Nearly 2,000 runners, walkers and wheelchair athletes took to downtown Solvang as part of the annual Santa Barbara Wine Country Half Marathon where a reported 1 in 5 runners finished their very first half marathon.

In what could be described as near-perfect race conditions, participants from 34 states and six countries set off on a 13.1-mile running course that started and finished at Solvang Park along the bakery-lined streets of Solvang and continued through the Valley's rolling hills dotted with horse ranches, fruit orchards, lavender farms and vineyards.

“The conditions were great today," said 25-year-old Larissa Kolasinski of Seattle, who won gold in the women’s half marathon category on Saturday. "... it was beautiful and running past all of the farms and wineries — the course was gorgeous."

Kolasinski broke the finish line tape in 1:26:51, followed by runner-up Lindsey Young from Long Beach who finished in 1:27:52. Third-place winner Tera Knott of Costa Mesa completed her race in 1:31:05.

Spokesman Dan Cruz said the day was especially momentous given the signature event, presented by the Chumash Casino Resort, had been forced to break with tradition since 2020 due to the pandemic.

Three years is a long time to wait, he said, noting that the cool, overcast morning skies ideal for running was a welcome sight. "It was memorable," Cruz added.

In the men’s half marathon, a local came away with the win.

Thirty-five-year-old Chris Gregory from Carpinteria completed the course in 1:13:08, more than 3 minutes earlier than closest rival Zach Schock, also from Carpinteria, who finished second in 1:16:31. Victor Cortes, a masters runner from Oxnard, finished third in 1:19:04.

Gregory, also a duathlete, provided a glimpse into his winning strategy.

“I like to take it out hard, and at two miles no one was around and I could just settle in a cruise and do what I usually do, which was run by myself,” Gregory said. “I know the course and after the first seven miles, it’s all downhill. I actually felt better during the second half of the race.”

Participants then gathered at the post-race finish line event at Solvang Park where more than a dozen wineries offered tastings to weary runners. 

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Lisa André covers lifestyle and local news for Santa Ynez Valley News and Lompoc Record, editions of the Santa Maria Times.