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Tom Smart, Deseret News
Natalie Callister wins the women's division of the Deseret News half marathon race, July 24, 2015, in Salt Lake City.
It feels awesome. It was a lot easier than running a marathon. —Natalie Callister

SALT LAKE CITY — After winning the half marathon of the Deseret News Classic for the last two years in a row, it's safe to say Brett Hales was eager to go for the three-peat Friday morning.

"It’s my third year doing the half marathon, and I was fortunate enough to win it the last two years. I kind of had it on my mind that I wanted to go for the third win in a row, so that was kind of what was driving me today,” he said.

Then, with his good friend Riley Cook setting the pace and nipping at his heels all morning, Hales eventually got the jump on his buddy and finished with a first-place time of 1:04:07.4, just over one minute ahead of Cook, to claim a third-straight gold medal in the half marathon and edge out Cook’s time of 1:05:21.1.

“I think (this one is more exciting). It’s just good to round it out for the three-peat,” Hales said. “Riley is my really good friend, he is a Weber State alumnus as well, so we actually went to school together and have had a good rivalry going these last couple years. He kind of came out swinging and was setting the pace early on, so it was really good to run with him.”

The two Weber State alumni were neck-and-neck and swapping strides the entire way before Hales was finally able to break away and slip ahead in the home stretch to clinch the narrow victory.

It wasn't until that point that the now three-time champ knew he had the slight edge in the race and turned on the afterburners to finish strong.

“I knew he wanted to come out, I knew he wanted to run hard and get a good effort in there. We were running between 4:45 and 4:50 coming out of the canyon, so he just kind of kept his foot on the gas for probably the first four or five miles and wasn’t giving up at all,” said Hales. “So I just kind of hung in there — I knew it was a long race and we still had eight or nine miles to go — held back a little bit and conserved as much energy as possible. Mile eight is when the distance kind of grew between us and I just kind of wrapped things up on the home stretch. It was a great race.”

Meanwhile, for the women's finish, it was a similar story.

In her first ever Deseret News Classic half marathon, Natalie Callister trained and competed with longtime friend Morgan Haws.

Coming off a win at the Utah Valley Marathon, Callister went on to finish the race extremely strong to eek out a slim first-place victory over runner-up Katherine Ward — who led up until the final 100 yards of the race — and Haws with a stellar time of 1:16:18.5.

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“It feels awesome. It was a lot easier than running a marathon,” joked Callister. “I felt kind of bad for the girl I passed, because she kind of led the whole way and I passed her right at the end, but I guess that’s how races go. But as I was gaining on her, I just got myself together and gave it everything I had.”

Ward battled with Callister the entire time and placed a time of 1:16:30.2 to take home the silver, while Haws' time of 1:17:07.1 earned her the bronze medal and a spot on the podium.

Ryan Love is a full-time student and has been a part-time sportswriter for the Deseret News since October 2012.

Follow him on Twitter @RLove7724

EMAIL: rlove@deseretnews.com