A 1,500-meter NAIA national champion at Southern Oregon University, Jared Hixon had to stretch himself to compete in a 10-kilomoter race.

An ultra marathon runner currently training for the Flagship 50K in Bend, Madison McCarthy was confronted with the opposite challenge.

Both left their comfort zones and opponents in the dust Tuesday to pull out victories in the 41st annual Ashland Fourth of July Run.

Hixon, a four-time All-American at SOU who graduated in 2016, finished first overall out of 263 runners, including 154 men, crossing the finish line in 33 minutes, 17 seconds to claim his first 4th of July victory. A large crowd cheered on Hixon as he raced to the finish line in front of the library on Siskiyou Boulevard well ahead of second-place finisher EJ Holland, the Ashland High sophomore-to-be who clocked in at 33:50.

Brett Hornig placed third in 36:21, Jacob Berkner fourth in 36:35 and Bob Julian Jr. fifth in 37:01.

Hixon said a co-worker at Rogue Valley Runners helped him devise a simple strategy, which worked.

“I knew in my head, well, I want to try and win this and then I was like, we’ll see who goes out,” said Hixon, the 2015-16 Cascade Conference Male Athlete of the Year. “I knew it was all downhill from the …data that I saw online. My other co-worker ran it last year and he’s like, ‘It’s all downhill, don’t hammer that part. Just roll with it. And then really push on the flat down the Greenway, because that’s where the race is kind of made.’ Once you get to the up everyone has to climb out, so it’s really hard. You don’t want to fight the runners and the uphills. So I was like, all right, I’m going to try that, and actually it worked out.”

Hixon credited Holland, an up-and-comer who finished fifth in the 2017 Class 5A state track and field meet in the 3,000 as a freshman, with setting a fast pace through the first half of the race. After that, Hixon gained some separation before stretching his lead with a sprint down Siskiyou.

“I made it to the hill and then kind of leveled off about a mile up from the Greenway, and then as soon as I started hearing clapping and seeing more people I was like, OK, I’m going to try to hammer the rest home,” said Hixon, who moved back to Ashland from Eugene recently to train under his former coach at SOU, Grier Gatlin. “It was a great experience, honestly. I didn’t know this was this big. I’ve been in Ashland during the Fourth before but I was usually working. I’d wake up after the race was over. I really enjoyed coming out and am fortunate to have friends and co-workers and everyone here. So we’re going to enjoy the parade after and just kind of take in the Fourth.”

McCarthy, who moved to Ashland three years ago, finished first out of 109 women and 21st overall in 42:38. Bekki Early placed second among the women in 43:09, Laura Breu was third in 45:27, Molly Mullane fourth in 46:22 and Michelle Christian fifth in 47:11.

McCarthy, who placed 28th in the marathon in the 2013 NAIA Outdoor National Championships, said the 4th of July Run offered her a rare opportunity to work on her speed in a competitive environment, since most of the races she signs up for are 50Ks.

“I wanted to see how fast I could go,” she said. “Mainly, I go slow for like two hours on the trails. I wanted to feel comfortable on the downhill, which I think I went a little fast, and then I wanted to just be tough on the hills on the way back.”

McCarthy’s juices got going once she realized she had a shot at winning.

“It was so exciting,” she said. “I never win. I did know I was winning so I was running scared.”

The 4th of July Run also included a 2-mile fun run, which was won by John Erik Anderson in 12:22. Zachary Williams placed second in 12:30, Ethan Smith third in 13:20 and Ian Brown fourth in 13:26.

The top female finishers were Sophia Stubblefield in first with a time of 15:33, Karina Rayl second with 16:02, Hannah Ring third in 16:05 and Mikalya Hazel Hazen Henke fourth in 16:09.

Ashland 4th of July Run

Men

1, Jared Hixon, 33:17; 2, EJ Holland, 33:50; 3, Brett Hornig, 36:21; 4, Jacob Berkner, 36:35; 5, Bob Julian Jr., 37:01; 6, Aaron Reed, 37:13; 7, Chris Mayer, 37:14; 8, Noble Boutin, 37:15; 9, Hal Koerner, 37:24; 10, Gerald McCormick, 37:50.

Women

1, Madison McCarthy, 42:38; 2, Bekki Early, 43:09; 3, Laura Breu, 45:27; 4, Molly Mullane, 46:22; 5, Michelle Christian, 47:11; 6, Stefani Ritter, 47:39; 7, Sarah Strickler, 47:44; 8, Shauna Pirotin, 47:51; 9, Erin Aufderheide, 48:24; 10, Dorsey Dobry, 48:43.

Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@dailytidings.com. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.

(July 6: Story updated to include top female finishers in the 2-mile fun run.)