Kebenei, Gebre claim half-marathon victoriesErnest Kebenei wishes the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon was run in a straight line — then he might be the new record-holder. The 24-year-old Kenyan was on pace to break Ryan Meissen’s seven-year-old record Saturday before encountering the winding finish to the 13.1-mile race.
By: Rick Weegman, Duluth News Tribune
Ernest Kebenei wishes the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon was run in a straight line — then he might be the new record-holder.
The 24-year-old Kenyan was on pace to break Ryan Meissen’s seven-year-old record Saturday before encountering the winding finish to the 13.1-mile race.
Still, Kebenei cruised to victory in 1 hour, 5 minutes, 17 seconds in his first visit to Duluth.
Belainesh Gebre, a 21-year-old Ethiopian, won the women’s race in 1:11:57.
Kebenei led throughout the race, taking as much as a 300-meter lead on the flat portions. That lead shrunk, however, as he ran the final mile through downtown Duluth and around the William A. Irvin ore boat.
“The problem was the road kept going round and round,” Kebenei said. “If it was a straightaway, you can maintain it. But if it’s a corner, you have to reduce your speed. If it was a straight line, I might break the record.”
Meissen, a six-time winner from Hudson, Wis., ran a 1:04:19 in 2002, a time which is well off the personal-best of 1:01:50 that Kebenei ran in the 2007 Drechtsteden Half-Marathon in the Netherlands.
Kebenei said he was attempting to break the course record by maintaining a 4:20-mile pace. Late in the race, he learned that his lead was shrinking as Fernando Cabada of Boulder, Colo., the runner-up in last year’s race, and Ethiopia’s Ezkyas Sisay chased him down.
“There were two guys riding their bicycles and they tell me, ‘You need to push, they are coming, they are coming,’” he said. “I knew they were coming and I started pushing toward the finish line. When I realized they were 200 meters back — when I used to maintain a 300-meter lead — that told me I needed to push.”
Kebenei ended up winning by 9 seconds. Sisay overtook Cabada in the final 100 meters to take second in 1:05:26. Cabada, whose best time is 1:02:45, finished in 1:05:30.
Kebenei, who trains in El Paso, Texas, won the Little Rock Half-Marathon earlier this year and placed second in the Cleveland Marathon 10-kilometer race. He said he plans to run the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta and possibly attempt his first marathon in October. But he definitely wants to try to defend his Garry Bjorklund title next year.
Jeremy Polson of Duluth was the top local finisher, coming in 12th in 1:09:18.
GEBRE WINS WOMEN’S HALF-MARATHON
Gebre’s second visit to Duluth was much better than her first.
In 2008, she hopped on the bus taking the elite runners to the marathon starting line in Two Harbors instead of the one going to the start of the half-marathon.
She was unable to get to the start on time and ended up sitting on the side of the road in tears.
This time, Gebre got on the right bus and it paid off as she ran to an easy win in 1:11:57.
“Last year I was sad that I didn’t run, so this time I was prepared for it,” Gebre said through an interpreter. “I’m really happy I won because I’ve been working hard for it.”
Gebre and Kenyan Hyvon Ngetich ran side-by-side until Gebre took the lead around 25 minutes into the race.
Gebre has been training with Sisay, the men’s second-place finisher, in Flagstaff, Ariz., and said the high-altitude training has benefited her. Apparently, it’s paid off as Gebre won half-marathons in Austin, Texas, and Naples, Fla., earlier this year as well as taking first in four other half-marathons in 2007 and 2008.
Ngetich was second in 1:12:41, and Kenyan Caroline Rotich was third in 1:14:46.
The top local women’s finisher was Jen Houck of Duluth, who placed 11th in 1:22:08.