Caroline Kirui is the newly crowend champion of the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon. Photo: Sonoma Mag

She also beat the second-place finisher by nearly three minutes.

From: Running USA

SONOMA, Calif. – (July 17, 2011) – Caroline Kirui, a twenty-year-old from Kenya currently training in Auburn, CA, shattered the women’s course record by more than 2 minutes at the 8th running of the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon on Sunday morning. Kirui impressively covered the 13.1 mile course in 1 hour, 15 minutes, 45 seconds, easily defeating runner-up Julia Stamps Mallon, of Santa Rosa, winner of the 2009 Napa-to-Sonoma race, who came in at 1:18:27. Tiffanie Marley of Lake Hughes, CA finished third (1:19:55).

Tesfaye Sendeku of Ethiopia defended his title in a hard-fought race by defeating Christian Hesch of Hollywood, CA and Sergio Reyes of Palmdale, CA. Tesfaye, 27, ran a 4:56 per mile pace and finished in 1:04:37, off from his course record time of 1:03:58 set last year. Hesch finished in 1:04:53, barely beating out Reyes, the 2010 USA Marathon champion. Hesch stayed with Sendeku for nine miles before dropping back, allowing a determined Reyes to catch him before Hesch made a surge on the final stretch on Broadway, crossing the finish line two seconds ahead of Reyes.

Sendeku and Kirui both won a 6 liter bottle of sparkling wine from Gloria Ferrer, a Ball Watch and $750 in prize money. Kirui also received a bonus of $500 for breaking the course record. Weather conditions and temperatures were ideal for the thousands of runners who traveled from all over the world to compete in this wine country race from Napa to Sonoma.

But Caroline Kirui was the story of the day as she dominated a strong field. Stamps Mallon, winner of two previous wine country half-marathons was impressed. “I felt strong and knew I had a good pace but never really had Caroline in my sights after a few miles into the race”, said Mallon. “She disappeared once we started winding through the vineyards on the flat section so I just focused on running a strong race.”

Destination Races, producer of the event, announced that runners from all 50 states and 14 foreign countries entered this year’s race, which sold out in December 2010, and on Sunday, had 2,404 finishers plus another 245 finishers in the accompanying 5K. The popularity of the race has grown each year, making entry into the race as challenging as the race itself. The Wine Country Half Marathon features a scenic course that starts at a winery in Napa and winds through the Carneros wine appellation. Runners finished in front of thousands of cheering fans in front of City Hall in Sonoma Plaza, site of the post-race Wine & Music Festival, where fabulous weather, food and wine were served, helping explain the tremendous appeal of this event.

Twenty percent of the participants were part of Crohns and Colitis’ Team Challenge program, which raised $1.7 million at the Napa-to-Sonoma event. One of those participants was Mike McCready of the popular rock band Pearl Jam. McCready was running in his first half-marathon and was upbeat about the experience, “I feel pretty good right now. It wasn’t too painful,” said Mike. “I really enjoyed the race and also training with my team from Seattle.” McCready finished the race in 2:10:05.

In addition to Napa-to-Sonoma, Destination Races now produces half-marathon events in Santa Barbara wine country, the Willamette Valley of Oregon, Healdsburg, California and Northern Virginia. Destination Races’ restricts its fields to 3,300 or less runners in order to offer more amenities and wine country hospitality, resulting in a more exclusive destination experience.