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GONE GLOBAL: Four Blowing Rock elite runners competing in Japan, Sacramento championship marathons

ZAP Fitness head coach Pete Rea (foreground) gives instructions to top marathoner Pardon Ndhlovu of Zimbabwe, now full-time resident of the High Country. Photographic image by David Rogers for Blowing Rock News

By David Rogers. November 30, 2017. BLOWING ROCK, NC — Four members of the Blowing Rock-based ZAP Fitness/Reebok elite running team will face national and international fields on Sunday, December 3rd, two each in two different locations.

COVER PHOTO: Tyler Pennel after winning the 2014 U.S. Marathon Championships in Minneapolis. Photographic image courtesy of Holly Petersen, Pioneer Press

Racing in Fukuoka, Japan on Sunday will be veteran marathoners Tyler Pennel and teammate Pardon Ndhlovu, in the annual Japanese Marathon Championship.  In an interview with Blowing Rock News on Thursday, ZAP Fitness/Reebok head coach Pete Rea explained, “It may be the Japanese championship, but non-Japanese athletes are invited to run and this event has evolved as the most competitive marathon in the world for professional runners over the last 40 years.

The work is done, so now it all comes down to executing on race day.

Nicole DiMercurio. Photographic image courtesy of ZAP Fitness/Reebok

Pennel is the 2014 U.S. Marathon Champion who finished 5th in the most recent U.S. Olympic Trials held in Los Angeles, in February 2016.  Noteworthy in that performance, a slow pace on a warm day had more than two dozen of the roughly 200 runners in the field bunched near the front until Mile 16 of the 26.2-mile race. That’s when Pennel surged into the lead, at one point leading by as much as a full minute on the next runner. Eventual top qualifiers Galen Rupp and Meb Keflezighi eventually caught and passed him at Mile 19.  In answer to a Blowing Rock News question during the jam-packed press conference afterwards, Keflezighi noted, “Tyler made the race.” It was a soundbite that went viral around the world.

For Blowing Rock News’ account of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, please click U.S. OLYMPIC TRIALS.

Also racing in Fukuoka will be Ndhlovu, a native of Zimbabwe, who represented his country in the Rio Olympics.  As a young boy he would run barefoot on the streets of Harare because he had no shoes, but he was nonetheless “discovered” by an NCAA Division II school, University of North Carolina-Pembroke where he earned All-American honors all four years.  He graduated with a degree in business administration and pursued post-graduate studies at Augusta University in Georgia, where he also served as an assistant coach for the cross country and track & field teams.  Before the 2016 Rio Olympics, he trained with ZAP Fitness under Rea’s supervision. After the Olympics, he eventually became a full-time High Country resident.

For a special Blowing Rock News report on Ndhlovu’s Olympic preparations and “story,” please click NDHLOVU.

Johnny Crain. Photographic image courtesy of ZAP Fitness/Reebok

Two more ZAP Fitness/Reebok athletes will also compete on Sunday, but in the U.S. Marathon Championships being held in conjunction with Sacramento-hosted, “The California International Marathon.”

Blowing Rock residents Nicole Dimercurio and Johnny Crain are both coming off impressive performances in shorter races as they tuned up for the longer Sacramento event.

Dimercurio won the Richmond Half Marathon last weekend with a personal best of 1:14.10.   On the men’s side, Crain also posted a personal best last weekend, running 10 miles in 47:33 at the PNC Bank Pitt.

For more information on Johnny Crain, please read the Blowing Rock News report from January 2016 by clicking HERE.

“All four of our marathoners are clicking right now,” observed Rea. “The work is done now, so it all comes down to executing on race day.”



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