JaQuavious Harris hasn’t taken a traditional path in his quest to become an elite runner who claimed his first half marathon victory Monday in the Deseret News race.

“I’ve never really raced a half (marathon) before,” said Harris, who is preparing to run a marathon in Germany in hopes of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic trials in February.

“I need to run 5:15s in Germany. Well that’s my goal, so we just wanted to see what my range is and what I can do.”

Apparently the 26-year-old, who raced in a 10K two weeks ago, has pretty impressive range. 

He said he was nervous Sunday night because he’d had a very sore toe.

“But I just prayed, and I was like, ‘Lord, help me,’” he said.

As he raced down that first hill, he said he felt no pain.

“It wasn’t hurting, so I was like, ‘Let’s go for it!’”

And go for it, he did. Harris won with a time of 1:05:04. He said it gives him confidence as he prepares to run a marathon in Germany in about five weeks.

“For once in my life I’m actually believing in myself and the training my coach has been giving me,” he said. “I’ve been really consistent.”

Harris ran his first marathon last fall on sort of a whim. He said his sister and her husband were running the half marathon in St. George, and she thought Harris should run the full marathon — even though he was only running about 30 miles a week when he decided to do it.

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Needless to say, it was a sufferfest, and all he won was bragging rights.

But it did light a fire in him. He started wondering just how good he could be if he really applied himself to a training plan.

“My coach told me that he believes I can go pro, but I’m still in college,” said the Salt Lake Community College student who is studying to become a teacher.

“If I ran consistently and I actually put in effort, I could do some big things with this. I’m healthy, and I have a great opportunity to try to elevate.

“I don’t want to throw this away. I’m in my prime years, so I’m going to go for it.”

Kevin Lynch, 29, finished second with a time of 1:06:55, while Brett Lustgarten, 33, earned third place with a time of 1:07:29. 

In the women’s race, Billie Hatch earned the win with a time of 1:12:59. Tawny Bybee, 36, earned second with a time of 1:17:48, while Kristin Johnson, 33, was third with a time of 1:19:38.

Until Friday, Hatch planned on running the Deseret News 10K. But after some discussions with her coach about her training — and her plan to run the Chicago Marathon in October, she decided to run the Deseret News half marathon instead.

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“It’s a good course, good competition, and it just worked well to test my fitness going into the second half of my marathon training block,” Hatch said. 

That turned out to be a brilliant decision as the 24-year-old won the half marathon with a time of 1:12:59. That was fast enough to make her the 11th finisher overall, as well. 

The Preston, Idaho, native ran at Dixie and then Weber State, where she just graduated with a masters degree. She said she was slightly worried about the heat, but she’d tried to prepare with afternoon workouts.

“I was a little concerned because it has been so warm,” she said. “But I’ve been doing most of my workouts in the afternoon around 5, so it’s been in the 90s. I think I was as prepared as possible.”

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