(12-Sep) -- It was strength against speed in the final 400 meters of the women's race at this morning's USATF 10 Mile Championships hosted by the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in Washington, D.C., and strength won. Marathoner Nell Rojas, ninth at the 2020 USA Olympic Team Trials Marathon, held off 2011 world 1500m champion Jenny Simpson to win her first national title in 52:13. Simpson, who made her professional road racing debut in a long distance race today, was second in 52:16.
PHOTO: Nell Rojas winning the women's division of the 2021 USATF 10-Mile Championships at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run in Washington, D.C. (photo by Mike Scott)
"Zero expectations on, like, place or time; I really wanted to come out and get a hard workout before going into Boston," said Rojas who incorporated today's race into her Boston Marathon build-up. "I needed it to be somewhat of, like, a confidence-booster. I live in Boulder at altitude so I needed it to be fast at sea level. I wanted to practice... following moves."
That's exactly what Rojas, 33, did this morning. Kenya's Antonina Kwambai and Minnesota Distance Elite's Annie Frisbie did most of the leading in the early miles, setting an honest tempo of 16:16 through 5-K and 32:30 through 10-K. Rojas stayed in the pack keeping her eyes on key rivals Simpson and Sara Hall. Hall, 38, a ten-time USA national champion and the second-fastest American marathon woman of all time, was a favorite for victory today.
But in the last two miles of the race, both Hall and Simpson, 35, began to drift back. Simpson was able to bridge up again to the leaders, but Hall was not and had to settle for sixth place in 52:43.
Kwambai was still the leader at 15-K (48:54) but Rojas, Frisbie, Simpson and 2015 Boston Marathon champion Caroline Rotich of Kenya were still with her in the lead pack. Rojas waited, took a few deep breaths, and a few meters later started her final drive for the finish. Simpson responded, kept it close, but had to let go in the final 100 meters and settle for second.
"I knew it was Jenny right there, 1500-meter runner, an Olympian and world champion," Rojas recalled of the final sprint. "I was, like, my gosh. Like, 400 to go I was, like, where is she, where is she, hoping she was tired from the ten miles. I was really scared."
Simpson's long-distance road racing debut has to be considered a big success. Her tactics were solid and she was in the right place for the final sprint; she just ran out of energy.
"A lot of the strategy was for me to just hang back a little bit and learn as I go and follow the lead of the more experienced women," Simpson said. She continued: "I just had the same strategy of stay close until the end, and try to kick away, and I got second."
Kwambai got third overall in 52:23, Rotich was fourth in 52:25, and Frisbie was fifth (third in the national championships) in 52:26.
The men's race was a runaway for Edwin Kimutai. The lesser-known Kenyan split 10-K in 28:10 giving him a 17-second lead over Americans Augustus Maiyo and Biya Simbassa who were running in the national championships division. Kimutai's lead mushroomed to 34 seconds by 15-K, and he won going away in 45:45. Simbassa out-legged Maiyo in the final mile to take his first USA title, 46:18 to 46:23. Reed Fischer (46:59) and Frank Lara (47:13) rounded out the top-5 and finished third and fourth, respectively, in the national championships division.
Financially, Rojas was the big winner on the day. She pocketed a total of $10,000, $5,000 for the overall title plus $5,000 for the national title.