By Steve Nearman
October 15, 2011
For the Washington Running Report
Stephen Muange had no idea what to expect in his very first marathon experience today at the 11th edition of the Under Armour Baltimore Marathon.
So under sunny clear skies and favorable temperatures, the Kenyan distance runner laid back for nearly 26 miles before unleashing his potent finishing kick.
“Today I was scared and I didn’t want to push the pace,” said Muange, a 30-year-old who trains in Las Cruces, NM, after posting a 2:15:16. “It was my first marathon and I didn’t have any experience. Next time I will go out faster.”
His four-second victory in the last 300 meters earned Muange his largest career paycheck – $25,000. But that did not match the $27,500 his counterpart in the women’s race – Olena Shurkhno – took back to her homeland of Ukraine for not just outrunning all the females and defending her 2010 title but also for setting a new event record, good for another $2,500.
Like last year, Shurkhno put some real estate on her closest pursuers before she reached Clifton Park at Mile 19 and ran solo to the finish between Camden Yards and Ravens Stadium. In the process, she covered the course in 2:29:11, shattering Luliia Arkhipova’s 2009 mark of 2:32:09.
“I knew the record, I was trying for the record,” Shurkhno, a 34-year-old Ukranian who splits her time between her training camp in Russia and home in the Ukraine, said through her agent Andrey Baranov. “The biggest challenge was running against the wind alone. I ran 2:28 at San Diego this year.”
Conversely, Muange said he was not much affected by the gusting winds because he was tucked in a large pack of Kenyans and Ethiopians for much of the race. Many others of the 3,443 marathon starters found the winds to be bothersome. Two spots were particularly bad, going into Fells Point between 13 and 14 and around Lake Montebello between Miles 19 and 21.
It did not help local favorite Dave Berdan of Owings Mills, MD (left) in his quest for a U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier, nor did the hilly course. Berdan was forced to run solo at the front of the race for the first 55 minutes and 49 seconds when the huge lead pack was not interested in running his pace.
“Nobody wanted to go with me,” said the 30-year-old school teacher. “They were going for the money. I was going for the time.”
The time was the Olympic qualifier “A” mark of 2:19 and Berdan was gutsy and went for it. By five miles through the Maryland Zoo and past Lake Druid, Berdan had more than a minute lead on 18 elite runners out of sight behind him.
Passing Pennsylvania Station and Mile 8 as the shade of downtown fell upon the runners, the pack quickly reeled in Berdan. Shortly before the 11-mile mark, where the course turns around at the Under Armour headquarters, Berdan was consumed by a tight group of 16.
“I knew I was going to be passed by these guys at some point,” he said. Berdan cruised by the half-marathon point on the flat roads of Inner Harbor in 1:08:30, well ahead of qualifying pace. But he knew the back 13 of the Baltimore course is more difficult than the first. He worked hard to stay with the Africans.
Eventually, attrition started to trim down the pack. Berdan was one of the first to go. “At about 17 miles, starting to go up hill at Patterson Park, I ran 5:30 and the pace was dropping to 5 minutes,” said Berdan, who would end up the 10th man crossing the line in 2:21:19, a big improvement on his 2:23:45 previous best.
He offered that the effort on a faster course like Chicago might have yielded a sub-2:19 but with family and job that trip was not feasible. Though disappointed, he said he might attempt a qualifier at the Philadelphia Marathon or half marathon next month.
Nine men were still in contention around Lake Montebello and past 21 miles. Three more dropped off in the next two miles and shortly after, as the course turned down Howard Street and straight for home, the pace quickened and the pack split in half.
In the first trio, Ethiopians Tesfaye Assefaudube and Ambesse Tolosa tried to shed Muange at 24 miles as they passed the National Guard Armory. But Muange had total faith in his kick. He had used his closing speed brilliantly in January at the 3-M Half Marathon in Austin as he outran another Ethiopian, Girma Tolla, who scratched from today’s race.
A prolific road race, Muange was a frequent flier on the U.S. roads this year, running the elite races Credit Union Cherry Blossom in Washington (7th) and Crescent City in New Orleans (7th) in April, Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in Duluth, MN (4th) in June, Peachtree 10K in Atlanta (11th), Boilermaker 15K in Utica, N.Y. (4th), Crazy Eights 8K in Kingsport, TN (3rd), and Wharf to Wharf 10K in Santa Cruz, CA (5th) in July.
“I knew I had the speed,” Muange said. “Last year, I ran 27:14 for 10,000 meters and I ran an 8K in 22 minutes in August. I’m good in speed. I was not worried at the end.”
As the three reached the ally adjacent to Camden Yards, about 100 meters to the 26-mile marker, Muange turned it on and quickly put distance on Tolosa and Assefaudube, who hit the finish just four and six seconds, respectively, behind him. Tolosa earned $14,000 and Assefaudube banked $8,000.
“My left foot hurt me a little after 30 kilometers,” said Tolosa, who twice has run 2:08, in 2004 and 2006.
Pre-race favorite and 2008 victor and course-record holder Julius Keter was 11th in 2:21:53.
Behind them, the women had been keying off defending champion Shurkhno. A group of 10 at five miles dwindled down to six by 10 miles and five by the half marathon passed in 1:15:22.
“I started to pick up the pace after the half marathon,” Shurkhno said. “It was a little bit slow between miles 13 and 14. I didn’t remember the course from last year. But I started to remember it at Miles 20 and 21 around the lake and at the finish. I love the lake but it’s windy.”
Shurkhno (left) slowly pulled from her competition and entered the loop around Lake Montebello with a solid 30-second lead.
Behind her was Russian Ludmila Biktasheva, working her way back into serious competition after the birth of daughter Yana two years ago next week. In her third marathon, she said she found the second half of the course “challenging, but overall I’m satisfied with second place.” Her 2:29:57 also surpassed the event record and was a three-minute personal best.
“From 16 to 20 miles, the third place woman and I were running together but after 20 miles, I was running alone in second place,” said the 37-year-old Biktasheva, who scored $14,000. “I was keeping the pace but she was slowing down.”
Hellen Kimatai of Kenya was third in 2:31:10, good for $8,000.
Masters competitions in the Under Armour Baltimore Marathon were won by Alexey Khokhlov, a 40-year-old Russian living in Gaithersburg, MD in 2:28:57 and local favorite 43-year-old Denise Knickman of Baltimore in 3:09:47. Each earned $1,000 for their triumphs.
In addition to the Under Armour Baltimore Marathon, the Under Armour Baltimore Running Festival – its largest field ever with 25,000 entrants – attracted another 9235 starters in the half marathon and 2,959 starters in the 5K.
In the accompanying CareFirst Half Marathon Habib Ettarfaoui of Pikesville, MD and Katrin Kreil of Hannover, Germany nailed victories in 1:11:59 and 1:24:07, respectively. In the 5K, Tristram Thomas of Baltimore and Cara Wettlaufer of Nottingham, MD were top finishers in 15:34 and 1:19:14, respectively.
“It was a beautiful day, a little windy, but we had a great competition in the men’s race being so close and a record for the women,” Lee Corrigan, President of Corrigan Sports Enterprises and Race Director of the Under Armour Baltimore Running Festival, said. “All in all, a great day for Baltimore.”