By MIKE ECKERT
EMPIRE — Wesley Hunt traveled a long way to make his first visit to northern Michigan this weekend.
The Little Rock, Ark., resident capped the trip on Sunday by winning the inaugural Sleeping Bear Marathon.
Hunt finished the full marathon in 2:45:41, which was a personal record by about 6 minutes. And while Hunt has run a handful of marathons, Sunday was his first win.
"I really had a great experience," Hunt said. "I've been reading a lot about the area being one of the best-kept secrets in the country. I think that's right. But I thought the course was great."
The course began and finished in Empire.
Hunt's fiance, Diana, is a Detroit native and used to visit Traverse City in the summers as a teenager. She chose the race for Hunt so he could see northern Michigan. And despite running a marathon in the morning, Hunt capped his visit by doing the dune climb on Sunday before leaving town.
"When you train right, the race is the hard part and after you feel pretty good," Hunt said. "We wanted to go up to the dunes. It was really nice."
Todd Connor from South Lyon finished second in 2:47:53
Carrie Kutzli of Cedar Springs was the women's champ in 3:10:20. She had previously run in northern Michigan for the 2009 Bayshore Marathon and won the 2010 Oktoberfest Marathon in Spring Lake.
Katie Brackman from Fort Loramie, Ohio, was second in 3:33:24.
In the half marathon, former Benzie Central standout Jake Flynn won in 1:16:55. Ann Arbor's Phil Stead was second in 1:17:33. Manton's Meg Stall was the women's champ in 1:34:11 while Lake Leelanau's Karen Kirt was second in 1:36:30.
The marathon had 63 finishers while 179 runners completed the half marathon.