By Rich Sands, @sands
HONOLULU (11-Dec) -- As the sun began to rise here this morning, Ethiopia's Asefa Mengstu made a decisive late-race move to win the men's division of the Honolulu Marathon. Bere Ayalew made it an Ethiopian sweep, taking the women's title by more than three minutes. Both runners earned $25,000 for their victories in what was the 50th running of the race. On a windy morning with start temperatures at 74F/23C, 14,645 runners set off on Americaís fourth largest marathon.
MENGSTU GETS AWAY
PHOTO: Asefa Mengstu of Ethiopia with race ambassadors Allison (left) and Julie Chu after winning the 2022 Honolulu Marathon in 2:14:40 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
The race started at 5:00 a.m. local time --two hours before sunrise-- with the men setting out at a fairly conservative pace. This allowed one of the competitors in the concurrently run Start to Park 10-K to open up a gap and appear to be leading. In reality, pacemaker Reuben Kerio was at the front of a pack that included Mengstu, Shifera Tamru of Ethiopia and Barnabas Kiptum of Kenya, along with American 1500-meter runner Eric Avila, who was racing the 10-K. (Avila competed in the elite section of the Kalakaua Merrie Mile on Saturday.) They reached 5-K in 15:24.
Avila pulled away from the marathoners to win the 10-K in 30:09, as the longer race continued eastward away from Waikiki Beach. They hit their own 10-K mark in 30:30, and then entered a long stretch along the Diamond Head volcanic crater and the Kalanianaole Highway, where the wind grew stronger.
"The wind was very bad," Mengstu said. "I've never seen anything like this before. It surprised me how tough the wind was."
With sunrise still more than an hour away, the four runners cut through the dark. While crowd support was strong on most of the course, there were periods when the only sound besides their footsteps was the crowing of wild roosters nearby.
The halfway point was reached in 1:06:38, and Kerio's work was done. With the wind picking up, the pace was slipping above 5 minutes per mile. Soon Tamru began to fall back and he would eventually drop out. After the race he indicated that he was struggling with leg pain.
Kiptum continued to lead, with Mengstu hovering just off his right shoulder, shielding himself from the brunt of the wind. They remained in this pattern through 30-K (1:35:02), when Mengstu began to run alongside his rival. Shortly after 35-K (1:50:52), as the sun was starting to shine, Mengstu made what would be the race's pivotal move. In a matter of minutes he opened up a lead of more than 100 meters on Kiptum.
Though the victory was essentially locked up (by 40-K his lead had grown to an insurmountable 1:52), it would be a grueling finish. Up the incline at Diamond Head on the way back into town he appeared to be struggling for the first time. Thanks to a wave of cheers from the masses of runners coming from the opposite direction, Mengstu --who was racing for the first time since finishing 10th in Frankfurt in April-- regained his composure. "When I was passing the other runners, they were supporting me and it was helping me," he said.
Mengstu crossed the line at Kapiolani Park in 2:14:40, ending a streak of Kenyan menís champions at Honolulu that dated back to 2007. Kiptum (2:17:45) came through just over three minutes later and Yuhi Yamashita (2:27:27), a sub-elite runner from Japan, was a distant third.
"Between 33 to 35 kilometers was when I had planned to start to push," said the 34-year-old Mengstu, who ran his PB of 2:04:06 in Dubai in 2018. "It was very hard to be alone and to push over the last 5 kilometers, but it was my target to win and that's why I survived it."
LONELY SECOND HALF FOR AYALEW
PHOTO: Bere Ayalew of Ethiopia wins the 2022 Honolulu Marathon in 2:30:58; race ambassadors Allison (left) and Julie Chu are the tape holders (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
In the women's race, Ayalew and training partner Abebech Afework ran stride-for-stride through 5-K (17:39) and 10-K (35:02). "There was no pacemaker, so it was better for them to run together," said Yirefew Birhanu Derb, the coach of their Addis Ababa-based training group, which also includes Mengstu and Tamru. "They would help each other with the wind, that was the plan."
In the eighth mile, the 23-year-old Ayalew began to pull away, accompanied only by a male runner. She reached halfway in 1:15:42, with a 38-second lead over Afework. A second man joined her in the 15th mile, but within a mile Ayalew was running solo.
Ayalew, who set her PB of 2:22:52 second-place finish at the ASML Marathon Eindhoven in the Netherlands in early October, maintained her composure and looked remarkably swift in the final stretch. "It was really difficult today with the wind and to run the whole way with no pacemaker," she said after clocking 2:30:58 as the fourth overall finisher. "And the up and down [of the hills] was also very challenging. I was trying to run a good time."
Afework clocked 2:34:39 for the runner-up spot, and Eri Suzuki (2:47:42) of Japan completed the podium. Defending champion Lanni Marchant placed sixth in 3:02:15. "Whenever I went under six-minute pace I couldn't breathe," said Marchant, a 2016 Olympian for Canada. "Then I said, 'There you are, COVID.' I had COVID last summer."
Jacob Allen of Kingwood, Tennessee, and Christine Greer of Honolulu were the winners of the wheelchair races. "It's windy, but it's part of the challenge," said Allen, who is originally from Ukraine. "It was better than last year, because last year was bad. I was slipping [due to the rain]). This time it was dry."