The 27-year-old Kenyan ran the fastest half-marathon time on a record-eligible course in the U.S. this year.
PHILADELPHIA — Defending champion Stanley Biwott of Kenya owned the streets of Philadelphia once again on Sunday morning, winning the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon for the second-straight year in 59 minutes and 36 seconds. The 27-year-old Biwott, who broke away from countrymen Edwin Kipyego (third, 60:04) and Cybrian Kotut (second, 59:59) just past the 6-mile mark, ran the fastest half marathon on a record-eligible course in the U.S. this year (Bernard Koech ran 58:41 to win Rock ‘n’ Roll San Diego in June) and the third fastest time in this event’s storied 36-year history.
RACE RESULTS: 2013 Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon
“This victory was very important to me,” said Biwott, who improved upon his winning time from last year by 27 seconds. “I knew that I had some speed in preparation for New York [City Marathon]. It was encouraging because I improved my time from last year. I trained very well for this race and I knew I was in good shape.”
Through an opening mile of 4:34, a pack of seven — which included Ghirmy Ghebreselassie of Eritrea (fourth, 1:02:27), Moroccan Abdellah Falil (fifth, 1:02:44), Ethiopian Ayele Feisa and Kenyan Henry Rutto — remained in tact, but not for long. A quick 4:26 split for Mile 2 created a clear chasm between Biwott, Kipyego, Kotut and remainder of the early lead group and by 5K (14:00), it was clear that it was going to be a 3-man race to the finish. Not much changed over the next 3 miles before Biwott made a strong surge to the front, opening up a quick gap that he would continue to stretch out over the remainder of the race. Passing 10K in 28 minutes flat, Biwott clicked off his next 4 miles in 4:26, 4:32, 4:35 and 4:31 to come through 10 miles in 45:15 with a sizable gap on Kotut and Kipyego, who were battling for runner-up behind him.
RACE PHOTOS: 22,000 Runners Rock Philly!
Fernando Cabada of Boulder, Colo., was the top American finisher in eighth place, running 1:03:53, his best mark of 2013 to this point. The 31-year old, who finished seventh at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in 2:11:53, has improved steadily since July, when he ran 1:08:22 to finish third at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Chicago Half Marathon.
“It went out fast and I felt really good to where I almost wanted to run with the Africans,” Cabada said after the race. “But I think sometimes my aggressiveness and ambitions will be the end of me in a race. If you go out too fast the first 3 miles there’s nowhere to go but back. I had Andrew Lemoncello (tenth, 1:04:36), Mike Sayenko (11th, 1:04:36) and Patrick Rizzo (12th, 1:05:06) with me, and those are some good guys to run with and I wanted to help whenever I needed to help. The first couple miles went a little slow, and I didn’t want to make excuses or rely on anybody so I just decided to go off on my own.”
In the women’s race, 24-year-old Lyudmyla Kovalenko of the Ukraine found her final gear less than 100 meters before the finish line, passing New York-based Ethiopian Konjit Biruk just before the tape to win 1 hour, 8 minutes and 59 seconds. The 25-year-old Biruk finished as the runner-up just one second back, while Hanae Tanaka of Japan, 23, took third in 1:10:03.
“I was trying to stay close because I knew I could finish stronger,” Kovalenko said of her wait-till-the-last-minute winning strategy. “I just tried to hold my pace through the entire race.”
It was a two-woman race from Mile 4 to the finish, with Kovalenko and Biruk never less than a few meters apart for nearly the entirety of the flat, fast 13.1-mile layout. Passing 6 miles in 31:28, Kovalenko was right on her goal pace of 5:15 per mile with Biruk sitting on her right shoulder. The 25-year-old Ethiopian surged to the front with a kilometer to go and it appeared all but certain that Kovalenko had been dropped for good. But with less than a tenth of a mile until the tape, the Ukrainian 5,000m Olympian put her finishing speed to good use, blowing by Biruk at the last possible second to post a massive 44-second personal best.
Susanna Sullivan, 23, of Falls Church, Va., was the top American finisher in 11th place, running 1:16:18, an 8-second personal best. The Notre Dame graduate, who was hoping to run under 1:15 to secure a berth at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, said she felt great through mile 10, but a bad side stitch slowed her in the latter miles of the race.
“It’s a huge surprise and a tremendous honor,” Sullivan said of finishing as the top American, eight seconds and one spot ahead of U.S. 5,000m Olympian Julie Culley, who is prepping for November’s New York City Marathon. “It makes me feel better about that last mile. I felt great through about 15K, and I was encouraged that I was on pace as long as I was but the last few miles were kind of tough. I’ll figure it out.”
Dorota Gruca, a Polish marathoner who lives and trains in Las Cruces, New Mexico, was the top Masters (40+) finisher on the day in ninth place with a 1:15:24 clocking.
An estimated 22,000 runners from all 50 states and 19 countries participated in the 36th annual event, which started at Eakins Oval and weaved through downtown and past Independence Hall before running along the Schuylkill River and finishing in front of the historic Philadelphia Art Museum.