A new course, yet a familiar backdrop, greeted a record field of runners at the 10th Annual B.A.A. Half Marathon, presented by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and The Jimmy Fund. This year’s event, which started in Franklin Park, and wound its way through the City of Boston and the town of Brookline’s Emerald Necklace park system was the showcase for 4,550 athletes under near perfect running conditions. Two Kenyan runners, John Korir (1:02:21) and Caroline Rotich (1:10:52) emerged as the victors, yet both winning under very different circumstances.
In the men’s race, Korir, one of the most successful road racers over the past decade, needed a last minute kick to pull away from the charging Alan Kiprono (KEN); both running within a second of Thomas Nyariki’s 2007 event record (1:02:20). Even though this year’s race featured a new course, it is the second year in a row that the men’s winning time narrowly missed the event record. Martin Fagan of Ireland won last year’s race in a mirror time of 1:02:21.
From the gun, the front running style of the Kenyan runners took over, with a lead pack including Korir, Kiprono, Julius Kogo (KEN), Linus Maiyo (KEN) and Elkanah Kibet (KEN). Following close behind, the chase pack included top American entrants Colin Leak, Chris Erichsen and Tyler McCandless. The local Boston representative, David Bedoya, seemed content in ninth. The pack reached the first mile in 4:47, but the African contingency looked to take over for good very soon.
By two miles (9:30) the pack had indeed broken up and the Kenyans had taken over sole duty of leadership. Running shoulder-to-shoulder Korir, Kiprono, Kogo and Maiyo “looked dominating”, according to men’s lead vehicle lookout, Peter Brown. After hitting three miles (14:11), the foursome dwindled to a threesome; having slowly created a gap on Kiprono.
But Kiprono wasn’t quite finished. He pushed the group to a 4:30 fourth mile, and once again took his place amongst his fellow compatriots. The five-mile split was hit in 23:24 (a 4:41 mile), and the sixth mile in 28:08 (4:44 mile). By the seventh mile split (32:55 – 4:47 mile), it was now Kogo’s turn to feel the wrath of his countrymen’s aggressive pace, and soon it was once again back down to a pack of three runners; Korir, Kiprono and Maiyo.
Once the leaders hit the eight mile mark in 37:36 (4:40 mile), is was clear that Kogo was going to be unable to catch back up to the other runners, as he fell to a 12 second deficit. But Kogo was soon joined by Maiyo, who also fell victim to the fast pace. With another fast mile time of 4:41 (42:17 overall), it was now down to a two-man show, with Korir and Kiprono seemingly battling to the very end.
Miles 10 and 11 were reached in 47:06 (4:49) and 51:56 (4:50). And even though the pace slowed a bit, the hilly terrain presented to the runners still meant that the 2 top men in the lead were going to maintain their advantage. Korir and Kiprono were not just racing, but almost “jockeying back and forth”, according to Brown.
Rising up the final hill together, Korir and Kiprono were clearly going to make this into a final kick for the victory. Mile 12 was reached in 56:54 (4:58), and the two leaders were now beginning to knock on the door of the event record by Nyariki. Korir and Kiprono entered the zoo section of Franklin Park, while the finish line crowd was building in anticipation of a true race till the end.
The two runners stepped onto the White Stadium track neck-and-neck with120 meters to decide the champion. With less than 50 meters to go, it was the veteran Korir who showed the most desire; out-sprinting Kiprono, who was given the exact same time of 1:02:21.
The top American spot was taken by Colin Leak (6th overall) in a time of 1:05:25. And the top local runner was Timothy Richie (10th overall) in a time of 1:07:52.
The Master's Division was won for the second straight year by Joseph Koech (KEN) in 1:11:08.
The women’s race saw a much different approach to victory, as Caroline Rotich established her dominance before the sound of the starter’s gun had stopped ringing in the ears of the competitors. Rotich seemed to almost sprint from the very first meter; daring all that wished to challenge her.
“She (Rotich) had told me the night before the race that she wanted to run 70 minutes, but I just wasn’t ready to run that fast”, said runner-up finisher Janet Cherobon (KEN). “When we got to the first mile, and I saw 5:20 on the clock, I knew that Rotich was gone”.
Cherobon, who lives and trains in Atlanta, took her United States citizenship test last week, and is expected to be sworn in as a US citizen within the coming days.
By miles two (10:52 – 5:32), three (16:19 – 5:27), and four (21:32 – 5:13), Rotich had increased her advantage from 20 and 30 yards to almost then 40 yards. Only Cherobon and Jane Kibii (KEN) were even able to see Rotich by this point. And even that was temporary. By miles five (26:58 – 5:26) and six (32:18 – 5:20), the chase pack of two runners were becoming more and more of a speck in Rotich’s rearview mirror.
Mile seven was reached in 37:50 (5:32 mile), and at this point Cherobon was the only one holding onto a glimmer of hope to challenge Rotich. But with the finish line fast approaching and a 36-second lead, Rotich was clearly on her way to establishing one of the top results in B.A.A. Half Marathon history.
Miles eight and nine were reached in 43:09 (5:19) and 48:44 (5:35) respectively. And by mile 10, it actually looked as though Rotich was beginning to fall victim to her own amazing pace, as Cherobon became a more visible presence behind her. Seemingly being paced by a male runner, Rotich was still holding on through the remaining hills and into the zoo area.
By mile 13, Cherobon’s efforts to catch up to Rotich had fallen short, as Rotich entered White stadium all alone in her field. She cruised to an event record time (2003 record by Marie Davenport – 1:10:57), with Cherobon finishing in 2nd with a time of 1:11:50. Jane Kibii was 3rd overall in a time of 1:16:02. The top American female was Elle Pishny (4th overall) in a time of 1:18:42. Living in Boston, Pishny was also the top local female athlete. Kara Hass, who turned 40 today, finished sixth overall and won the Master's Division in a time of 1:21:44.
The professional fields of athletes competed for a combined prize purse of $30,000, with Rotich and Korir each taking home $5,000.
In the wheelchair division, 51-year-old Gary Brendel from Sterling Massachusetts won his first B.A.A. Half Marathon, using the early downhills to build an early lead, and finishing at 1:01:01.
On the Women's side, 47-year-old Jacqui Kapinowski won for the second time in four years, finishing in 1:31:07. In 2007, the Point Pleasant, New Jersey resident won in 1:22:17.
- Story by Marc Davis