Steel Squeaks Past Flanagan To Win Beach To Beacon 10K

Gemma Steel earned a tight victory over American Shalane Flanagan. Photo: Chris Lotsbom | Race Results Weekly

The 28-year-old Briton kicked in the last mile to earn the victory.

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

CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — At the 2013 TD Beach to Beacon 10K, Great Britain’s Gemma Steel finished second in 31:35.3, some 12 seconds behind winner Joyce Chepkirui. This year, the 28-year-old was not going to be denied, kicking stride for stride with American Olympic medalist Shalane Flanagan all the way through the finish. By half a step, Steel earned the race title and its first place prize of $10,000, finishing in the same time as Flanagan, down to the tenth of a second: 31:26.5.

“It’s amazing, really amazing. You know I can’t believe it,” said Steel, speaking fast with excitement as rain caused streaks of make-up-filled tears to fall down her cheek. “I was aiming to win but I was going to be happy with second or third. This is just a big, big win for me.”

From the start, it was Flanagan controlling the pace, opening with a five-minute mile that shook up the field. Settling behind Flanagan were Diane Nukuri-Johnson, Jordan Hasay, Aselefech Mergia and Steel.

Steel was well aware of the race’s hilly profile and tough second half. Using that to her advantage, she ran conservatively for the first 5K, allowing Flanagan to front the charge up ahead. When Steel moved through the field and suddenly came up on Flanagan’s shoulder with a mile remaining, the Nike Bowerman Track Club Elite member was a bit surprised.

The last kilometer would be battle reminiscent of a track 1500m: jostling, fighting for position and the inevitable cutoff move. Familiar with the course’s final hill and turns in Fort Williams Park, Steel managed to gain a step on the grimacing Flanagan.

“It was a really tight race. It was fun to go head-to-head with someone and push myself,” said Flanagan, reliving the battle. “I think Gemma, she’s pretty feisty. She definitely over the last 800 meters had a nice little quick step around the turns and I felt like I kept on getting kind of like cut off and kept regrouping. I felt like I was a novice track runner. I didn’t necessarily have that quick step like she did.”

With race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson anxiously awaiting the finish—hoping to see Flanagan prevail as the first American champion in race history—it was Steel emerging first. Directly in her slipstream, Flanagan did everything she could to pass. But the 33-year-old Massachusetts native simply ran out of real estate.

RELATED: Flanagan Fueled By Samuelson’s Support

“I was just pumping my arms more and trying to keep my top end form posture right and trying to relax as much as [I] could,” said Steel, the first British champion in race history. “When you’re a professional like that it’s just keeping calm, just gritting your teeth and digging in and that’s what I did. I just relied on that to pull me through to the finish.

“It was really, really exciting. I know Shalane, I’ve got such respect for Shalane. To beat Shalane, it’s going to be big news back home.”

Flanagan was pleased with her effort, considering she is in the middle of marathon training, preparing for September’s BMW Berlin Marathon. However, she wished she could have made Samuelson’s wish come true and kept the laurel wreath in America.

“I really was hoping to come out with a win just because no American has won here. That’s what I kept telling myself over the last mile, to be really tough because I really wanted to win it for Joanie and be the first American. It was what it was,” she said.

Third place went to Nukuri-Johnson in 31:51.2, a personal best, with Hasay taking fourth in her debut road 10K (32:19.4). Ethiopia’s Mergia rounded out the top five in 32:30.2.

Alexi Pappas, Desiree Linden, and Blake Russell all finished in the top 10, taking seventh (32:31.4), ninth (33:04.9), and tenth (33:10.3), respectively. Sheri Piers, who lives in Falmouth, Mass., was the top master’s finisher in 35:45.0, while Michelle Lilienthal set a new Maine resident record by finishing in 33:38.8.

RELATED: Flanagan Aiming For American Record In Berlin

Karoki Breaks Away For Men’s Title

From the gun, Kenya’s Bedan Karoki was a man on a mission. The 23-year-old, competing in his first road race on American soil, came here seeking to become the 14th Kenyan champion in race history, focused on bettering Gilbert Okari’s course record of 27:27.7 in the process. Ultimately, Karoki would accomplish one of his goals, taking home the win in 27:36.4.

“I am very happy because I got a long journey to come here so the time is very good,” said Karoki, who is part of the Japanese DeNA corporate team. “I was planning to run this course record. I didn’t get it but to be the winner I am very happy.”

Less than two minutes after the starting horn sounded, Karoki had taken the pace out so hard that only seven other men followed. The lead pack of eight would pass the mile in 4:20 and two miles in 8:49, Karoki doing his job as pace-setter.

Periodically, Karoki would glance at his watch, checking to see if the pace was up to his standards.

“He is moving. He is cruising!” said Samuelson, perched on the lead vehicle.

Appearing comfortable, Karoki pumped his arms faster than any others in the main pack, which included two-time champion Micah Kogo, last year’s fourth place finisher Stephen Kosgei Kibet and former marathon world record holder Patrick Makau. American Ben True and training partner Sam Chelanga were also in the group.

On an uphill stretch approaching three miles, Karoki decided to surge. Stringing out the field, Karoki, Kibet, True and Makau would pass halfway together. For True, the 5K split was an eye opener.

“I was surprised how fast we were going especially through 5K. I saw the 5K time and we were well under 13:40 and I said, ‘Oh boy we’re going out pretty quick’” said True. “I think I got a little hesitant at that point, and that’s when those two guys put a little gap on me.”

Indeed, it was a two-man show the rest of the way, as Karoki and Kibet battled along the coastline and past picturesque Pond Cove. Playing mind games with his countryman, Karoki tucked in behind Kibet for a stretch, conserving energy for the final mile. The first 8K had taken its toll, and the Olympian Karoki was hurting.

“I was running to pace the last 3K, but Stephen was a bit strong at the last 3K, so I slow a bit then the last 2K I picked up the pace,” he said, noting how the thought of winning gave him a second wind. After clocking a 4:18 fifth mile, Karoki made his claim for the win, leaving Kibet behind.

Finishing first in 27:36.4, Karoki was overcome by exhaustion and fell limply to the damp grass in Fort Williams. He quickly waived off any medical attention.

RELATED: True Among Competitor’s 2013 Runners Of The Year

“I was coming here to win this race, and to be the winner I am very happy,” said Karoki, later adding “I was planning to go fast with a high pace so that my fellow Kenyans, they cannot follow me.”

Like Karoki, Kibet would also fall to the grass, laying there for over a minute after finishing second in 27:42.4.

Battling with Makau for a majority of the race’s second half, True—a native of North Yarmouth, Maine—was third in a personal best of 27:49.8. Despite the podium placing, True was frustrated he didn’t go with the leaders when they made their move.

“That was one major error. I should have tried going with them and seen where I would have been ’cause they didn’t finish too far ahead of me. They both collapsed, they were clearly exhausted, and it might have been quite a different race if I had put a nice big surge on them in the middle half,” said True. He plans to race a pair of 5000m contests at IAAF Diamond League Meetings in Stockholm and Zurich coming up.

Fourth went to Makau in 27:56.4, with defending champion Kogo fifth in 28:14.4.

Fernando Cabada and Brian Harvey, the latter of whom competes for the Boston Athletic Association, finished ninth and tenth in 29:46.3 and 29:49.6.

Dartmouth sub-four minute miler Will Geohegan was 11th overall, first among Maine residents (29:53.0), followed by masters champion Kevin Castille (29:55.4), Meb Keflezighi and Chris Solinsky. Gun times were unavailable for Keflezighi and Solinsky, though their net times read 29:56 and 29:58.

Race organizers reported that athletes from 14 countries, 42 states (plus Washington D.C.) and 260 cities and towns in Maine were represented in the race. Preliminary results show a race record of 6,489 finishers.

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