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Napa-Sonoma Half Marathon soars

Competitors start at last year's Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

Competitors start at last year's Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon. Robbi Pengelly/Index-Tribune

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The popularity of the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon continues to soar, and it is now one of the most prestigious races in the country, attracting some of the best names in the distance running.

Recently recognized as one of the top half-marathons in the world by Women’s Running magazine, the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon is featured on numerous “must-do” race lists, and Runners World magazine chose it as “Best Half Marathon Finish.”

This year’s 11th annual Wine Country Half Marathon sold out in 35 minutes back in November, and is slated for Sunday, July 20, with a start time of 7 a.m. at Cuvaison Estate Winery in Napa. The scenic 13.1-mile, certified course then winds into the Valley and ends in front of Sonoma City Hall on the Plaza.

Headlining the 2014 Napa-to-Sonoma race weekend will be Meb Keflezighi, an Olympic Silver Medalist and champion of both the 2014 Boston Marathon and 2009 New York City Marathon.

Keflezighi, who is sponsored by Krave Jerky of Sonoma, will be the guest speaker at the race expo and race dinner, and will also lead the race on an ElliptiGO bike, next to running legend Mary Decker Slaney, who will lead the female runners.

The elite field is also highlighted by Ryan Hall, the American Half Marathon course record holder (59 minutes, 43 seconds), who was also a United States Olympian in the marathon in the 2008 and 2012 games. He will be running in his first Wine Country Half Marathon.

Defending champion Tesfaye Alemayehu, who holds the Napa-to-Sonoma course record of 1 hour, 2 minutes, 38 seconds, will be seeking his fifth Napa-to-Sonoma title.

Also competing in the 13.1-mile race are Sergio Reyes, winner of the 2014 Flying Pig Marathon and 2014 Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon, along with Ben Bruce and Craig Leon, who finished 13th and 27th, respectively, in the USA Half Marathon Championships earlier this year.

Leading the women’s elite Wine Country Half Marathon field is two-time USA 5,000-meter champion, Lauren Fleshman, who is also a regular columnist to “The Fast Life” in Runners World magazine and Runnersworld.com.

Fleshman, who will be a guest speaker at the race expo, is making her half-marathon debut at Napa-to-Sonoma against former Stanford teammate Sara Hall, who broke the course record (1:14:33) in her first half marathon at the 2013 Healdsburg Wine Country Half Marathon.

Also heading the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon women’s field are Laurie Knowles, Jane Kibii and Rowan Torckler.

Returning alongside the half marathon is the sold-out GunBun FunRun – presented by Parkpoint Health Club – a 5K race that starts at Gundlach Bundschu Winery and also ends in the Sonoma Plaza.

When the half-marathon race route enters the Valley, there will be traffic detours at Burndale Road, Denmark and MacArthur streets, and Broadway.

Following the running events will be the popular Wine and Music Festival in the Plaza from 9:30 a.m. until noon, with 28 local wineries, along with Lagunitas Brewing, on hand to pour, while the band, T-Luke & the Tight Suits, will play zydeco/funk.

The awards ceremony will take place at 10:30 a.m. on the band stage, with first-place men’s and women’s finishers receiving a prize purse of $1,000, plus a three-liter bottle of wine, a Riedel decanter trophy, Red Fox Wireless Headphones and a wine country gift basket.

The race Expo will be held on Saturday, July 19, at Hanna Boys Center, and is open to the public with informational seminars, exhibits, product sampling, packet pickup, food, wine tasting and music. For more information on seminar times for Keflezighi, Fleshman and other headlining speakers, visit the event website at destinationraces.com/runn2s.

The Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America’s Team Challenge will bring 750 runners and more than 1,100 people to the event.

National charity partners for the Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon include the Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation of America, One Team One Fight, and City of Hope.

The Hanna Boys Center will again provide the bulk of the volunteers and serves as the primary beneficiary of the event.Other locally-based charity partners who provide volunteer support include Community Action of Napa Valley (CAN-V), Native Sons of the Golden West and Save Our Sports-Sonoma.

Sponsors for the 2014 Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon include Newton Running, Rabobank, TomTom, Amy’s Kitchen, Cliff Bar, Accelerade, Krave Jerky, Taylor Made Farms, Touring & Tasting magazine, Redfox, Calistoga Olive Oil Co., Honest Tea, Jog Tog, Elliptigo, World Centric, Riedel, Nuun, Harvest Snaps, Zico, Foley Food & Wine Society, IPS, Lagunitas Brewing Co., Napa Running Co., Gundlach Bundschu Winery, Parkpoint Health Clubs, Embassy Flags, Max-Freeze and Sahale Snacks.

The Napa-to-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon is the flagship event in the series produced by Destination Races, which partners with national and local charities and nonprofit organizations. For more information on the series, visit destinationraces.com.