By Barbara Huebner
Hagos Gebrhiwet of Ethiopia defended his title, Monicah Ngige of Kenya triumphed after a third-place finish in 2018, and 8,484 participants dodged spring raindrops as they made their way through the historic Back Bay to the finish the 11th-annual B.A.A. 5K. In the wheelchair division, Francisco Sanclemente of Colombia and Eliza Ault-Connell of Australia each set course records, finishing in 11:24 and 12:16, respectively.
Gebrhiwet broke the tape in 13:42, followed by Ben True in 13:44 and Justyn Knight of Canada in 13:46. On the women’s side, Ngige (15:16, a personal best) was followed by Kenya’s Violah Lagat (15:29) and Ethiopia’s Gotytom Gebreslase (15:35). Gebrhiwet and Ngige each earned $7,500 for their victories.
In the men’s race, True is a four-time winner here, where he set the American record of 13:20 two years ago. It was no surprise to see him lead a pack of 14 through the first mile. The split, however – 4:38 – surprised even True.
“I thought I was pushing the pace a little bit,” he said, “and then you come through and realize we’re going really slow,” he said of seeing the clock at the Mile 1 mark as the pack went up Commonwealth Avenue into a headwind. “The race definitely felt harder than what the time said at the end.”
Gebrhiwet began speeding things up and thinning the pack as he took the lead coming up from the Massachusetts Avenue underpass before Gabriel Geay of Tanzania, winner of the 2018 B.A.A. 10K, appeared to take control. Making the right turn onto Hereford Street and left onto Boylston – just as 30,000 participants will do as they near the finish line Monday in the 123rd Boston Marathon – it was down to five: Geay, Gebrhiwet, True, Knight, and Canadian Ben Flanagan.
Near the intersection with Arlington Street, Gebrhiwet finally broke away. As the runners round the final turn on to Charles Street, True knew that the 2016 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time IAAF World Championships medalist at 5000 meters had the best of him.
“The game plan was to be ahead of him at the last turn, so that didn’t go as planned, but he is one of the best in the world,” said True, still coming back after a bout with the flu this winter and at that point just hoping to hang on to second place when Knight, the 2017 NCAA Cross Country champion, edged by him. “I had to dig a little deep to get back around him,” said True.
As for the winner: “I trained very well,” said Gebrhiwet. “The only thing I did not think about was the rain. I hoped for a faster time. I’m sure next year … I will improve my time.”
In the women’s race, the eventual top three took an early lead, going through Mile 1 in a brisk 4:50. By Mile 2, reached in 9:41, Lagat – a 2016 Olympian at 1500 meters and a late entrant – looked as if she might prevail, with a 20-meter lead over Ngige.
“I had to figure out, ‘what am I going to do?’” recounted Ngige, who in January finished fourth in the strong Houston Half Marathon in a personal best 1:07:29. “She was strong, and she was moving so fast. I keep moving, and I make my speed to be a little bit faster, and I catch up. But that is not the end – you have to keep moving.”
Coming down Charles Street it was Ngige, followed by Lagat and then Gebreslase – with American Kim Conley, rounding back into form after a foot injury – gaining fast.
“I saw [Gebreslase] look back over her shoulder right before the line, and I put in a little bit of a spurt but she still got me,” said Conley, a two-time Olympian at 5000 meters, who finished as the top American.
In the wheelchair division there were 15 finishers, led by Sanclemente and Ault-Connell. Sanclemente shaved 39 seconds off the course record, stopping the clock at 11:24 to become the first wheelchair athlete to dip under 12 minutes at the B.A.A. 5K. Ault-Connell sped away from defending champion Vanessa De Souza for the women’s victory, 12:16 to 12:50.
Francisco Sanclemente of Colombia and Eliza Ault-Connell of Australia each set course records, finishing in 11:24 and 12:16, respectively.
Among other notable finishers was Adrianne Haslet, a survivor of the tragic acts of 2013, who has already pledged to run the 2020 Boston Marathon as part of the B.A.A.’s Para Athlete Division.
“It was all about having fun out there, and I’m really proud of what I did,” said Haslet, who finished in 32:30. “This was well-earned today. It was emotional, for sure.”
Three-time Boston Marathon champion Uta Pippig also ran, crossing the line in 23:37, as did Kathrine Switzer (33:06), who in 1967 became the first woman to officially run the Boston Marathon.
The B.A.A. 5K serves as the first race of the B.A.A. Distance Medley, a three-race series that also includes June’s B.A.A. 10K and October’s B.A.A. Half Marathon. Athletes can win $50,000 for winning three of four events in a calendar year, with the Boston Marathon as the fourth.