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Competitors run toward the finish line during Sunday’s Carlsbad 5000. Photo by Steve Puterski
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Local runners win Carlsbad 5K top divisions

CARLSBAD — A pair of North County locals won their respective divisions as nearly 10,000 runners and walkers took part in the 31st annual Carlsbad 5000 on Saturday and Sunday.

Nick Scarpello, 24, of Encinitas and Cortney Berling, 26, of Oceanside each took home first place in the men’s and women’s under 29 class, respectively. Scarpello finished in 14 minutes, 31 seconds, while Berling crossed the line in 17:25 on Sunday.

Both ran in Saturday’s 1-mile event, which was the first time in the history of the event that distance was included. Scarpello, who ran at Penn State, finished second in 4:19, while Berling, a former University of Cincinnati runner, took third in her division at 5:07.

But the duo, (both run for local track club Prado Racing), said getting back into a competitive mindset and field was invigorating. It was also both their second appearances at the race.

“It was a pretty average course,” Scarpello said. “The reason it’s fast is because there is great competition and (fan) support. You get the adrenaline going and you run fast.”

Berling, meanwhile, was able to celebrate her victory with friends, although her husband missed the event as he is deployed in Iraq with the Marines.

Nevertheless, she ran hard and said the course was a challenge, especially going northbound on Carlsbad Boulevard thanks to a headwind.

“That was a bit of a struggle and you had to tuck in,” Berling said. “This is kind of my home turf. For me, it’s just another day on our local streets.”

Cortney Berling of Oceanside heads toward the finish line to win the women’s under 29 division during Sunday’s Carlsbad 5000. Photo by Steve Puterski
Cortney Berling of Oceanside heads toward the finish line to win the women’s under 29 division during Sunday’s Carlsbad 5000. Photo by Steve Puterski

Later in the day, the professionals hit the 5K course and Ethiopian Meseret Defar, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 5,000 meters and the top-seeded runner on Sunday, dominated the woman’s race. The 32-year-old’s time for the 5K was 15:02, while Kenyan rival Caroline Kipkirui came across the line second in 15:13. Susan Kuijken, of the Netherlands was third in 15:28.

“The race was good. The first kilometer was a little bit fast,” Defar recalled. “I didn’t run a very fast time, but the race was good for me.” Defar flashed a smile at the end and admitted that Carlsbad is her favorite road race. “It’s my favorite place. The fans are amazing. They cheer me on. I am so happy to be here.”

Defar is now setting her sights on preparations for the Summer Olympics in Rio later this year.

“I will try to run the 10,000 at some Diamond League meetings before the Olympics,” she said.

In the men’s race, Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda held back speedy competitors to win in 13:24. Wilson Too of Kenya (13:29) and Debeli Gezmu of Ethiopia (13:38) were second and third, respectively.

The big news in Carlsbad in the men’s race went to the American Bernard Lagat who, at 41 years old, was in prime shape to place fourth overall in 13:38 and better his own World Masters record by two seconds.

“I’m always happy to come here in Carlsbad and compete,” Lagat said. “Thank you to the fans, too.”

Lagat now hopes to make yet another Olympic team.

“I’m going to try and train and stay healthy before the U.S. Trials. I still want to run the 5000m in Rio, but my coach said we should mix it up a little bit and try the 10,000m and see if I can run a good time in May. If I run a good time like 28 (minutes) flat then I will be happy. But I’m a miler and to go up to a monster like a 10,000m will be a challenge.”

The day started with the men’s masters division. Forty-eight-year-old Christian Cushing Murray from Santa Ana broke the tape first at the finish line in 15:11.

“I just knew it was a loaded field today,” Murray said. “I didn’t think there was one guy who could run me down; I thought there were five guys who could do it. I had never been more afraid.”

Murray said the race was thrilling down to the wire with rival Greg Mitchell doing most of the work.

“We slowed down a bit and that helped because I knew I could kick,” Murray said. “But on any given day, depending how the race plays out, I could end up losing this race 8 out of 10 times and I just got him.”

Murray had been struggling with injury last year and dealing with the challenges inherent in trying to run fast at the master’s level.

“Everyone is dealing with being old,” he said. “Everyone is banged and dinged up. You got to step on the line and put yourself in the position to win it.”

Mitchell from McMinnville, Ore., came in four seconds later in 15:15, while third place was awarded to Jeremey Deere (15:18). Julie Ertel won the women’s masters division in 17:30.

“It was good. The weather was fantastic, but those gals went out much faster than I expected,” said the 43-year-old Ertel, who lives in Irvine. “My family used to vacation here. I love Carlsbad. I’m starting my vacation today. The crowds were great. There’s nothing better than running a 5K and have people cheering the entire way. You don’t get that at any other race.”

Second masters went to Janet McDevitt (17:33) from Bainbridge Island, Wash., and Renee Tolan of Clifton Park, New York took third in 17:37.