Racing at The Cowtown Marathon has always been special for Gabriel Zambrano, who was born in Fort Worth and went to Castleberry High School.
He knows the course from his training runs and after finishing third last year he got on his knee and proposed to his girlfriend, Alyssa, at the finish line.
Sunday he was able to celebrate after crossing the finish line, too, but for a different reason. The 25-year-old won the race for the first time in four attempts, finishing in 2 hours, 28 minutes, 12 seconds.
After finishing, Zambrano went to his knees and kissed the ground.
“This one is really special to me,” said Zambrano, who completed a marathon for just the second time. “When I was in third grade this was my first-ever race, the 5K here. This means so much to me. You have no idea how much this means. I’ve always dreamed of winning this.”
Zambrano was a state champion in the 3200-meter in high school but has struggled at the marathon distance. He quit during the BMW Dallas Marathon in December because he was struggling physically.
Sunday he wasn’t among the top-runners until the race reached the halfway point. But he gained momentum because of his surroundings.
“I wasn’t too sure I wanted to do this because I was afraid the same thing was going to happen to me today as in Dallas,” said Zambrano, who will also run the Boston Marathon. “It was weird I felt like I had an advantage there. This is where I get all my miles in. I didn’t catch the leader until Trinity Park, which is maybe the best place to run in Fort Worth.”
Joseph Darda (2:29:33) finished second to Zambrano and Abu Diriba (2:33:25) was third after leading the race for the first 19 miles.
Zambrano wasn’t able to celebrate his win for long, though, as he had to be at work Sunday afternoon as manager of a restaurant.
“I’ll have time to get an ice bath and then get to work,” he said.
Zambrano wasn’t the only first-time marathon winner Sunday.
Rachel Fox of Flower Mound won her first marathon with a time of 2:57:28. She led for most of the race but fell to second behind Neringa Laulinaite just after crossing the Main Street Bridge.
Fox never lost sight of Laulinaite and passed her back to win by 20 seconds. Diana Velasquez rounded out the top three with a time of 3:01:02.
Fox, 45, nearly stumbled with less than a mile remaining but kept her balance and nabbed a cowboy hat. The race was special for Fox because Cowtown was the site of her first marathon in 2012.
“I’ve run all over since then but this was my first time to come back here since then,” said Fox, who won her age group in 2012 but was more than 30 minutes faster than that Sunday. “I’ve improved quite a bit since then. It was really fun to come back.”
Fox’s win was one for the working mother as she’s a mother of four and works full time. She does most of her training with early-morning runs during the week and long runs on weekends.
“That’s why this was extra special,” she said. “I had never won a marathon and knew my time was coming to an end. I’ve run at Chicago and Boston and thought winning my first marathon at home would be extra special. Training is hard but you figure it out. You just can’t be too strict with your schedule.”