Aaron looks Sharp en route to half-marathon victory

With Aaron Sharp feeling at the top of his game, the rest of the field didn’t have much of a chance to beat him at Saturday morning’s Santa Barbara Half Marathon.

The Port Hueneme runner stormed into the lead from the start and never looked back in winning the 33rd edition of the race in 1 hour, 9 minutes, 16 seconds.

“I felt really good; running smooth, probably as smooth as I ever have in a long time,” said Sharp, 29, a former cross country star at UCSB and the current coach at Santa Clara High School in Oxnard. “(The course) is pretty challenging with the hills and everything, but I felt really good.”

FULL RESULTS

It was Sharp’s third victory in Santa Barbara’s largest road race and his best time of the three titles. He won in 1:12.36 in 2005 and in 1:11.54 in 2006. His previous best mark was a second-place time of 1:09.46 in 2003, the year he graduated from UCSB.

Bobby Olivera of Ventura finished second in 1:12.48 and Eli Rodriguez of Whittier was third in 1:15.27.

sbrunningcoBUAndrea McLarty of Santa Barbara was the women’s champion. After powering through the first 10 miles, she battled through fatigue for the final 3.5 and managed to hold off fellow local racer Sara Dillman. McLarty’s time was 1:22.12 while Dillman hit the finish line in 1:23.52.

Sanctioned by USA Track and Field, the race was designated as the Southern California Half-Marathon Championship.

In the 5-kilometer fun run, 15-year-old Ryan Ridderbush of Camarillo was the overall winner in 18:28 and Ladawn Cook of Moorpark took the women’s title in 23:48. The top local finisher was 10-year-old Jack Randma in 21:41.

Sharp’s only concern during the half marathon was the pace he was keeping. He said one of the mile pacers on the course told him he was running at a 5:22 clip, which he didn’t believe. “I thought I was faster,” he said.

He was right. He checked his watch and saw that he was doing a 5:16-mile pace. That made him feel better.

“I just had to stay relaxed and not panic,” he said.

Aaron Sharp

Aaron Sharp

Sharp was concerned about his pace because he’s preparing for next month’s California International Marathon in Sacramento, where he hopes to meet the U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying time.

“The standard is now 2:19, so I’ve got to run 2:18 something. So 1:09, that’s exactly where I want to be,” he said.

While Sharp felt strong from start of finish, the race was a grind for Olivera. The winner of the recent Ojai Half-Marathon knew early on Saturday that he wasn’t going to challenge Sharp.

“After the third mile I really felt like ‘Dude, I’m just going to go run this,’ “ he said.

Olivera, 23, who is preparing for the Dec. 6 Santa Barbara International Marathon, said between fighting an illness and traveling to Mira Loma near Sacramento to get a puppy for his girlfriend, he was tired. But he decided to run anyway.

“I really want to get ready for the marathon, but the way I felt today, it’s going to be a long marathon.

“It was a grind,” he added, “but it was a good test (for the marathon). That’s going to be half the course.”

McLarty was cruising along comfortably until she got a huge jolt of fatigue after the turnaround point near the Biltmore Hotel.

“I worked really hard for it,” she said. “It was harder than I thought I was going to work. The time was slower than I thought I was going to get, but you can’t complain when you work that hard, especially when you win.

“I felt great until about 10 1/2 miles and all of a sudden it was like, ‘Oh, no!’ I actually thought at mile 10, ‘I got my kick! 5k. Ok, let’s go baby!’ Then 10 1/2 hit and it was like, ‘Oh, who took my lunch.’ “

She said her coach informed her that Dillman was just 15 meters back, but with the way she felt she didn’t care.

Andrea McLarty

Andrea McLarty

“Physically, I wanted to stop the race at mile 12,” she admitted. “The last mile was … ‘Wow…’ “

But her competitive nature kicked in and she said to herself, ‘I don’t quit. I can’t go home if I quit. There are too many mirrors in this world. I had to keep going.’ “

McLarty said the fatigue was a result of doing 80 miles a week to prepare for the Santa Barbara International Marathon. “I was doing hard workouts and not tapering for this race.”

She credited her friend Tim Strand for helping her get through the race. “He has broad shoulders and I sat behind him all the way out to almost the Biltmore. That helped a lot,” she said.

Dillman was impressed with McLarty’s performance.

“Drea was on today. She had her pace and she kept it, and I backed off a bit,” she said.

Dillman noted that Saturday’s race might be the start of a friendly rivalry between her and McLarty.

“It was really nice to run with somebody,” she said. “I’ve run with Drea before and I get along with her and I like racing with her, but she was a little tougher today.”

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