Kenyans Sweep at Chicago Marathon; Kastor Sets U.S. Masters Record

Men's winner Dickson Chumba, Chicago Marathon race director Carey Pinkowski and women's winner Florence Kiplagat. Photo: Bank of America Chicago Marathon

(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

CHICAGO — The Windy City lived up to its name here today, further challenging the elite athletes competing in the 38th Bank of America Chicago Marathon who had to run this Abbott World Marathon Majors event for the first time in at least 25 years without pacemakers.

Given those conditions, men’s and women’s contenders responded differently.  The men ran cautiously, and race champion Dickson Chumba of Kenya’s winning time of 2:09:25 was the slowest here since 2007 when the race was contested in steamy conditions.  The women, however, chose to run aggressively, and Kenya‘s Florence Kiplagat ran an impressive 2:23:33 to get her first victory here (she was the runner-up last year). Both Chumba and Kiplagat won $100,000 in prize money; Kiplagat also earned a $5,000 time bonus.

When the gun went off at 7:30, the men were in no hurry to get to the finish line in Grant Park, at least by Chicago Marathon standards.  A big pack of 17 sauntered through 5 kilometers in 15:31, right on 2:11 pace.  Sammy Kitwara, the fastest man in the field with a personal best of 2:04:28, didn’t like the slow pace.  He said later it felt like a training run, and it was affecting his strategy.

“Like I said last Friday, the race was not nice to me,” Kitwara said, referring to the lack of pacemakers.  He added: “Running without pacemakers, I don’t think it’s nice for me, for my side.”

Kitwara stayed with the main group while American Elkanah Kibet, who represents the U.S. Army, went up the road and built a 13-second lead through 10K.  Kibet was absorbed by the 15K mark (46:00), and 10 men remained in contention, including Kenyans Chumba, Kitwara and Sammy Ndungu. Ethiopia’s Abera Kuma and Girmay Birhanu Gebru were also in the pack.

Running at the back of that group was former University of Oregon star Luke Puskedra who at 6-foot-4 towered over the smaller Africans.  Running in just his third marathon, he was a late entrant into the race, only calling race director Carey Pinkowski three weeks ago for a starting spot.

“I really didn’t come in with that much confidence,” Puskedra admitted after the race.

The group of 10 remained together through halfway (1:05:13), and the same 10 were still in contention through 30K (1:33:14).  Nobody wanted to lead.

“What I can say, the pace was very slow,” said Ndungu who, like Kitwara, was getting frustrated with the pace.

But between 30 and 35K, the race changed completely.  Chumba put in a surge, dropping all but Kitwara and Kuma.  He ran that 5K segment in 14:36, easily the fastest of the race.

“From 30 (kilometers) I tried to push, but the wind was coming,” Chumba told the media after the race.  “It was a problem; the wind was coming.”

But the wind was a bigger problem for the others.  While Chumba did slow a bit to 14:51 for the next 5K, that was still good enough to put 19 seconds on the chasing Kitwara. Chumba kept looking behind him, just in case Kitwara was closing.

“When I looked back, I look (for) Sammy,” Chumba said.  “Maybe he is coming.”

But he wasn’t.  Chumba entered the finish straight alone, breaking the tape with arms raised.  It was his second Abbott World Marathon Majors victory (he also won in Tokyo in 2014).  He lamented later that he was in shape to run faster, had there been pacemakers.

“Maybe if pacemakers were there, (I could) run 2:04 or 2:05,” he asserted.

Kitwara crossed next in 2:09:50, the third consecutive time he made the podium here without a victory.  Ndungu passed Ethiopia’s Girmay Birhanu Gebru in the final sprint to take third in 2:10:07.

Both Americans, Puskedra and Kibet, were rewarded with personal best times (it was Kibet’s debut).  Puskedra finished fifth in 2:10:24, and Kibet was seventh in 2:11:31.  Puskedra said he was trying his hardest to stay on pace in the last 10K and he felt like he was sprinting.

“With 10K to go, just get on the pony and ride,” Puskedra told the media.  “I was all-out, I think. I imagined myself to be Usain Bolt, but probably looked like Luke Puskedra out there.”

In the women’s contest, Kiplagat was content to follow Japan’s Kayoko Fukushi through halfway in an honest 1:10:27.  Seven women were in contention, including Ethiopia’s Birhane Dibaba, Yebrgual Melese, and Amane Gobena.  Kiplagat felt like she was right where she wanted to be.

“I was controlling everything to make sure,” she said.  She continued: “More tactics when it comes to a marathon without pacemakers.”

Indeed, Kiplagat controlled the race perfectly.  By 35K (1:58:44), only Gobena had been dropped, and Kiplagat realized she had waited long enough.  She ran the 5K between 35 and 40K in 17:14, and put the race away.  She had ample time to enjoy her run to the tape, and after falling to the ground in exhaustion after finishing, she got up, and jumped up and down several times, something she said was inspired by her two daughters, Faith (11) and Asha (7).

“I jumped because I love my kids,” she told reporters.  “I told them when I win I have to jump. I was jumping because I love my kids very much.”

Melese got second (2:23:43), Dibaba third (2:24:24), and Fukushi fourth (2:24:25).

Behind the podium finishers, 42-year-old American Deena Kastor was having a record run of her own.  Through halfway, the 2004 Olympic Marathon bronze medalist was easily on pace to break Colleen De Reuck’s national record for athletes over 40 (2:28:40).  Strategically tucking in behind some male runners from time to time to save energy, she seemed to be gliding down the finish stretch before smashing De Reuck’s record with her 2:27:47 clocking.  She later admitted that the final stages of the race were actually very difficult.

“I guess being a mom has taught me everything, including flexibility,” Kastor said, referring to several critical choices she had to make during the race with regard to her pace and positioning.  She went on, “It hurt just like I knew it would.”

En route to the finish, Kastor set another pending national masters record, passing through 30K in 1:45:04, well under the previous record of 1:49:31.

“I just wanted to seize the opportunity of the day,” said Kastor, who refused to say if she would run next February’s USA Olympic Trials Marathon.  She added: “Today it was just putting my head down and grinding through it.

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