The Fourth of July in Pacific Palisades was home to the 36th annual Palisades-Will Rogers 5/10K Run, sponsored by the Saint John’s Health Center.
Rocky Peterson and Flora Berklein christened the day by winning the 5K races before Brady O’Bryan and Laura Conley captured the 10K races.
On a warm, overcast morning, 2,779 registered runners took part in the two races, followed by the 18th aannual Kids’ Fun Run (one-half mile). All races began on Alma Real Drive at the Recreation Center.
Peterson, a 17-year-old from Thousand Oaks, ran 16:31, 22 seconds better than Jeffrey Tomlinson of Santa Monica. A track and cross-country runner at Westlake High School (specializing in the mile), Peterson will attend Cuesta Community College this fall. He had just learned about the race 24 hours earlier from his track teammate at Westlake, Ryan Finch, who has run the race for several years. Finch finished ninth overall at 17:44.
“Ryan asked me yesterday if I wanted to run a 5K, so I looked online, saw some pictures and everything looked really nice,” Peterson said. “Yesterday I had a pretty hard track workout. I’m really happy with this race, because I haven’t really started my training for next season yet.”
Berklein, 20, is a Wisconsin native and a senior at Haverford College in Philadelphia, where she runs track and cross-country. She had never run the race before, but has family in the Santa Monica area. She finished the 5K in 19:03, almost a full minute ahead of second-place Sue Benun.
Though Berklein’s time was shy of her personal best on a track (18:23), she recorded her best time in a road race.
“I’ve never done this race, but my dad lives in Santa Monica and he’s run the race a few times,” Berklein said. “This was a really fun race, and the atmosphere was great. Back East it’s been pretty hot and humid too, so when I got off the plane here it was really refreshing.”
Fifteen minutes after Peterson and Berklein were victorious, UCLA graduate and triathlon coach Brady O’Bryan of Brentwood cruised home in the 10K with a time of 32:33. O’Bryan, 24, who relocated to California from Texas for college, essentially finished his post-race interviews before Kevin Purcell crossed the finish line at 35:06.
“I’ve been running in triathlons the last six years, and my sponsor Drew Porter of Quixotic Racing wanted me to do the race. I think I was about 20 seconds off my personal-best time, but this is probably the most people I’ve ever won a race against. It was kind of like a zoo out here, it was pretty crazy.”
Laura Conley, 31, had a closer race, winning by just 25 seconds over Palisades High cross-country and track star Marissa Williams. Conley, running in the race for the third time but the first time since 2010, came in at 40:19. She is a Woodland Hills native with plenty of running experience, but much of her athletic background has centered around Muay Thai fighting.
She competed in martial arts during her time at Cal Poly, where she did not run. After college she gave up fighting to focus on triathlons, and in 2009, she joined an Olympic development team called VS Athletics, a group of elite runners. However, she was recruited because her fighting skills, not her running.
In her previous two Palisades 10K runs, Conley finished second, making this victory that much sweeter. “This feels amazing,” she said. “I’ve always gotten second, but it’s much better to win. I finally broke that cycle of second.”