When it comes to winning races, first times are a charm for David Laney.
The 24-year-old former Southern Oregon University All-American distance runner missed out on the course record during the 37th annual Ashland Fourth of July Run by less than a second, but cruised to victory nonetheless.
His first time competing in the run, Laney completed the event's 10,000-meter course in 31 minutes, 23.47 seconds, Thursday morning, more than 20 seconds before the next finisher.
In April, Laney won the 10-mile Pear Blossom Run in Medford — competing there for his first time.
Laney wasn't chomping at the bit for Thursday's race, he said. In fact, the 2011 SOU graduate registered at the last minute only after being convinced by friends to do so, and because it "sounded fun."
The gut-wrenching final stretch uphill from the Bear Creek Greenway into downtown Ashland didn't phase him like it did most of the other runners. "It was a little bit uphill, enough to make it interesting," he said, "just a little harder."
"For sure," Laney said, he was there to win, but he was having fun and stood by casually after the race.
Laney was out front from the get-go, well ahead of the pace of second place finisher Brad Taylor, 25, of Ashland.
"We went out fast ... but those last few miles up the hills were tough, it just killed me," Taylor said.
The course, revamped in 2011, starts and finishes in front of the Ashland Library. In between, runners make their way down East Nevada Street, turn north down Eagle Mill Road before winding back by way of the Bear Creek Greenway Trail for a late climb up Water Street and the final stretch through downtown.
Sierra Walker, 22, topped the women's 10k category with a time of 39:37.92, almost 10 second clear of her closest competitor.
Walker, a San Diego-native who spends her summers in Ashland, passed Corinne Fletcher of Eugene on the final stretch of Water Street before pulling away to claim victory in the women's category. Fletcher, who came in second, crossed the finish line in 39:45.58
"It was good competition out there. I had to push," Walker said. "I really pushed it toward the end, because I knew this would be my last race in the U.S. for a while and I wanted to win."
Walker's leaving for a 27-month stint with the Peace Corps in a few weeks, she said, and will likely not be returning to Ashland for a few years.
In the 12-and-under category of the 10k, Sarah Summers, 12, of Ashland, annihilated the boys and girls with a time of 47:40.52. The closest competitor in her age group, Manuel Angulo Jr., came in with a 53:29.88.
"I was confident, but I got really tired," Summers said, whose longest run before Thursday was 1.3 miles. "My legs hurt really bad at the end. I could barely feel them."
Summers said she'll be back next year.
Edging out everyone in the women's 2-mile race was 12-year-old Mina DeVore, of Ashland, with a time of 14:07.55.
"I was really tired the whole race ... and there was a girl right behind be at the end," DeVore said.
Henry Williams, 11, of Ashland, clocked a 12:29.08 to come out on top of the men's 2-mile race.
With 675 entries, 388 of those competing in the 10k, this year's race fell short of drawing as many competitors as last year's, said Phoenix High cross country coach John Cornet, who organizes the race.
Last year, 713 registered for the run, making it the second-most popular Ashland Fourth of July race in history, according to Cornet, who says the race's popularity has skyrocketed.
In the 1990s, it attracted about 300 competitors, he said.
"I think the world of social media has helped tremendously with the popularity of this race," Cornet said. "I also think people are really enjoying the new 10k, and it's just a great day to be out doing something like this."
Although the race's competition is getting stiff, there is still plenty of room for a good time out there, said Gabe Gilham, 27, and Meghan Jones, who turned 30 on Thursday.
"It was a long uphill at the end, but I had fun running with our group," Gilham said. "And, hey, I didn't throw up, so that's a bonus."
Sam Wheeler is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.