There was hot running on a cold day in Sin City.
Written by: Mario Fraioli
Despite live bands, white Bengal tigers, dancing girls and a pre-race fireworks display, it was a pair of Kenyans who stole the show Sunday morning at the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon.
Taking her first stab at the 26.2-mile distance, Caroline Rotich pulled away from pre-race favorite Russian Alevtina Ivanova over the final five kilometers, breaking the tape in a winning time of 2:29:47 to outdistance Ivanova by 18 seconds. Rotich pocketed $15,000 as the women’s champion and another $10,000 for winning the Gender Challenge as the first person–male or female–to cross the finish line. As part of the Gender Challenge, the elite women received a 20-minute head start on the main field of 27,600 runners.
“I was like ‘Oh, this is good, this is going to be really good for me,’” Rotich said. “I was really happy.”
Rotich, who trailed Ivanova by 33 seconds at the halfway point, simply followed her coach’s advice to stick to her prescribed pace in the race’s early stages and not push until the final 10 kilometers. It was a plan that the marathon rookie Rotich executed to perfection.
“My coach told me not to push really hard the first half,” Rotich recalled. “I was trying to keep my pace and
not push hard, and then after 20 miles I tried to push a little harder. In mile 23 I saw (Romanova) and I was just trying to get in front of her. She was so fast so I was like ‘oh maybe I’m not going to make it but I’m going to be consistent on my way’. It was my first time in Las Vegas and my first time running a marathon. I thought this maybe was going to be a good race for me.”
Sara Raschiatore of Clermont, Florida was the top American women, finishing 8th overall in 2:51:17 and taking home $1,000 for her efforts.
On the men’s side, it was Rotich’s countryman, Christopher Toroitich, who took home the top prize, crossing the finish line in 2:15:15, just over a minute ahead of Ethiopian Terefae Yae who finished in 2:16:42.
“The weather was very bad–too cold,” Toroitich said. “My muscles were not responding very well. I’m not so happy with my time but I’m going to improve on it next time.”
Despite the unusually cold and windy conditions, Toroitich ran aggressively from the get-go, tugging the main field through the halfway point in 1:06:23. At the 20-mile mark he led a chase pack of seven runners by almost 2 minutes, an advantage Yae chipped away at over the final ten kilometers but could never completely close.
“When we hit 30 kilometers I thought maybe I can win,” Toroitich said. “If they get me no problem, if I win it, it’s OK.”
Stephen Haas of Indianapolis, Indiana took home $1,000 as the top American to make it across the finish line, completing the 26.2 miles in 2:18:45, one minute and three seconds ahead of Colorado’s Justin Young. Haas, who qualified for the 2012 Olympic Trials by finishing under 2:19 in today’s race, caught up to Young just after the 20-mile mark and put a minute on him over the final 10K.
In the accompanying half marathon, Ethiopian Bekana Daba beat out Mexican Abel Chavez by a little more than a minute, setting a course standard of 1:01:40 while taking home $3,000 for the victory. Daba, who was making his debut half marathon, won the Carlsbad 5,000 earlier this year and boasts a track PR of 12:59 for the distance.
“It was good competition,” Daba said about the half marathon field. “And it was very cold. I warmed up but not enough. This is my first half marathon and I think I will do well in the future at this distance. I am happy.”
26-year-old Fernando Cabada of Boulder, Colorado was the top American male, finishing sixth in the 1:04:56. Cabada, the 2008 US Champion in the marathon who ran the ninth fastest debut marathon by an American (2:12:27) at Fukuoka in 2007, is training for the Rock-N-Roll Arizona Marathon in Phoenix—Scottsdale—Tempe on January 17, 2010. He qualified for the 2012 Olympic Marathon Trials by finishing under 65 minutes in today’s race.
An Ethiopian also won the women’s race, as Werknesh Kidane crossed the finish line in 1:10:55, a minute and nineteen seconds ahead of American Desiree Davila from the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project in Rochester Hills, Michigan.
“It was a nice race,” Kidane said. “But it was very cold and I was happy to win.”
This was the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half Marathon, powered by Zappos.com and benefitting the Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation of America. Over 27,000 runners were registered for both races–up almost 15,000 from the Zappos.com Las Vegas Marathon and Half Marathon in 2008.