Ben Brown Prevails at the Seventh Edition of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon

Fitz and the Tantrums Drummer John Wicks finishes half-marathon and performs at post-race concert

The oldest city in Georgia played host to thousands of runners and hundreds of musicians and entertainers at the seventh edition of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon & ½ Marathon on Saturday. Conditions in the “hostess city of the South” were warm for this time of year, but organizers had prepared to give participants the best-possible race and started the event 10 minutes early. Nevertheless, at the sounding of the starting gun, temperatures were in the high 50s—optimal for fast times and many PRs.

Besides the better-than-expected weather, runners were also given another bonus along the course on Sunday: the incredible scenery that makes Savannah so special, including charming, manicured town squares, historical buildings, and streets lined with Spanish-moss-covered oak trees.

Leading the way on Sunday was Andris Goncarovs of Greensboro, North Carolina who prevailed in the day’s first event: the 13.1-mile half marathon. The 25-year-old blazed Savannah’s streets in one hour, 10 minutes, and 18 seconds—a full three minutes ahead of his nearest rival, Matthew Blunden, who took second in 1:13:26. Third place in the men’s half marathon was awarded to Jay Upchurch of Charleston, South Carolina (1:19:57).

The women’s half marathon was a similar affair with Elle Ellender winning with a clear margin over Holly Ballenger. The 34-year-old Ellender of Hilton Head, South Carolina, broke the finish-line tape in 1:23:21. The final podium spot went to Emily Palazzo (1:27:16). A smiling Ellender admitted afterwards that she was pleasantly surprised to win the race—her first half-marathon victory in eight years. Besides her win, Ellender set a personal best on Sunday. “I love the event, the crowd support, and the bands,” she said. “It was a very enjoyable course.” Six months ago, Ellender, who ran for UNC Greensboro in college, tore her hamstring so she was more-than-pleased with her performance in Savannah.

Ben Brown prevailed in the men’s marathon, clocking 2:39:11 for the 26.2-mile distance. Niclas Bez came through the finish-line chute 4:22 later. The 24-year-old Bez, edged out third-place finisher, Kevin Lewis by 1:22.

Laura Roberts of Saint Simons Island, Georgia was the first woman to cross the finish line in the women’s marathon. Robert’s winning time was 3:05:35. “I’m thrilled to break the tape at a big, fun race like this one,” she said. “There was tons of support in this town. I especially loved the great part of the course over by Savannah State at that end of the course. I really enjoyed it.” Roberts ran her first marathon at the 2011 edition of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Marathon, clocking 3:28 back then. She’s also run the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah Half Marathon twice. Second and third place for the 26.2-mile race were awarded to Lisa Steffes (3:12:14) and Eva Bach (3:20:29) respectively.

The overall Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, which made for an even larger celebration at Sunday’s finish line. Indie pop band Fitz & the Tantrums took to the stage, giving runners and spectators a final blast of tunes, which made for the end of a perfect fall day in one of the most-beautiful cities of the South.

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Fitz and the Tantrums (Photo Credit: Ryan Bethke)

Post-Race Concert (Photo Credit: Ryan Bethke)

2017 Race Results

Name, Age, Hometown, Time, Prize

 Men’s Marathon

  1. Ben Brown, 36, Savannah, GA, 2:39:11, $500
  2. Niclas Bez, 24, DE, 2:43:33
  3. Kevin Lewis, 29, Golden, CO, 2:44:11

Women’s Marathon

  1. Laura Roberts, 41, Saint Simons Island, GA, 3:05:35, $500
  2. Lisa Steffes, 46, Hazelton, PA, 3:12:14
  3. Eva Bach, 33, Jamestown, NC, 3:20:29

Men’s Half Marathon

  1. Andris Goncarvos, 25, Greensboro, NC, 1:10:18, $250
  2. Matthew Blunden, 37, Destin, FL, 1:13:26
  3. Jay Upchurch, 39, Charleston, SC, 1:19:57

Women’s Half Marathon

  1. Elle Ellender, 34, Hilton Head, SC, 1:23:21, $250
  2. Holly Ballenger, 32, Tucker, GA, 1:26:39
  3. Emily Palazzo, 34, Hilton Head, SC, 1:27:16