By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
ALBANY, N.Y. (31-May) — In a brilliant display of front running and perseverance, 2:19 marathoner Lucy Kabuu of Kenya won the 36th Freihofer’s Run for Women 5-K under bright blue skies here in a personal best time of 15:20.1. Kabuu, 30, fended off hard challenges from two-time champion Mamitu Daska and Afera Godfay, taking home the $10,000 first-place prize.
“I am so happy for winning my first time here,” said Kabuu, holding the winners flower bouquet with pride. “Last week or two I raced Bangalore [10-K on May 18] and I clocked a course record, then I went back to Kenya and trained for this race. That’s why I was so confident, I had done a lot of good training.”
From the starting gun, it was Kabuu aggressively pushing the pace out front, leading the charge up an 800-meter incline and into Washington Park. Hitting the mile in 5:06, Kabuu was joined by Daska, Godfay, and Genet Beyene among a group of twelve.
As if a woman on a mission, Daska –sporting the same color Nike kit as Kabuu– routinely came up on Kabuu’s side as if to say ‘let’s go,’ hoping to inject a surge and increase the pace even more. Trying to capture her third race title, Daska wanted to do it in style and attempt to break Emily Chebet’s course record of 15:10.6.
Momentarily taking over the lead, Daska would surge with Kabuu by her side, breaking up the trailing group before hitting the two-mile point.
While Kabuu pushed on the right hand side of the road, Daska often swung wide, not running the tangents yet still maintaining an even position with the two-time Olympian. Together they would split two miles in 10:05 with Godfay a step behind, appearing to be setting herself up for a potent move.
But that move never came. Instead, it was the assertive Kabuu continuing to labor out front as the group approached four kilometers. At that point, it was now or never, and Kabuu put down the hammer.
With the cheers of hundreds of runners going the opposite direction showering down on her, Kabuu turned onto Madison Avenue with a half mile of downhill running left. Letting her legs fly, Kabuu was set on fending off Daska the entire way.
Knowing Daska held the third and fourth-fastest times on this course in history, Kabuu kept her mind focused on the task at hand, running all the way through the finish.
“I knew the competitors were tough, but I always have courage when I am running with strong people because I always prefer to run my pace even if they are strong people [and hold on],” said Kabuu.
Breaking the tape in 15:20.1, Kabuu joined Chebet as the only winners in race history from Kenya. Taking second in 15:21.3 was Daska, while Godfay rounded out the top three in 15:27.8.
“When I look behind and see I’m beating her little by little, I got courage and always going through my mind is ‘winning, winning,'” said Kabuu, who shaved over 30 seconds from her previous 5-K personal best (15:53, although she has run 14:33.49 on the track).
Kabuu noted that if it wasn’t so windy out on the race course, then she believed the course record would have fallen. Weather.com reported winds of around 15 miles per hour, though it felt much stronger during the mid-morning event.
Runner-up Daska, victor at the challenging Bolder Boulder 10-K just five days ago, said that she could still feel last Monday’s race in her legs. Despite the fatigue, she gave her all.
“Last week the race was a bit difficult because of the weather conditions (hot and sunny), and that challenged me in the race today,” said Daska through a translator.
For Kabuu, the 5-K victory was a nice confidence booster looking ahead this season. Kabuu told members of the media that her main focus is the Commonwealth Games Marathon, which she hopes to be selected for. In February, she finished third in 2:24:16 at the Tokyo Marathon.
“It’s good because this is my speed race. I always try to run 10-K and 5-K to get speed for marathon,” she said, confirming that 26.2 miles was her favorite distance. “That’s why I came here, to get 5-K and speed… I am just going for speed for marathon.”
Rounding out the top five were steeplechase Olympian Zemzem Ahmed (15:44.8) and Agnes Cheserek (15:49.4). Cheserek finished a half-second up on Ballston Spa, N.Y., native Megan Hogan, who was the top American in 15:49.9.
Working a full-time job at Phinney Design Group, an architecture firm in nearby Saratoga, Hogan said she was surprised by how well she did today considering the challenges of juggling training and working late.
“I couldn’t have asked for more ideal conditions,” she said. “I was not expecting to run that well or be top American for that matter. I’ve been surprising myself lately.”
Training as part of the Fleet Feet Albany team, Hogan plans on racing at a number of local road races this summer. With this big performance, however, she said the possibility of traveling to other high profile races like the New Balance Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod and TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10-K in Maine are now options.
“I’ve been taking my time getting back out there again,” said Hogan, who used to run professionally full-time. “I’m taking things as they go and opportunities as they are presented to me.”
Amy Van Alstine, last year’s fourth place finisher, had a tough day and finished 12th in 16:28.3, the second American. Boston Marathon runner-up Buzunesh Deba was seventh overall in 16:04.5.
Winning the competitive master’s division by 30 seconds was Melody Fairchild, racing here for the first time in 16 years. She said coming down the finishing stretch was very emotional considering how significant this all-women’s event is.
“It’s a real treat, it makes me feel like it’s a real honorable thing to be a distance runner in the United States,” she said. Fairchild plans to focus on marathon training going forward, hoping to gain a 2014 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying time.
In total, the Freihofer’s Run for Women 5-K saw 4112 women enter the IAAF Silver Label road race.
PHOTO: Lucy Kabuu of Kenya (r) sprints away from Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia to win the 2014 Freihofer’s Run for Women 5-K in
15:20.1 (photo by Chris Lotsbom for Race Results Weekly).