Print Marathon runs through Sedona
Written by Brian Bergner   
Friday, 15 February 2008 12:05

With the sun barely showing itself over the distant mountains like a baby playing peek-a-boo with their little hands, runners began to stretch and warm up their bodies for the difficult task ahead.

Feeling completely focused, their eyes glaze over slightly and as they begin to think about what needs to be done in the next few hours if they were to compete, a pleasant breeze holding hands with a warm ray of sunshine hits their face.

The warmth produces a smile across the cheeks as if they need to be stretched as well in preparation for the 26.2-mile trek ahead of them.

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With all the hard work, time commitment, sweat and tears that goes into accomplishing a marathon victory, it’s hard to imagine someone capable of winning it twice in a row.

Well, start believing.

Soaked from head to toe with sweat from the 26.2-mile run and the mid-day sun beating on his back, 30-year-old Sedona resident Joe Fuss finished first overall with a 3:02:45 time at the third annual Sedona Marathon held Saturday, Feb. 9.

This was his second Sedona marathon win in as many years.

“It feels good to win this event again, but I’m really tired,” Fuss said while catching his breath.

Fuss even had time to kiss his baby girl Nora as he ran toward the finish line who was waiting about 20 yards away in a stroller.

“I would like to thank the volunteers and the sponsors that make this happen. I would also like to thank my wife, Amy, my daughter, Nora, and God for keeping me healthy through all this,” Fuss said.

Fuss was neck-and-neck at the halfway point with a 34-year-old distance runner from Manchester, Conn., named Matthew Estes.

Fuss began to separate himself after the midway point and really turned the jets on toward the end to get the first-place finish.

A little under three minutes later, Estes came across the finish line as fans lined up to shake his hand in congratulatory fashion for a job well done as he finished with a 3:05:30 time.

“This run was a tiny bit slower than I wanted it to be but the finish is tough. Fuss was really moving,” Estes said.

Estes, a day-trader, has a group of friends he runs with all over the country but says his favorite course is right at home in Hartford, Conn.

“I train to run 50- to 100-mile courses and sometimes run up to 100 miles a week to prepare. The course in Hartford is my favorite,” Estes said.

Only nine seconds later the third-place winner, 37-year-old Benjamin Lesueur from Mesa, finished his marathon feat in 3:05:39.

Fans were excited to see the three men finish fairly close together as it was expected before the race that they would be in the lead.

What wasn’t expected was a Sedona resident named Sherry Christoff who would place fourth overall in the Sedona Marathon, an accomplishment no other female had done in the marathon’s history.

Screaming fans raised their hands in the air as Christoff turned the last corner. The cheers were reminiscent of those heard before but these were slightly different, as if the crowd was running with Christoff to help her finish strong.

With a hat and sun glasses shielding her eyes from the sun, Christoff crossed the finish line as she became the first woman in the history of the Sedona Marathon to finish in the top five.

“After my trial runs and practice I figured I would be around 3:20,” Christoff said.

The 3:09:09 time not only surprised Christoff but her friends couldn’t believe it either while standing next to her sitting in a chair, catching her breath.

“This is a challenging course but I run with a group of friends and it’s good to be back running marathons again,” Christoff said.

Running for a cause

Many Verde Valley residents competed in the more popular 5K run, a 3.1-mile short version of the Sedona Marathon.

Sedona Red Rock High track star Garrett Debs won the event finishing first overall with a 20:17 time and teammate Brian Hoyer finished in third with a 20:49 time.

“I was actually surprised that I won the event. I didn’t go into it trying to win. I participated because I wanted to get my mind on racing because our season is coming up,” Debs said.

With the first five to cross the finish line all under the age of 19, 35-year-old Phoenix resident Brett Bernacchi was a little jealous having finished in sixth place with a 22:10 time, only two minutes shy of the leader,  Debs.

“What can you do? They’re all 15 years younger than me,” Bernacchi said smiling.

As many did on this day, Bernacchi ran for a cause greater than his own. He ran for his late wife, Alana, who died of brain cancer on Dec. 3.

“I can honestly say she helped me through this race. I know she was looking down on me and her pressence helped me through it,” Bernacchi said.

The couple met each other when they were 15 years old and have been in love ever since. The two were finally married in Sedona on Nov. 17, 2005, only five years after Alana was diagnosed with brain cancer.

“She was the best person I had ever met in my life. She was truly awesome,” Bernacchi said.

Alana dedicated her life as a scientist to researching cancer to find a cure. After her passing, the TGen Foundation, a foundation based out of Phoenix, set up a memorial fund in Alana’s name called the Alana Lysholm-Bernacchi Memorial Fund.

“She would be pleased to find out her death will mean helping out others and I will continue to run in the Sedona Marathon for as long as I can because it shows other people what Alana was all about,” Bernacchi said.


Brian Bergner Jr. can be reached at 282-7795, Ext. 131, or e-mail to \n This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it