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Petaluma River marathon draws boaters

Laurel Condro’s hot sauce-themed socks spoke to the high temperatures Sunday for racers competing in the Petaluma River Marathon.

But they also hinted at her Oakland-based team’s blistering pace. She and the three other women rowed across the finish line at Foundry Wharf in just over three hours - a few minutes shy of the course record set in 2005.

She clambered out of the sleek, four-seat boat, beads of sweat popping from her face and neck.

“Oh God! To stand up straight again!” said Condro, a physical therapist, as she stretched her back. “Our butts hurt, but other than that, it was lovely!”

Condro was among about 100 people competing in the 14th-annual race, which runs the length of the 13.1-mile river to San Pablo Bay and back.

This year’s event, put on by the North Bay Rowing Club, drew racers from across the west and as far away as Kansas.

Organizers say the river race has gained a national following among competitive rowers for its glassy water, wildlife and relatively few motorboats.

Also, its round-trip distance is convenient for a full, 26.2-mile marathon.

“There’s nothing like this,” said Ned Orrett, an organizer and sculling coach. “The rowing community is beginning to learn that this is the spot.”

Participation in the annual race has grown from a few dozen entries in the beginning to nearly 130 last year. A surge in overall interest in the sport has the rowing club planning a new, multimillion-dollar facility over the next five years.

This year’s event was slightly down, possibly because of the heat wave that sent temperatures into triple-digit territory Saturday.

In response, organizers set up water stations at short intervals along the course.

“The biggest concern this year is obviously the weather,” said the race’s founder, Greg Sabourin. “We tell people to make sure they stay hydrated.”

Racers got off to an early start around 7 a.m., enjoying a receding tide and cloud cover on the way out. Many rowed state-of-the art graphite boats selling for up to $50,000 with as many as eight seats. Others put in on kayaks or stand-up paddleboards. The event also included a half-marathon.

Christine Flowers of Sacramento did the half instead of the full to test her knee replacement.

The university professor spotted herons along the route and “some type of hawk.”

“I think maybe it was waiting for some of us to die out there,” she joked. “It was hot.”

Darren Borgias of Ashland, Oregon, rowed his “$800 garage sale boat” with a “26.2” sticker on the side to the fastest single time in the full marathon: 3:22.00.

He hopped onto the dock, breathing hard and dripping in sweat.

“It’s a beautiful course,” said Borgias, a Nature Conservancy conservation director. “The conditions were perfect.”

You can reach Staff Writer Paul Payne at 707-568-5312 or paul.payne@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @ppayne.

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