Couples sweep top honors in SLO Marathon races

Ryan Neely, Kimberly O'Donnell take 26.2-mile marathon titles; Arroyo Grande couple Joe and Kara Thorne win half marathons

jscroggin@thetribunenews.comApril 27, 2014 

Four first-place trophies went home in two vehicles at the SLO Marathon on Sunday.

A pair of couples swept top honors in the third annual running on the current course. One was local and one from out of town. All were former collegiate runners.

Ryan Neely, a former Harvard distance runner, took the 26.2-mile marathon in 2 hours, 34 minutes, 46.68 seconds, the fastest time since the race was resurrected following a 26-year hiatus.

Now at Cal studying for his Ph.D. in neural prosthetics, Neely and girlfriend Kimberly O’Donnell found the race online and made their first trip to the Central Coast a victorious one.

In the half marathon, Arroyo Grande couple Joe and Kara Thorne each finished first.

O’Donnell is a former 400-meter hurdler at Harvard, where the couple met, and she won the women’s marathon in 3:04:33.1.

“I kind of just run for fun,” said Neely, a Michigan native. “We compete still, obviously, but we come to have fun and run fast times. With my research, it’s kind of hard to get a good schedule going.”

Still, the couple claims a handful of these double victories, a compelling feat considering O’Donnell’s running pedigree.

A youth soccer standout who ran only sprint events through her senior collegiate season, the aspiring veterinarian decided to take up marathon running when she craved some new scenery, despite having run no more than 3 miles at a time.

“I bought a marathon book and decided to do a marathon,” said O’Donnell, who won her first entry, the Baystate Marathon in Lowell, Mass., in 2011.

“The secret is, I love being outside and I love trail running. I was sick of running in circles on a paved track.”

Neely might have gotten some competition from Joe Thorne, who won the marathon last year, but the Arroyo Grande resident and former Texas cross country All-American elected to run the shorter distance as he prepares for next weekend’s Wildflower Triathlon Festival.

Thorne took last year’s marathon in 2:37:59 but has since turned pro in triathlon and hopes to improve on the 16th-place finish he had at Wildflower last year.

Then, the events were scheduled further apart. This year, the calendar was unforgiving, and Thorne had to choose.

“I could easily skip this one, but it’s in our neighborhood. It’s in our backyard,” said Thorne, who works alongside his wife for race sponsor LeftLane Sports. “And it’s a fun event. This city does a great job with it, and it’s fun running through town. This is where I train every day on my lunch break.”

Thorne took the men’s half marathon in 1:12:18.94.

Neely did get some competition from another former winner. Van McCarty of San Luis Obispo was second in 2:38:43.59, which was only eight seconds off his winning mark on the first running of this course in 2012.

Kara Thorne, a former Olympic Trials participant and distance runner at Fresno State, has become a force in local races.

A Santa Maria native who spent 16 years living in Nipomo, Thorne took the City to the Sea half marathon in October and the 5,000 meters on the track at the Cal Poly ShareSLO.com Invitational in March.

Finishing Sunday’s women’s half marathon in 1:21:07.92, Thorne won it for the first time.  She was third last year, running 10 weeks removed from having baby daughter McKenna. 

“It feels great,” Thorne said of her recent wins. “It was exciting to be out there and to come back after having a baby. It was great to have this be my first race back last year. I just came out in capris and a T-shirt, and I’m like, ‘All right, I don’t look like I’m racing, so if I do well, awesome, but if not, blend in.”

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