By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
HONOLULU (14-Dec) -- Athletes from Kenya swept the 42nd running of the Honolulu Marathon, as Wilson Chebet and Joyce Chepkirui crossed the finish line first here in Kapiolani Park. Chebet waited until the final miles to make his winning move, while Chepkirui led for a majority of the women's race to claim her first marathon title. Their times were 2:15:35 and 2:30:23, respectively.
Chebet Wins In Honolulu Marathon Debut
Chebet, 29, played the waiting game here today to perfection. With a steady rain falling at the start and high winds expected, Chebet made the conscious decision to tuck into a large pack along with Kenyan compatriots Paul Lonyangata and Joel Kimurer, as well as Ethiopians Gebretsadik Abraha and Yemane Adhane, among others. Chebet would not touch the lead until fewer than five kilometers remained.
Through 14 miles, it was Japan's Saeki Makino out front, a training partner of Japanese marathon star Yuki Kawauchi. After a 4:54 opening mile, Makino ran through Waikiki all alone, rattling off mile after mile while a group of seven --including Chebet-- established themselves more than 100 meters behind. After cresting the Diamond Head Avenue hill for the first time, Makino's lead grew to roughly 45 seconds. That's when the chase pack began to chip away bit by bit.
Reaching halfway in a pedestrian 1:08:45, the chase group began pushing led by pacesetter Kimurer. In addition to Kimurer, Chebet, Abraha, Adhane, Lonyangata, Kenyans Nicholas Chelimo and Benjamin Kolum made up the group of seven. With a heavy rain picking up and winds gusting, the group of seven clenched their teeth and passed Makino just before 15 miles.
Staying compact, the leaders ran in unison. When one went for water, all went for water. When one grimaced as the wind howled, all grimaced, a matching determined look on all faces. Eyes were focused on the road ahead, deep in concentration.
Cheered on by slower runners going in the opposite direction, Chebet, Lonyangata, and Abraha ran towards the front of the pack. Looking at one another, no one wanted to test the waters and surge. The anxiety was visible as the group passed 20 miles.
On a downhill stretch adjacent to Waialae Country Club at 22 miles, Lonyangata had had enough. Surging, the 21-year-old injected a burst that was only matched by Chebet and Abraha. The rest of the pack was left behind, unable to respond to the abrupt move.
"I was trying my best because I could see my colleagues here were very strong. I decided to push and give it a good time to go," said Lonyangata. "I had to go."
While Lonyangata's move was strong, Chebet's subsequent surge turned out to be lethal. Hitting the base of Diamond Head for the race's final climb, Chebet dropped the hammer. Within seconds he was all by himself, the $40,000 first- place prize on his mind.
"I was trying my best but the time I went I thought my body was responding well," described Chebet. "I waited all the way through because I knew that these conditions, for me, weren't good and tough."
Thousands of fellow marathoners cheering on his right, the Pacific Ocean's waves cresting on his left, Chebet came down Diamond Head Road and entered Kapiolani Park with a lock on the lead. Breaking the tape in 2:15:35, Chebet extended Kenya's dominance at this race, becoming the country's 18th men's champion in the last 19 years.
"I feel good, but the weather was not good conditions, tough day all the way through," said a smiling Chebet, who now adds Honolulu to the list of cities he's won marathons in, including Amsterdam and Rotterdam. "But I am real happy because I have won this."
Chebet's win is made even more impressive considering he had to deal with severe travel difficulties and delays coming from Kenya. Stops at airports in Zurich and San Francisco were extended due to harsh weather conditions.
"This is my first time [here] and I didn't know the course, but now," he said smiling. "I am happy. Well worth it."
Lonyangata held on for second in 2:16:04, while Abraha took third in 2:16:27. Benjamin Kolum and Yemane Adhane rounded out the top five, finishing in 2:16:37 and 2:17:54, respectively. Kimurer, who was in fourth at 22 miles, did not finish. Also not finishing was last year's champion Gilbert Chepkwony, dropping off the lead pack within the first 10 kilometers.
Winning the masters title was Canadian Olympian and current University of Michigan coach Kevin Sullivan, finishing his debut marathon 2:40:22. He ran part of the course with Olympic silver medalist Nick Willis and American miler Will Leer.
First Marathon Win For Joyce Chepkirui
On paper Kenya's Joyce Chepkirui was the women's favorite entering today's race, one of the top road racers in the world. She lived up to her billing, breaking the tape in 2:30:23 with a comfortable minute and 12 second margin of victory. It was also a personal best.
"I think the race was OK for me. I was prepared for this race, and I thank God I won," said the quiet Chepkirui, draped in a Kenyan flag and Hawaiian lei.
Like in the men's race, the women's contest featured a brash early front runner in Sarah Kiptoo. The Kenyan split 34:07 for 10-K well ahead of the designated pace setter and a full 30 seconds up on Chepkirui and fellow Kenyan Isabella Ochichi. Kiptoo would pay for the early pace, surpassed at 8 miles by the pair.
Shortly thereafter, Ochichi would fall by the wayside on Diamond Head as Chepkirui kept her foot on the gas pedal.
Although no female competitors could keep up with her tempo, Erick Kibet --one of the designated women's pace setters-- stayed by her side. Kibet is Chepkirui's husband.
Together the tandem would split the half marathon in 1:13:07, on pace to break Lyubov Denisova's course record of 2:27:19.
Any bid for a new record was thrown out the window when the winds and rain increased, making the latter miles that much harder for an already fatiguing Chepkirui. When Kibet dropped at 18 miles, Chepkirui had already begun slowing, running miles in the 6:20 range.
"I think from starting, middle, it was a lot of wind and rain," said Chepkirui. "From starting I'm in pain until [after] 33 kilometers."
Despite the building pain in her muscles, Chepkirui was able to crest Diamond Head and cruise down the finish straight, breaking the tape held by two Japan Airlines flight attendants. In the process, she becomes the first women's champion in race history from Kenya.
"Yes, I am happy. I think I run my [personal best] here and I thank God. I am so happy," said Chepkirui. Her previous fastest marathon was a 2:35:54 performance in London last year.
Taking second was Croatia's Lisa Nemec (2:31:35), followed by Ochichi (2:32:22), 2012 Honolulu Marathon champion Valentina Galimova (2:32:26), and Ethiopia's Woynishet Girma (2:33:20), the 2011 victor.
"I kind of got into a pace I felt comfortable at," said Nemec, a 2012 Olympian in the marathon who finished fourth at the European Championships marathon in Zurich last August. "The last 8-K were really, really hard."
Reigning champion Ehitu Kiros was sixth in 2:36:57, Burundi's Diane Nukuri seventh in 2:37:11, and early leader Sarah Kiptoo eighth in 2:43:51.
Honolulu's Elizabeth Wong was the first masters finisher, completing the race in 3:17:40.
There were 22,068 starters today. The finish line will remain open until the last finisher comes in tonight; the Honolulu Marathon does not close its finish line until the last runner arrives.
PHOTO: Wilson Chebet of Kenya wins the 2014 Honolulu Marathon in 2:15:35 (photo by Ronen Zilberman for the Honolulu Marathon; used with permission)
PHOTO: Joyce Chepkirui wins the 2014 Honolulu Marathon in a personal best 2:30:23 (photo by Ronen Zilberman for the Honolulu Marathon; used with permission)