday, March 3, 2013. A strong field of invited runners will head the sold-out crowd of 2,600 marathon participants who will cover the fast and scenic 26.2-mile course through the Napa Valley wine country. Only one man and one woman, however, will take home the coveted first place prize: their weight in distinguished Napa Valley wine.
In fact, both Mocko (San Francisco, Calif.) and Yanko (San Anselmo, Calif.) will attempt to ascend the winner’s podium for the third time at the Napa Valley Marathon (NVM). Mocko won the men’s race the past two years (2011 and 2012). To date, no athlete, man or woman, has won the 34-year-old race three consecutive times. The record for the most wins at NVM is held by Mary Coordt (Elk Grove, Calif.). Coordt captured the women’s crown four non-consecutive times (1997, 2005, 2009, 2010).
Yanko emerged as last year’s women’s champion after capturing the victory in 2007. In fact, Yanko’s 2012 winning time of 2 hours, 39 minutes, and 37 seconds set a women’s course record on NVM’s USA Track & Field certified (for accurate distance) course. The men’s course record of 2:16:20 was set in 1987 by (U.S.) National Distance Running Hall of Fame member Dick Beardsley.
The past year has been a busy and productive one for the 30-year-old Yanko. Following last year’s win, the accomplished marathoner and ultramarathoner (distances beyond 26.2 miles) took high honors at two of the most competitive ultramarathons in the world—placing third female at last year’s Old Mutual Two Oceans 56K followed by a fifth place at the Comrades 89K. Both events take place in South Africa. Last September, she married her boyfriend and fellow ultramarathoner, Nathan Yanko. The Yankos, who are both professional chefs, then raised more than $30,000 to open a cafe and bakery, M.H. Bread and Butter in San Anselmo, Calif.
“Opening (the cafe/bakery) takes up pretty much all of our time, right now,” Devon Yanko said just two-and-a-half weeks before race day. “About my expectations and goals (for the race), all I can say is I hope I’m able to be there to defend my title.”
Yanko has run more than 15 marathons and 30 ultramarathons since 2006. Her personal record for the marathon is 2:38:55 which she recorded at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials race in Houston, Texas.
Mocko, 27, comes into this year’s race with training and racing mileage to spare. On a whim, he entered the Coastal Trail Runs 24-Hour race, his first ultra, and spent New Year’s Eve running its approximately one mile loop course at San Francisco’s Crissey Field 120 times. He covered 127.3 miles for the win, a race record. Previously, Mocko had never covered more than 40 miles in a single run.
“My recovery from that effort has been a bit longer than for a typical marathon and I still haven’t returned to my pre-24-hour race form,” Mocko admitted. “But, the Napa Valley Marathon is the event that I look forward to the most. I have two weeks to bump up my mileage, spin my legs in a couple of workouts, and get ready for some great competition. I don’t expect a personal best, but would love to give myself a chance at the (first place) wine prize.”
Mocko recorded his marathon personal record of 2:23:40 at the 2011 San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.
Additional top contenders in the invited fields include:
• Matt Flaherty (27, Springfield, Ill.) placed 17th at the 2012 USA Cross Country Championships and has a 2:22:53 personal best marathon recorded at Grandma’s Marathon (Minn.) in 2011. He is a licensed attorney who has put his legal career on hold to pursue his running career.
“The timing (of NVM) works out well in terms of my comeback to racing,” said Flaherty who will compete in his first NVM following an Achilles tendon injury that sidelined him for most of 2012. “I’ve never been to Napa Valley, so I’m excited about a 26.2 mile tour of the region on foot, and visiting a few wineries for several days following the race.”
• Frank Corrigan (28, Port Costa, Calif.) hopes to improve upon his current marathon personal record (2:24:56, 2010 California International Marathon) and “be in position to win the race.”
“I’m in great shape, but I have no illusion that either a PR or a win will be easy,” said Corrigan who has run two marathons to date in his career. Mocko, a teammate of Corrigan’s on the New Balance Silicon Valley Running Club, recommended the race to Corrigan.
• Oz Pearlman (30, New York, NY) is a self-described magician and mentalist who won the 2011 New Jersey Marathon in a personal record time of 2:28:19 and recorded a course record of 5 hours, 25 minutes, 26 seconds at the 2009 Chicago Lakefront 50 Mile race.
• Cheyne Inman (27, Vacaville, Calif.) set his marathon personal best of 2:26.53 at the 2011 San Diego Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon.
• Julia Stamps-Mallon (34, Santa Rosa, Calif.) is a six-time collegiate All-American in track and field and cross country while at Stanford University. She also earned three California state cross country championship titles and four California state championship titles on the track while attending Santa Rosa High School. Stamps-Mallon owns a personal record of 2:44:07 in the marathon, which she achieved at last year’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston.
“I’ve had several friends comment about the great marathon in Napa, so I’m excited to test it out,” said Mallon, a first-timer at NVM. “Not to mention the fast course. For me, being able to roll out of bed, head up and over the hill to Napa from Santa Rosa, and have my two daughters (Ashlin, 4, and Siena, 2) come to cheer me on is what makes this race so appealing.”
• Caitlin Smith (32, Oakland, Calif.) set a marathon PR of 2:41:37 at the 2011 Boston Marathon which qualified her for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. She participated in the Trials, but had to drop out mid-race with severe muscle cramps. Smith is also an accomplished ultramarathoner, placing fourth female in the 2012 North Face 50 Mile (San Francisco) in 7:05:00.
“After talking with my coach, Mark McManus, I decided that it would mean a lot to me to break through some of the barriers I’ve had in road racing,” said Smith, “specifically running under 1:18 in a half-marathon and under 2:40 in the marathon. He mentioned that Napa would be a good marathon for 2013. I looked into the race and talked with others. It sounds perfect.”
• Michelle Meyer (25, San Francisco, Calif.) qualified for and competed in the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon where she placed 84th in 2:45:52. She recorded a marathon personal best of 2:43:57 at the 2011 California International Marathon (Sacramento).
Duncan Larkin is the news editor at Competitor.com and a freelance journalist who’s been covering the sport of running for over five years. He’s run 2:32 in the marathon and won the Himalayan 100-Mile Stage Race in 2007. His first running book, RUN SIMPLE, was released last July.