HONOLULU (08-Dec) -- It turned out to be a great day to go to Waikiki Beach here today, perhaps for sunbathing or surfing. But the warm, sunny and very humid conditions made fast running impossible at the 41st Honolulu Marathon.
Nonetheless, Ethiopia's Ehitu Kiros and Kenya's Gilbert Chepkwony showed excellent racing chops, gaining convincing victories with late-race rallies in 2:36:02 and 2:18:47, respectively. Each won $40,000 in prize money, the fourth-largest first prize checks in American marathon running.
Kiros Allows Defending Champion To Set Pace
For Kiros, 25, the first 16 kilometers of the race were a trouble-free ride where she ran in a tight lead pack of four contenders, led by defending champion Valentina Galimova of Russia. Galimova, 27, who lives in the Siberian city of Perm, led every step of the early stages of the race at a moderate pace of 3:41 per kilometer (5:56 per mile). Kiros, who ran 2:23:39 at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon last January, was trying to conserve her energy, unsure of how difficult the course would be in the latter stages.
"I know it's hilly so I know I had to wait," she told reporters through a translation provided by another athlete, Abraham Tadesse. She continued: "There were no pacemakers here, so everybody was looking to win."
In the 17th kilometer, just past the 10 mile mark (59:24), Kiros and compatriots Aheza Kiros (no relation) and Woynishet Girma put in a little surge, and Galimova fell back by a few seconds into the early morning darkness (the race begins at 5:00). Galimova wasn't sure what was wrong because the pace was so slow.
"I don't know," she explained in English. "I don't feel my speed."
Although the pace remained lackluster, Galimova fell farther and farther back, leaving the three Ethiopians to work together at the front. The trio hit the halfway split in 1:17:48 with Galimova 25 seconds back. The Russian would fall back even farther, but never thought about abandoning the race.
"Not today," she said. "I wanted to do better. I like this marathon very much."
Ehitu Kiros and Girma did most of the leading through 25-kilometers, with Aheza Kiros trailing them closely. In the 27th kilometer, as the race began to reverse direction to the west to finish back in Waikiki, Aheza Kiros fell behind running up a small bridge. Ehitu Kiros sized up the laboring Girma and liked her chances. She decided to wait for the long climb up Diamond Head Avenue from 38 to about 40 kilometers to strike.
"I can go more time at this pace, but I didn't know how hilly," she said of the last section of the course. "So I decided (finally) to go."
With the sun just coming up over her left shoulder and the light reflecting off of her silver necklace, the Nike-sponsored athlete put in a surge up Diamond Head, and immediately dropped Girma. She crested the hill in sole possession of first place, and just needed to hold her pace to get the win. She entered Kapiolani Park alone, her arms swinging smoothly and her shoulders still pinned back, and cruised in to get the win in what was her fourth marathon of the year.
"I'm very happy to win the Honolulu Marathon," she said, adding that the first place check of $40,000 was "a lot of money."
Behind her, Galimova had clawed her way back into contention, passing Aheza Kiros, who would finish fourth in 2:41:32. Coming over Diamond Head, Galimova was only 11 seconds behind Girma, who was now running flat-out to try to hold onto second place.
"I was thinking about second place," Galimova said after the race. "I know she (Girma) can do 2:24 (her personal best was actually 2:27:51). I know she was a good runner. I tried for second place."
Galimova nearly made it to the second spot, sprinting mightily in the final meters. She came up three seconds short, running 2:36:13 to Girma's 2:36:10. Girma won $16,000 in prize money to Galimova's $10,000.
Unknown Japanese Tries To Steal Race
Men's winner Chepkwony, who lives in Eldoret, had to contend first with a bold challenge from an unseeded Japanese runner. Saeki Makino, who lives in Kawaguchi-Shi, Saitama, and has a personal best of 2:21:42, amassed a three-minute lead at halfway (1:08:34), and --shockingly-- was still out in front by two minutes, 34 seconds at 30-kilometers (1:38:07).
But Makino fell apart (he would finish 12th in 2:37:12) just as Chepkwony and two-time Honolulu champion Nicholas Chelimo were beginning to hit their stride. Chepkwony surged hard through the 23rd mile (37 km to 38.6 km) in 4:36, a pace which Chelimo couldn't match, quickly putting the race away.
"Chelimo was following me so I tried to pull ahead," Chepkwony told reporters.
From there, he spurted ahead to finish in 2:18:47, the slowest winning time here since 2007 when the race was contested in heavy rain. Chelimo got second (2:19:22) and veteran Solomon Bushendich third (2:19:38).
"It is very special to win the Honolulu Marathon," Chepkwony told reporters.
Pre-race favorite Martin Lel --three times the Virgin London Marathon champion and twice the TCS New York City Marathon winner-- had a bad day. He stayed with the contenders through 30-K (1:40:41), but when the pace picked up, he couldn't respond. Lel, who had dropped out of the TCS New York City Marathon last month, finished sixth in 2:21:16.
"There is something wrong," the frustrated Lel told Race Results Weekly, rubbing his lower back and hip on his left side.
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Although over 30,000 runners registered for the race, finishers may be down from last year's 24,413 because of the very warm and humid conditions (temperature was 27C/80F at 11:00 with 64% humidity and no cloud cover). Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal, a medical doctor, was concerned that his medical team might have a larger number of heat-related casualties than usual. Since the finish line here remains open past 19:00, he said it would be a long day a ahead.
"I'm headed over to medical," he said before a reporter got to ask his question.
PHOTO: Ehitu Kiros of Ethiopia winning the 2013 Honolulu Marathon in 2:36:02 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)