LONG BRANCH, NJ – Westfield native Annie Onishi claimed first place in the women's race at the 21st annual New Jersey marathon this weekend, beating thousands of other runners with a time of 2:54:17.

Onishi, 30, grew up in Westfield and frequently visits her parents, who still live in the town. She currently lives in Manhattan, but returned to the Garden State for her first New Jersey marathon. The race winds through nine New Jersey towns for a total distance of 26.2 miles, starting in Oceanport and ending by Pier Village in Long Branch.

“I did not expect to win” Onishi said. “It was a very pleasant surprise, but I chose to run this marathon because it’s a pancake-flat course. When I found myself in first place at mile 15, it was icing on the cake.”

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Onishi has run many marathons before this one, including the Boston marathon in 2012 and the New York marathon in 2010. She typically trains for 18 weeks beforehand by running between 75 and 80 miles each week.

“I’ve started 11 marathons and finished 10,” Onishi said. “It’s just the best day. The New York marathon especially, it makes you proud to be a New Yorker and proud to be a human, really.”

To prepare mentally for the marathon, Onishi returned to Westfield the day before and rested at her parents’ house, watching TV and reading to avoid putting pressure on her legs. She said the marathon was smooth sailing until the 21st mile.

“It’s called ‘the wall’ in marathon running,” Onishi said. “I had a dark few miles at mile 21 and mile 22. I felt like I was running through concrete. But I took a Gu Packet [a gel created to boost the energy of runners] and my mental game perked up.”

Once she crossed the finish line, Onishi said she only felt tired. But she did celebrate the win.

“My family and I went to Manny’s Diner in Clark,” Onishi, who usually tries to eat a clean diet, said. “I had chicken fingers and a chocolate shake.”