It’s easy to think of January as indoor-track time, but as always, there was significant action outside, both on the roads and over hill & dale.
Bor Leads Team USA To XC Victory
Despite a wrong turn, the U.S. men dominated the Great Stirling cross country race near Edinburgh on January 12, outpointing Team Europe 16–20 with Britain scoring 44 in 3rd. Leonard Korir, the defending champion, led for most of the 8K race under overcast skies, but when teammate Hillary Bor joined him at the front, things got a little too interesting. Bor, a 29-year-old Iowa State alum, made a breakaway after the leaders finished the fourth 1.5K lap and embarked on the final two laps over the shorter 1K circuit. He used the hills to his advantage, building what appeared to be a solid 10–15m lead ahead of Korir. Then, on the flats again in front of the crowd, Bor went off course, leading Korir astray as well, as the route he followed had not been roped off.
He caught the mistake immediately, grabbing the ropes lining the course to help put on the brakes and turn around, but he and Korir found themselves 10m behind a small lead pack that included past winner Garrett Heath, Spain’s Adel Mechaal and Sweden’s Napoleon Solomon. Bor caught up quickly and went on to victory, pulling a step ahead on the brutal uphill finish stretch in 23:48. Korir finished only a second behind in 4th, with Heath (23:56) and David Elliott (24:00) taking the next two spots.
Said Bor, “It was windy but I felt good and I knew I had a chance. I knew we were meant to turn right but I didn’t see the rope. My training had been good so I knew I was strong and had a chance to catch them. I’ve never won a cross country race before so it felt good to win today.”
Despite the U.S. men’s success, the rest of the team match did not go the way of the Americans, with the women a far-back 3rd at 50 points behind Europe (17) and Britain (19). Germany’s Elena Burkard won the 6K race in 20:01 over Britain’s Charlotte Arter (20:06). Anne-Marie Blaney (20:29) was the top U.S. finisher in 11th.
Emily Sisson Just Misses American Record
The top American in the Houston Half-Marathon (January 20) was Emily Sisson. The 27-year-old Providence alum ripped off a 1:07:30 that missed Molly Huddle’s AR by a mere 5 seconds. “I was a little disappointed at first just so close to Molly’s record,” she said after taking a whopping 51 seconds off her PR. “I made some mistakes that cost me a bit. But I think tomorrow I’ll be pretty happy with it.”
Ahead of her, Brigid Kosgei clicked off the fastest 13.1 ever on U.S. soil, a 1:05:50 effort that beat fellow Kenyan Fancy Chemutai (1:06:48) by nearly a minute. “I was not expecting to run this fast, but I was prepared to win,” she said. “I was happy to run the fastest time.”
Houston also staged a full-length marathon, with Biruktayit Degefa clocking the event’s No. 3 women’s time ever, 2:23:28. “I came prepared to break the course record,” said the 28-year-old Ethiopian, “but it was colder and that made it difficult.” She missed by 14 seconds. Ethiopia’s Belaynesh Fikadu came on strong at the end to take 2nd in 2:26:41, passing countrywoman Meseret Belete, 19, who clocked 2:26:56 in her first 26-miler. Kara Goucher’s bid to return to the marathon wars was foiled by a flareup of an old hamstring injury on the cold day (33°at the start). Kelsey Bruce finished as the top American, 6th in a PR 2:31:53.
Another Blistering Dubai Marathon
This year’s version of chase the clock in the Dubai Marathon featured hyper-fast times for both sexes. Minutes before the women finished, 25-year-old marathon débutant Getaneh Molla used his track speed to break clear of fellow Ethiopian Herpassa Negasa and stop the clock in 2:03:34 to become =No. 6 ever, with the =No. 9 performance. Negasa crossed in 2:03:40, and the unheralded 26-year-old who began the day with a PR of 2:09:14 finished it as No. 8 of all time.
First-timer Molla toed the line as a 12:59.58 track 5K performer with a 5th in last year’s IAAF Half-Marathon. He prevailed by patiently waiting until the final kilo. Guye Adola let go in the 28th kilometer and he could only watch as Molla chased down his 2:03:46 debut record. Molla matched surges by Asefa Mengstu and Emmanuel Saina, and then clung to Negasa’s long drive before moving to the front 600m from the finish. Molla quickly built a 25m lead and crossed the line in 2:03:34, trailing only Kenenisa Bekele on the all-time Ethiopian list. “I learned a lot,” Molla said of his first 26-miler. “I know how it was paced, the course was very nice, and it was a good day.”
By halfway in the women’s race, Ruth Chepngetich’s penchant for brazen pacing had pared the race down to three contenders, as Degefa and fellow Ethiopian Worknesh Edesa followed the upright-striding Kenyan across the mat in 68:10. The 24-year-old Chepngetich ran 2:22:36 to win the ’17 İstanbul Marathon in her debut, then ran an impressive 2:18:35 to defend last November. Just 11 weeks later Chepngetich was raring to go on a fast course and, pressed between the male pacesetters, forcing a 2:16 clip and ran in firm command of this race—save the calamity of fetching her bottles at a fluid station.
Edesa fell off the pace by 27K, but Degefa matched the tempo on a course where she has had much success, winning the ’17 race and running a 2:19:53 PR last year. As the pace had slipped to 2:17:26 at 35K (1:54:00), Chepngetich began to power away from Degefa and built a 13-second lead at 40K. Chep lifted the pace even higher, but came up a few seconds short of ducking under 2:17. Most likely Mary Keitany’s Kenyan Record of 2:17:01 was also spared amid the extra distance covered and time lost in Chepngetich’s beleaguered bottle grabs. “I’m proud of my effort,” Chepngetich beamed in a postrace interview, adding, “I use my mind very well so I can manage to win this race, it was not easy.” /Sean Hartnett/