BOSTON, Mass. -- Under sunny skies and a crisp start time temperature of 41 degrees, a record field of runners competed in the 9th Annual B.A.A Half Marathon, presented by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund. A crowd of 4025 runners started the 13.1 mile loop course within the City of Boston and Town of Brookline's famed Emerald Necklace park system. Many new faces led the way in one of the most popular events of the fall racing season, but Ireland's Martin Fagan (1:02:21) and Ethiopia's Belainesh Zemedkun Gebre (1:11:07) emerged through the Emerald Necklace route as the day's victors.
The men's elite field included John Korir, of Kenya, one of the most successful road racers over the past decade. Most were looking to the experience of Korir to control the pace, but it was his countryman Philemon Terer who decided to take the race out from the gun and daring the other runners to keep close. Joining Terer from the start was Providence College graduate Martin Fagan, of Ireland. After his recent Irish record in the half marathon of 1:00:57 early this year (Den Haag, 2009), Fagan was now both confident and experienced on this course.
The race seemed to be down to two men by the time they hit the first mile mark. Terer and Fagan were shoulder to shoulder from that point on, with only a slight charge from Korir to make things interesting. Terer's experience running fast times in the half marathon clearly gave him the early advantage. Over the past three years, Terer has completed the distance under 62 minutes three times.
After opening miles of 4:43 and 4:41, the pack was left in Terer and Fagan¹s wake. The two continued to battle until they entered Franklin Park Zoo, where Fagan seemed to relax and give Terer a chance to make a move. Fagan admitted, "I put my head down, and just kind of lost myself running through the zoo. Before I knew it, Terer has a three second gap on me."
Terer's lead, however, was short-lived, as Fagan kept confident with his knowledge of the course. "I got it back around the 8th mile," he said. "I knew the course, and once I saw him fade on the uphill coming back, I knew I could pull him back."
That hill near Arnold Arboretum (8-mile mark) seemed to take just enough out of Terer¹s legs for Fagan to pull up alongside and continue the two man battle they created from the start. With another 4:43 in the 10th mile, Fagan was clearly daring Terer to keep up with his newfound momentum. By this point, Korir was a distant third place and was slowly being caught by American Jeff Eggleston.
Coming into the final two miles, neither Terer nor Fagan were giving up an inch to each other, making the race outcome decided in the final strides. With 100 meters to go, Fagan found the edge he needed and pulled five meters ahead to earn the victory and become only the second Irish born runner to take the title behind Marie Davenport's two victories (2003, 2006) and women's course record effort ('03). Fagan's time of 1:02:21 was just one second off the course record of 1:20.20 (Tom Nyariki, KEN, 2007).
Terer commented after the race, "I felt a stitch in my side the last mile, and he (Fagan) looked very strong. It was a very good race for me, and I felt good on the hills. I wanted to win, but I just couldn't keep up at the end."
Fagan was full of praise for the event and especially the course design. "After I lost that lead, we started to come back towards the rest of the participants heading into the zoo," he said. "Everyone was cheering for me to catch up, and that's all the motivation I needed to get back into the race."
Eggleston, a graduate of the University of Virginia, ended up catching Korir for third place near the late stages of the race, and was very pleased with his overall performance. "I just kept a steady pace, and started picking guys off at the end," said the 2009 B.A.A. Half Marathon's top American male. Now training under the tutelage of the famed coach Jack Daniels in the Flagstaff, Arizona altitude, Eggleston is looking towards his 26.2 mile debut in January at the Phoenix Rock-n-Roll Marathon.
The women's race played out in a similar scenario, as two women took charge from the starting gun with one of Poland's top marathon runners, Karolina Jarzynska, taking out the race with Jilliah Tingea, of Kenya. The two women opened up a gap on the rest of the field by the third mile, and only Belainish Zemedkun Gebre, of Ethiopia, could keep them within site.
The night before the race Gebre seemed concerned about a lingering injury, having raced a half marathon just last weekend. "It was hard to travel from my training home in Flagstaff [AZ] to San Jose [Calif.] for a race, back to Flagstaff, and then come here," she said.
However, her experience as one of Ethiopia's top junior runners in recent years wasn't going to stop her from competing at her best. "For me, training in Flagstaff is much like training at altitude in Ethiopia. So I have felt very comfortable since moving there five years ago."
After splits of 5:19, 5:15 and 5:18 from miles 9 through 11, it was indeed Gebre who was now in charge, with Jarzynska slowing fading off the back. By the 12th mile, Gebre was even clear of Tingea, as she cruised home to a 36 second victory in 1:11:07. Tingea was able to hold on for second place in 1:11:43, with Jarzynska coming in for third place overall.
After the race Gebre seemed to shrug off her heavy travel and racing schedule and, in fact, looked forward to a 10-kilometer race next weekend. "My hamstring was a little tight, but in the end I felt very good in the final miles," she said after the convincing victory. "Next week I will run in Minnesota, and then back to my training camp for some well deserved rest."
Both Fagan and Gebre won $5,000 for their victories, and a total sum of $30,000 in prize money was contested at Sunday's race.
Tony Noguiera, of Glenridge, New Jersey won the men's wheelchair division at the B.A.A. Half Marathon for the fifth time in 55:36.
The B.A.A.'s running club won the men's and women's team titles for the ninth consecutive year.
Wayne Levy of Newton, MA, the inaugural B.A.A. Half Marathon champion (2001) was the second place masters finisher in 1:13:04. Levy is one of nearly 50 runners who have participated in every B.A.A. Half Marathon.
Maria Varela of Brighton, MA, the inaugural B.A.A. 5K champion from earlier this year, finished as the 11th place female in a time of 1:21:35.
5364 officially registered entrants, 4025 official starters, and 3989 finishers represented the largest field of entrants, starters and finishers in event history.
Kathy Newberry of Williamsburg, VA, was the top American woman, placing fourth in 1:13:31, which was her best time at the B.A.A. Half Marathon. She has now placed as the top American finisher in the last three B.A.A. Half Marathons. She finished third in 2007 (1:16:44) and seventh in 2008 (1:13:44).
Men¹s fourth place finisher overall, Peter Gilmore, was the top American Ffinisher at the 2007 Boston Marathon, and ran this year¹s BAA Half Marathon as his final training race in his build to the 2009 ING New York City Marathon.
More than 500 participants competed for Dana-Farber Runners, a fund-raising effort for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund, the event's presenting sponsors, and 2009 marked the seventh consecutive year they have played such a role for the event.
Race recap and story by Marc Davis for the Boston Athletic Association.
Compiled with assistance from Eric Blake, Peter Brown, Barbara Huebner, Bernie Muller, Tarryn Prosper.