FAYETTEVILLE, N.C. — With Boston Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi and Fayetteville mayor Nat Robertson holding opposite ends of the finish-line tape, a smiling Masashi Shirotake burst through it with his arms raised triumphantly.
Shirotake won the first All American Marathon Sunday morning, completing the 26.2-mile course that started in Fayetteville and ended on Fort Bragg with a time of 2 hours, 30 minutes, 32 seconds. Shirotake, 34, is the same age as Whispering Pines resident Tana Kornachuk, the top female finisher in the marathon. She had a time of 3:16:09.
Shirotake moved from Japan to Charlotte three months ago because of an engineering job, and he enjoyed seeing the military equipment that greeted runners as they passed through Fort Bragg.
Keflezighi, who represented sponsor Generation UCAN as a special guest for the event, congratulated Shirotake in English and Japanese, telling him, "Omedeto Gozaimasu."
"I was very happy to shake his hand," said Shirotake, an accomplished runner who won a Charlotte half-marathon two months ago.
Keflezighi assumed the role of enthusiastic spectator two weeks after becoming the first U.S. male in 31 years to win the Boston Marathon.
About 3,700 runners participated in either the All American Marathon, Mike to Mike Half Marathon or All American 5k, and Keflezighi high-fived hundreds of finishers.
"I always say run to win, and that doesn't always mean getting first place," Keflezighi said. "I congratulated (Shirotake) first and then was there to congratulate the rest of the finishers, because you know how much effort it takes to finish.
"You have to respect the distance, respect the competitors. If they're at the finish line, it's like winning. Some of us just get there faster than others."
Shirotake finished nearly eight minutes ahead of Raeford's Chad Ware, and Fayetteville's Wayne Blas took third.
Kornachuk reached the finish line more than two minutes ahead of women's runner-up Amanda Morris, who is from Tega Cay, South Carolina.
Kornachuk ran distance races as a high school student in Billings, Montana, and finished her college career at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. Her last marathon appearance occurred about 11 months ago, before she entered the Physician Assistant Program at Methodist University. She picked up her first marathon victory Sunday.
"It was a well-supported course, and people were awesome out there," Kornachuk said. "It's definitely wonderful to win."
Kim Sanborn, the wife of Fort Bragg garrison commander Col. Jeffrey Sanborn, first came up with the idea of holding a marathon 16 months ago. She ran the marathon Sunday, wearing bib No. 1, and finished eighth among women with a time of 3:37:12.
The half-marathon winners were 25-year-old Matthew Waller of Durham and 36-year-old Heather Costello of Lugoff, South Carolina.
Elkanah Kibet, a 30-year-old from Fayetteville, ran a 14:45 in the men's 5k to beat South View High School junior Michael Staples by 2 minutes, 20 seconds. Cecelia Dean, 23, of Fort Bragg won the women's 5k with a time of 19:14.
John Masson, a 42-year-old from Fayetteville, and Thomas Holcomb, a 52-year-old from Fort Bragg, had times of 1:49:06 and 2:16:31, respectively, in the wheelchair marathon.
Waller, a Fleet Feet Sports employee, finished the 13.1-mile course Sunday in 1:14:37, beating runner-up Blake Simms of Fayetteville by almost two minutes. Pine Forest High School distance coach Jack Brunecz was third in 1:18.03.
Before Waller started running regularly as a college student at North Carolina, he focused on cycling.
"There was not a lot of time to ride, not a lot of space to store bikes in a dorm room, so I started running a little bit," Waller said. "I was also drawn to the simplicity of the sport. Cycling was getting very expensive, and you don't need much for running, so spend a little less money and try to get good at something else."
Costello finished the women's half-marathon in 1:28:49, and Stephanie Krepel of Fayetteville was second in 1:29:55.
Costello took a decade off from competitive running before starting back about 18 months ago. The All American event appealed to her because she has relatives living in the Fayetteville and Fort Bragg area.
"It's beautiful here," Costello said. "I appreciate all that the men and women do for our country, and it's truly an honor to be out to run for them."