Sambu, Chepkirui Win NYC’s Healthy Kidney 10K

Former University of Arizona star Stephen Sambu won the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in a near-record 27:39. Photo: Chris Lotsbom/Race Results Weekly

Fast times despite humid conditions in NYC’s Central Park.

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

Stephen Sambu and Joyce Chepkirui aggressively ran their way to titles in New York City at the 10th annual UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in Central Park, picking up $25,000 each in the process. Despite soaking humidity, Sambu just missed setting an event record by finishing in a career best 27:39, while Chepkirui’s 31:17 was well under the previous event record in her New York City racing debut.

From the get-go, two-time champion and 10K world record-holder Leonard Patrick Komon looked like a man on a mission. As the starting horn sounded, it was the 26-year-old bolting out to the pole position, eventually reaching the mile in a speedy 4:18. By that point, the race was already down to two, as Sambu tailed adrift by five or so meters.

“I have to, I think about doing the first two miles hard,” said Komon, replicating his race strategy of a year ago. In 2013, Komon timed 4:18 for each of the opening two miles, going on to win in 27:58. Today, he would do exactly the same, reaching two miles in 8:36.

Up and down Central Park’s hills, Komon and Sambu were a complete contrast of one another, only sharing their bright neon yellow Nike vests and black shorts.

Komon was working in vain, pumping his arms furiously to maintain the pace. Head rocking side to side, lips bouncing up and down, the native of West Pokot looked to be laboring. At one point, his heavy breathing was even audible from the lead vehicle.

On the other hand, Sambu was calm as could be. Eyes up ahead, the University of Arizona alum kept his arms steady by his side, not showing any sign of stress on his face or in his stride.

“[I knew] to be careful for the first 5K because I knew the last 5K was going to be tough,” he said.

Rounding the north end of Central Park, Komon’s discomfort came to a boiling point. After cresting the steepest hill of the course, adjacent to 110th Street, Sambu came up on Komon’s shoulder ready to make a move.

Sambu never broke stride as he reached out for a cup of water with his left hand before crossing the five kilometer checkpoint in 13:40, one step and one second ahead of Komon.

On a day that saw 61-degree temperatures and a sticky humidity of 93%, Sambu gulped a few drops of water then put down the hammer. Clearly, the hot early pace had gotten to Komon, who in a flash was more than 10 seconds back.

“My throat was getting dry so I took a sip of water and then I feel good,” said the 25-year-old. “I thought Komon was still following me so I didn’t know he was way, way back from me. I didn’t look back.”

Approaching 8K, Sambu had a shot at breaking the Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS) world record of 22:03 (22:02.2), set by Peter Githuka in 1996 at the Crazy 8′s 8K in Kingsport, Tenn. Gritting his teeth, Sambu crossed the official timing mat at 22:05.

“I just missed it,” he said, emphasizing the words just and missed. “I wasn’t thinking because I was feeling pain. It was tough.”

Knowing there was a lucrative $30,000 event record bonus on the line if he broke Komon’s 2011 time of 27:35, Sambu continued to push on alone.

At 400 meters to go, Sambu needed an approximate 65-second quarter mile and the bonus check was his. Accelerating downhill, he’d round a bend before making an unfortunate error.

At a slight fork in the road, Sambu was unsure of which way to go: follow the tangent and go left, or trail the lead vehicle—which was leaving the course—and go right. Although he had run the race last year, Sambu had a moment of confusion, and decided to go right. He made it four steps before the shouts of many directed him to reverse course and go the opposite way around the barrier. By that time, valuable seconds had ticked away.

“The last 200 meters, you know when I saw the time I was like maybe I’ll get the course record,” he recalled. “And then when I came over there I missed, I missed the turn by a little bit. You know I was going to get it, I was going to get it but then when I turned around I just lost it.”

Despite accelerating once again, Sambu came up 4 seconds short of Komon’s mark and the bonus.

“A little bit, but I’m happy because I win,” he said, answering a reporter’s question on whether he was disappointed. “It is really good, I am so happy. Always to win, it is good,” he said. “This is my biggest win [of my career]… I am happy.”

Komon held on for second ahead of the hard charging Olympians, Italy’s Daniele Meucci and Australia’s Collis Birmingham. Their times were 28:18, 28:19, and 28:23, respectively.  Both Meucci and Birmingham set personal bests.

For the first time since February of 2011, Komon had lost a 10K contest on the roads.

“I feel a little bit challenged today because it was not easy,” said Komon, noting that he thought Sambu would come back to him in the race’s second half. “Not always you can win. Sometimes you lose, sometimes you win, and you have to move on because we have still long careers.”

Rounding out the top five was Morocco’s Mourad Marofit in 28:50.

While the men’s contest was a break away from the start, the women’s race played out as a pack affair. Kenya’s Joyce Chepkirui and Ethiopian tandem Mamitu Daska and Gelete Burka ran together through the early miles, Chepkirui and Burka trading the lead frequently.

Reaching 5K in 15:17 was Chepkirui and Daska, as Burka had fallen two seconds behind.

At that point, it looked like the group was poised for a dramatic second half of the race. They were under Lornah Kiplagat’s 30:44 Central Park record pace through midway and a possible $55,000 payday awaited the winner ($25,000 for first place plus $30,000 for a sub-30:44 performance).

It was in the sixth kilometer that things would shake up and slow down. Burka, a four-time world championships medalist, would begin to fade back, leaving Chepkirui and Daska to battle for the win.

“When I was at 6K I feel like I am going to win the race,” said Chepkirui, exuding confidence.

On the opposite side of the spectrum was Daska. Feeling fatigued, she could only watch as Chepkirui’s lead began to grow.

“I had come in expecting and hoping to win, but when I found the course challenging, I just did the best that I could,” said Daska, winner of last year’s NYRR Oakley Mini 10K here.

At eight kilometers, Chepkirui had built a lead of seven seconds, one that would only extend in the coming kilometers. Breaking the tape in 31:17, Chepkirui shaved nearly two minutes from Buzunesh Deba’s event record of 33:09. (It is worth noting that this is the first year the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K has hosted an truly elite women’s field).

“I am very happy,” said Chepkirui, smiling as a U2 cover band played the song “One Love” in the background.

Twenty-four seconds behind Chepkirui was Daska in 31:41, a personal best. Rounding out the top three was 2014 IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships silver medalist Mary Wacera in 31:52, while Burka was fourth in 32:01.

New York native Delilah Dicrescenzo was the top American in 10th place in 34:54.

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