Santa Rosa's first marathon brought out hundreds of runners Sunday from across the country, but mainly local runners who were thrilled to be able to race close to home.

"The fact it was local .<TH>.<TH>. it's so fantastic. I woke up and ran down to start the marathon," said Bob Shebest, 35, who lives near downtown.

The Windsor Middle School, sixth-grade teacher came in second in the 26.2-mile race and took first place for his age group with a time of 2:42:17. The fastest time was by Jeff Gardina of Santa Clara at 2:30:05. He competed in the 25 to 29 age group.

<NO1><NO>"It was flat. It was fast. The weather was really cooperating," said Shebest, an East Coast transplant who's run marathons for 11 years. "It was fun."

The marathon and half-marathon event were charity benefits for the Valley of the Moon Children's Foundation and the Sonoma Humane Society.

At the 7 a.m. start, 563 runners were at the line, race organizers said. About 100 of them ran the full 26.2-mile route, while the rest ran or walked the half-marathon.

Under cool, foggy skies they left Juilliard Park south of downtown Santa Rosa for the nearby Prince Memorial Greenway path and followed it west along Santa Rosa Creek.

At Willowside Road they turned back. The full race was two loops around.

Marathon director Arthur Webb said organizers were thrilled with the interest in the first-time run.

"We had no clue we'd get so many," said Webb, 67, of Santa Rosa and a veteran distance runner who specializes in 100-mile runs.

Some runners came from Mexico, while a few others were from as far as Arizona, Colorado, Georgia and North Carolina.

Most of the runners were from Sonoma County, including 232 from Santa Rosa, including 36-year-old Angela Welch.

It was her first competitive half-marathon.

"It was great. I'm excited," she said, sporting a big participation medal on a blue and white ribbon.

"I ran much faster than I usually run. That was my best yet," she said. "I hope they get to do this every year."

As each runner ended the race, they ran back into the park through barricades leading them under the finish line. A large clock above ticked off their times, and the crowd cheered their arrival.

Jorge Maravilla of Napa sped across the line and then kicked up his heels in a crowd-pleasing finish. He had the ninth-fastest marathon time.

For Maravilla, like Shebest and several others in the race, a marathon is about half the distance they often run for competition.

"This was just a long training run for me," he said.

The former Santa Rosa resident said that when he heard of the race, he wanted to be there.

"I wanted to be a part of an inaugural event," Maravilla said.

Webb said he plans to make the race an annual event, with the goals of stirring up business for local stores, raising money for local charities and providing a local race for the area's runners.

"We wanted to bring running to Santa Rosa," he said.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com.

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