Las Vegas JJ Santana, 48-year-old Heather Huggins win marathon titles; Shimales Abele of Los Angeles, Utah’s Sara Lopez finish first in half-marathon races; Finish line marriage proposal highlights memorable return for Orange County’s favorite Spring running tradition
COSTA MESA, Calif., May 1, 2022: One thousand ninety-five days is a long time to wait to throw a party, but that’s how long it had been since the SDCCU OC Marathon Running Festival had been staged in its 26.2-mile entirety.
COVID protocols limited the race to a virtual event in 2020 and last year it was moved to November, minus the marathon. But on a Chamber of Commerce-perfect Sunday morning for running, the signature Orange County race returned. And it was memorable.
The women’s marathon featured a first-time winner, a 48-year-old first-time winner! Said Heather Huggins, after hitting the finish-line banner in 3 hours, 7 minutes and 29 seconds, “I’m going to sit down and cry for awhile.”
The men’s winner, JJ Santana, won in 2:22:57, missing the course record by just twelve seconds. San Diego’s Dylan Marx finished second, running his first 26.2-mile road race since the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Atlanta.
The women’s half marathon winner, Sara Lopez, ran a personal best, breaking her previous record by nearly a minute. The 22-year-old from American Fork, Utah, won in 1:13:53.
And there was a marriage proposal. After running his first marathon, beating his sub-4-hour goal by more than 10 minutes, Garrett Gahn still had the energy to drop to one knee and propose to his now fiancée, Aurora.
“That was my motivation. That’s what got me across,” said Gahn, who planned the proposal for a month.
“I was trying to figure out the right way (to propose), and I felt this was the most epic way I could do it,” he said. “I wanted to show her I can do anything if she’s in my corner.”
Aurora was moved, saying, “I’m so proud of him, so proud of him. It’s beautiful, I feel so happy, joyful.”
More than 15,000 runners, walkers and junior racers took part in the weekend’s events, which included two-days of races with the Kids Run the OC and Celebrate The OC 5k on Saturday at the OC Fair & Event Center in Costa Mesa.
Santana, the 35-year-old marathon winner from Las Vegas, who set the half-marathon course record last November, wasn’t kidding when he said he likes to run. The marathon was his third in less than five months, with a couple 13.1-milers thrown in between.
“I like to run a lot,” he said.
He planned to celebrate in the most Orange County way possible, by taking his 6-month-old daughter Olivia and her mother to Disneyland.
Said Santana, “What’s better than that?”
Huggins, the women’s marathon winner, had finished second, third, fourth and fifth in previous marathons but never first. Understandably, she was a bit emotional upon crossing the line.
“I’m going to fall down,” she said.
Lopez, the 22-year-old women’s half marathon winner, ran the 800 in high school but didn’t run in college. She’s still fast but said the 13.1 tour of the Orange County coast wasn’t easy.
“It was tough” she said. “There were a lot of rolling hills, so I had to keep a good mindset to keep going strong.”
She gave the event, which celebrated its 18th running, two big thumbs up.
“Oh my gosh, I love the energy,” she said. “It’s so good to be back racing again. Everyone was so excited and happy. Along the course so many people were cheering. I loved it. It was a real positive atmosphere.”
Shimales Abele, 26, of Los Angeles, won the men’s half marathon in 1:07:49.
The 19th annual SDCCU OC Marathon Running Festival will return on the weekend of May 6-7, 2023 and early-bird registration is open online. For complete results, photos and more, visit OCmarathon.com.
ABOUT THE SDCCU OC MARATHON RUNNING FESTIVAL
The 18th annual SDCCU (San Diego County Credit Union) OC Marathon Running Festival returns the seaside streets of Orange County, California the weekend of April 29, 2022 – May 1 ,2022. The SDCCU OC Running Festival is showcases two days of events, including the marathon, the OC Half Marathon, the OC 5K, and Kids Run the OC. The race is known as a convenient destination event for runners, with the expo, 5k and finish line festival all taking place at OC Fair and Event Center.
A free two-day OC Lifestyle & Fitness Expo at the OC Fair and Event Center kicks off race weekend, featuring fitness retailers, exhibits and interactive clinics. Over the history of the race, runners have raised more than $7.5 million for a variety of charities and non-profit organizations. For more information about the SDCCU OC Marathon Running Festival, visit OCmarathon.com.