With foliage around Boston signaling the arrival of fall and temperatures in the mid-50s, a record field enjoyed perfect running weather this morning for the Eighth Annual B.A.A. Half Marathon, presented by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund. In total, 3,702 runners completed the 13.1-mile loop of Boston's famed Emerald Necklace park system. Leading the way was one of the most talented elite fields the race has ever seen.
The men's race featured a host of new faces, including Charles Munyeki (KEN), who ran 59:44 earlier this year, making him the 10th-fastest man in the world for 2008. Joining Munyeki in the field was his training partner, countryman, and the man who defeated him at the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon just seven days earlier, Gilbert Okari.
Following a cautious opening mile of 5:07 and a quick 4:44 second mile, the lead pack consisted of four men: Munyeki, Okari, their training partner James Koskei (KEN), and Karim El Mabchour (MAR). That group stayed intact through seven miles when Munyeki and Okari began to ease away. Koskei was the first to fade, in the eighth mile, then El Mabchour faltered during the ninth. By mile 10 the two training partners had a 14 second lead on third place.
Though the race was decided in a final sprint toward the finish on Roberto Clemente Field, with Munyeki surging ahead to break the tape, he knew much earlier that the race was in hand. Asked when he knew he had won, Munyeki said, candidly, "During the last mile. I knew it then." Though just 22 years of age, Munyeki has already proven himself to be a master of the half marathon distance. "I felt very good," he said after today's effort. "It was very easy."
Following the race, Okari confessed that he is not yet accustomed to the half marathon. Though he has won many of the top 10K and 12K road races on the U.S. circuit, Okari was competing at the half marathon distance for just the third time. In addition, he was still recovering from a knee injury which was aggravated by the hills and turns on today's course, forcing him to hold back. "My body's not used to the half marathon," he said. "It will take me time."
Just as Munyeki became the event's youngest male champion, Azalech Masresha (ETH)--just 20 years old--became the youngest female champ ever. Though still relatively new to the sport (she began running at the age of 16), Masresha showed her half marathon talents early, running 1:11:59 as a 19-year-old. Today, however, she had to prove herself against a talented field.
Six women quickly separated themselves from the pack in the first mile, with Masresha a constant presence at the front. She led through miles three, four, five and six, but none of her rivals faltered until the eighth mile, run in 5:11 (the fastest of the day). Slowly, Masresha and Irene Limika (KEN) began to pull away, trailed closely by Neriah Asiba (KEN).
Like the men, the women needed every last meter to determine a winner. Masresha was only able to separate herself from Limika in the final strides, as the two crossed the line less than one second apart. The pair's times of 1:11:44 and 1:11:45 were the third and fourth fastest ever run on this course.
Six women ran faster than last year's champion, Edna Kiplagat (1:13:36). Kathy Newberry (Williamsburg, VA), third last year in 1:16:44, improved by three minutes yet fell to seventh place. A simple "Yes," was Masresha's response when asked if she was surprised to have defeated such a strong field. "It's a hilly course--not an easy course. I'm happy that I won."
While newcomers were victorious in the men's and women's races, familiar faces triumphed in the wheelchair division. Tony Nogueira (Glen Ridge, NJ) moved quickly to the lead in the opening mile, aggressively attacking the first half of the course, which runs gradually uphill. He could sense his challengers close behind, though. "The competition was good [today], it kept me going," he said. He ultimately broke the tape in 53:07, tying his own course record, set in 2004. Nogueira's win was his fourth at the B.A.A. Half. He also won in 2003, 2004, and 2007.
Joining Nogueira on the victory stand was women's course record holder Laurie Stephens (Wenham, MA), the 2003 and 2004 B.A.A. Half Marathon champ. Stephens cruised to a comfortable seven minute, 15 second victory over defending champion Jacqui Kapinowski (Point Pleasant, NJ), finishing in 1:17:00.
The event's presenting sponsor, Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund, has raised $1.4 million over the past five years at the B.A.A. Half. With 334 runners taking part in the race today, they hoped to exceed last year's fund raising total of $377,000.
Compiled with assistance from Eric Blake, Peter Brown, Barbara Huebner, Bernie Muller, Tarryn Prosper.