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Madison’s Josh Whitehead raises his arms in victory jubilation crossing the finish line at the Rocket City Marathon. This was Whitehead’s second RCM title after winning his first in 2013. Photo- Ben Smith, WHNT-TV-Channel 19

Madison’s Whitehead Miracle Marathon Victory

HUNTSVILLE- The continuing saga of Josh Whitehead as being one of, if not the best runner in North Alabama has added another chapter after winning the 46th annual Rocket City Marathon. The victory was the Madison resident’s second Rocket City title (2013) and seventh marathon win overall.

Whitehead’s winning time of 2:33:21 was ahead of second place finisher Chris Lemon of Dayton, Ohio who completed the race with the time of 2:35:59. The 44-year old Whitehead’s victory was also a win in the 40-44 age group and a new Alabama state record for age 44 in the 26.2-mile distance.

“I was not expecting to win as I had been sick for two weeks prior to the race and I was just hoping to finish,” said Whitehead, who works an associate element manager at the stage element office for NASA, which was responsible for the core stage (center) rocket that propelled the recent Orion project into Earth orbit, around the moon and return to Earth.

Whitehead has had great success in his fall running schedule setting a number of state records posting some of his best times in the last seven years. He purposely put in marathon-block runs over the past three months in preparation for the Rocket City Marathon.

“I had a target pace plan for the race and surprisingly I was on pace at the midway (13-mile) mark of the race,” said Whitehead. “I was also in the lead and on pace to beat my personal best marathon time. The second half of the race I really slowed down due to my difficulty in breathing. My wife, Deanna, was in the front half marathon race and we celebrated together at the after-race gathering.”

Whitehead’s ability to lace up his running shoes and step onto a race course is nothing short of a miracle. In the early morning hours of June 24, 2020, he was riding his bike south on Zerdt Road and was struck from behind and thrown to the side of the road by a vehicle he never saw. He suffered severe injuries including a broke back in three places. The driver of the vehicle did not stop and has never been located.

“That incident is part of my life and I now appreciate every day I’m able to run,” added Whitehead. “It’s a blessing.”

“We’re always thrilled when the winner comes through, but seeing Josh cross the line first was especially gratifying,” said Dwayne DeBardelaben, race co-director. “Knowing what he’s gone through personally and what we’ve gone through to bring about this three-day event made the moment one of the single best I’ve ever had as a race director.”

Whitehead praised the race directors for their work on the new race format for 2022 as all events were held on a three-day stretch and the marathon moved to a Sunday race instead of Saturday. The format included a kid’s marathon, 5K and 10K races along with a front-half marathon and back-half marathon. “It was fantastic,” added Whitehead.

Another Madison runner finishing behind Whitehead was Christian Schrandt, 34, who was 12th overall with a time of 2:54:28. Top Madison female was Katie Maehlmann. The 45-year old’s time was 3:54:02. She was No. 217 overall. Second fastest female from Madison was 45-year old Rachel Negron with a race time of 3:58:27.

The front-half marathon results included: 1. Nate Pudner, 24, Mobile, 1:09:52, 6. Jordan Runndell, 39, Madison, 1:29:36, 32. Jillian Hadley, 34, Madison, 1:50:41; back-half marathon- 1. John Henson, 22, Sharpesburg, Ga., 1:22:16, 10. Jayson Denovells, 23, Madison, 1:34:07, 72. Sarah Manning, 34, Madison, 1:54:39; 10K- 1. Rob Segrest, 37, Brownsboro, 39:39, 8. Theophilus Goins, 37, Madison, 44:04, 95. Jessica Ipnar, 42, Madison, 1:01:24; 5K- 1. T.J. Richardson, 15, Greenwood, Ark., 18:11, 5. Andy Hissan, 58, Madison, 20:18, 67. Bre Haga, 27, Madison, 29:16.

There were 46 states represented in the annual marathon and Whitehead’s victory came in his 19th marathon distance. His new state record in the age 44 division broke the previous mark set 40 years ago.

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