NORTH BEND — When it comes to running hills, whether Kentuck Hill during the Circle the Bay 30-kilometer road race or Heartbreak Hill during the Boston Marathon, Jen Ells has the same mentality.
“There’s always a top,” said Ells after completing Saturday’s 18.6-mile annual race around the bay. “I know those hills, but it doesn’t make it any easier.”
Ells, from Bandon, has trained on the route when getting ready for the Boston Marathon (which she has run twice) and on Saturday she rolled through the Circle the Bay course on her way to being the second female finisher in a time of 2 hours, 28 minutes and 31 seconds. Equally prepared for the course, and the challenge of the rolling hills that mark the final four miles of the course, was Ells’ friend Lisa Ryan who, while visiting from San Diego, took first place for all women with a time of 2:25:07.
“She had warned me that the last four miles were really hilly so I just kept it in my head and what you imagine to be hilly is usually not as bad as it is,” said Ryan who has run, by her estimation, about 20 marathons. “I mean, in my mind, they were monstrous, not to say that they weren’t big hills, but I don’t know, I just expected it to be hilly and that’s OK. Everyone runs up the same hill, it’s OK.”
In addition to winning, there was an extra incentive for Ryan at the finish of Saturday’s Circle the Bay 30K: the finishers’ medal which was made by Ells.
“She made these beautiful medals so I wanted to do the full to get one of these puppies,” said Ryan.
During a South Coast Running Club board meeting last year, a conversation started around race medals that ended up with Ells agreeing to make them by hand. An art teacher at Bandon High School, Ells was able to put together a design she liked.
“Made out of clay. I did the drawing and the graphics on an iPad and my friend has a laser engraver and he made a stamp so I stamped them all and then my sons helped me glaze them and finish them off. Then Lisa put ribbons on them the other night,” said Ells.
It was the first year of the handmade medals at this race and something that both runners and race organizers enjoyed.
“Medals can be expensive. They can drive up the cost for registration so it’s how can we keep those things down and benefit everyone,” said race director Thomas Lankford. “It’s really nice to have something local that’s done. It’s kind of a nice touch.”
Danielle Jensen of North Bend was third among women and 13th overall in 2:43:23.
While Ryan and Ells were the top finishers for the women, it was also a pair of friends taking the top spots on the men’s side with Karl Smith in a time of 2:05:39 and Jack Isenhart at 2:09:49.
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For Smith, it was his third time running the race solo and he is still looking to forget the painful first time he completed the course.
“The first time was miserable, I thought I was going to die. And, actually, my parents were like, 'We’re not going to let you run anymore, we’re not going to watch. It’s too painful,'" Smith said. “I hit the ground at the finish line. It was bad and it was slow. That was the worst.”
With increased mileage and a more consistent running regiment, Smith has continued to improve. He has run local road races from 10K to marathon, coached middle school cross country and is now the head coach at Myrtle Point High School. But regardless of the training, he never saw a victory at Circle the Bay in his future.
“It’s amazing. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would win this race. It’s a huge local run, small field but — never thought I would have won this race from where I started in high school,” said Smith. “So anything is possible.”
Accompanying Smith at the front pack of racers was a group of his training partners, including second-place finisher Jack Isenhart. Isenhart, a 2017 Myrtle Point High School graduate who now attends Oregon State University, became a runner after his freshman year of high school when Smith told him he wasn’t destined to be a football star.
“I loved football as a little kid but I was like 115 pounds my freshman year so it wasn’t meant to be,” said Isenhart. “And it was a good decision because it’s been a lot of fun ever since.”
Bunched with a group of runners, Smith and Isenhart found their way to the front around mile four where they stuck together.
“It was just him and me for a long time which is fun because we can just hang with each other, talk to each other. But he broke away from me at mile 12 and that’s when the length started to catch up to me and I got a side ache and I was like, 'You’ve got to go, go do it pal,’” said Isenhart who had had never run this distance before. “But I just tried to remind myself that I’m still running for that time so I don’t want to completely give up just because I can’t run with him.”
Isenhart’s goal was to break 2:10 and he came in at 2:09:49. Jeremy West, who won the race last summer, was third in 2:14:23.
On the group side of the race, the trio of Gene Wooden, Francisco Rojas and Mitch Clark took first place as a relay team. The group, named Killer Rabbits of Caerbannog, was aided by a strong final leg from Wooden as he made up half a mile to get the squad into first as the group finished in 2:33:46.
Second place went to team Ooogie Boogie, consisting of Todd Landsberg, Basil Pittenger and Kent Sharman, which finished in 2:35:11. The Atomic Bimbos, including Ryan O'Dell, Daniela Vimbela and Anabelle Parner, was third in 2:40:27.
Runners that competed in Saturday’s race from Bandon included Jim Littles who finished 17th in a time of 2:45:12 and Brook Schwenninger in 22nd place in a time of 2:54:47.