By Dickson Mercer
April 1, 2012
For the Washington Running Report
Main field gets underway.
A year after Frank Shorter took gold at the 1972 Munich Olympics and ignited the first running boom, fewer than 200 people showed up on a muggy day for the inaugural Cherry Blossom Invitational Run. Billed as a final tune-up for the Boston Marathon, the founders believed 10 miles was the perfect distance. Ten miles. It was long enough to provide an adequate test. It was not, however, long enough to [button-red url=”http://www.cherryblossom.org/aboutus/results.php” target=”_self” position=”left”] Results [/button-red]leave runners feeling “too pooped out,” according to the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run’s 40th anniversary race program.
One runner tearing up the local scene back then was Phil Stewart. Stewart, in fact, was this region’s top finisher at the 1975 Boston Marathon.
Stewart is now race director of the Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, a race that now attracts tens of thousands in celebration of “the Runner’s Rite of Spring” and over the years has showcased the best of the best – be it in the world, in America, or within the local scene.
Bethesda’s Ben Beach today finished his 40th Credit Union Cherry Blossom, a feat he shares with no one else.
This year’s event celebrated that history and more. Past champions who spoke at the expo Friday and Saturday and raced today included Bill Rodgers, who, in addition to winning the New York City and Boston marathons four times apiece between 1975 and 1980, won four Cherry Blossoms in a row starting in 1978.
There was Greg Meyer, who set the American record (46:13) here in 1983 before becoming the last American to win Boston.
There was Carl Hatfield, who won the race in 1974 and 1975.
There was Credit Union Cherry Blossom course recorder Colleen De Reuck and 1984 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson (left).
Samuelson was 28th today in 1:02:27. At 54, her time was almost 10 minutes faster than the inaugural winning time set by women’s running pioneer Kathrine Switzer.
Today, 174 women ran faster than Switzer’s time from 1973. Today, Dave Burnham’s time of 51:23 would have put him right on the heels of Sam Bair, the inaugural men’s winner.
Burnham, who lives in Arlington and races for Georgetown Running Company, was 17th.
Men’s race: Training partners set the pace
Last year it was nine miles of back-and-forth battling with Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa, a battle that Kenya’s Allan Kiprono (photo below of Kiprono winning in 2012) ultimately lost.
At this year’s Credit Union Cherry Blossom, it was Kiprono’s turn to take the lead, and the win. By the time he and his training partner Lani Kiplagat passed the one-mile mark, they already held a decent-sized lead on the rest of the field. But as that lead on Kenya’s John Korir – a three-time Credit Union Cherry Blossom winner – increased, Kiplagat turned to his teammate and offered a suggestion.
“I told him, ‘Allen, let’s maintain the pace. Don’t reduce the pace. Let’s push,” Kiplagat said.
Push they did – but the day ultimately proved to be Kiprono’s. Taking advantage of perfect racing conditions, the 22-year-old soared to the lead shortly after 5K and lowered the event record to 45:15, this year’s fastest time in the world for 10 miles. Kiplagat, meantime, came through in 46:28.
Korir, who at 36 has more than a decade of racing in his legs than Kiprono and Kiplagat, was third in 47:33. Still, he was unfazed. “Now I know these guys are so tough,” he said. “I’ll catch up in other races.”
After falling off the pace set by Kiprono and Kiplagat, Korir fell back to the chase pack, then managed to hold off Ian Burrell, 27, of Tucson, AZ by just a second. This was Burrell’s first race since January’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, where he was 15th in 2:14:04.
Burrell said he struggled with allergies. In other words, as he settled into a pack with Korir and Jesse Cherry, 24, of Blowing Rock, NC, the best he could do was hang on while Cherry did most of the leading. Then, at the 800 meters to go sign, Burrell dug up some leg speed. “I was just kind of gritting my teeth and thinking about all the diapers I could buy with the prize money,” he said.
As top American, he earned an extra $1,000 in prize money.
Cherry, who finished fifth in 47:40, was also running his first race since the Trials, where he was 16th in 2:16:31.
Top American runners Josh Moen, 29, of Minneapolis, MN and Patrick Rizzo of Boulder, CO finished 7th and 8th in 48:38 and 49:14, respectively. They were followed by two runners from Washington, DC, Pacers’ Stephen Hallinan (left), ninth in 50:18 and Paolo Natali, 10th in 50:44.
A top local runner and Olympic Trials qualifier, Hallinan’s 10-mile best is more than a minute faster than what he ran today. As with Burrell though, Hallinan cited allergy difficulties.
“I knew kind of a mile in, it was going to have to be one of those days where I tough it out, so I was trying to hang on to five-minute pace the best I could,” said Hallinan, who ran alone starting a quarter mile into the race.
Women’s race: Tinega repeats
In the elite women’s race, which started 10 minutes before the rest of the field, Kenya’s Jelliah Tinega dismissed her competitors even earlier in the race than Kiprono to win in 54:02.
It was her second straight title. Tinega said she will return next year to go for a three-peat.
Places two through five were separated by just 13 seconds with Malika Mejdoub, 29, of Ethiopia coming out ahead in 54:24.
Mejdoub was followed by Yihunlish Delelecha, 30, of Ethiopia in 54:33 and Agnieszka, 26, of Poland in 54:36.
The top local finisher, Claire Hallissey, 29, of Arlington, who was fifth, was just a second behind Agnieszka. The next race for the England native is the Virgin London Marathon on April 22. There, Hallissey, who has a marathon best of 2:29:27, is hoping to put up a performance that establishes a solid case for claiming a spot on England’s Olympic marathon team.
Still, this race holds special meaning for her, Hallissey said. Credit Union Cherry Blossom was her first race in the District after she moved here a couple of years back and she would like to return one day with fresher legs.
“I want to come back and finish in the top three,” she said.
Top American honors went to Stephanie Pezzullo, 29, of Charlotte, NC, who finished sixth in 55:16. Pezzulo was followed by Kristen Zaitz of Boulder, CO, who ran 55:24, and Emily Harrison, formerly of Front Royal, VA, who ran 56:04. Harrison now trains in Flagstaff, AZ.
After Hallissey, the next local was Georgetown Running Company’s Andrea Garvue. The 27-year-old Chevy Chase resident caught a side stitch early in the race. In the second half, feeling stronger, she hooked up with a pack that pulled her along to a time of 58:50, good for 12th overall.
Meanwhile, in the master’s division, competition was stiff. Fourteen years ago, DeReuck (below) set a world record time here of 51:16. Today, at 47, the Boulder, CO was top master – and 10th overall – in 58:14.