Gemma Steel Edges Shalane Flanagan; Bedan Karoki Powers to Victory Over Final Mile at 2014 TD Beach to Beacon

By Jonathan Gault
August 2, 2014

CAPE ELIZABETH, Maine — Shalane Flanagan badly wanted to win the 2014 TD Beach to Beacon 10k. She is close friends with race founder Joan Benoit Samuelson, which would have made a victory for Flanagan — the first-ever by an American in the 17-year history of the race — extra sweet. But Great Britain’s Gemma Steel, who was second last year, wanted it just as much, and in extremely tight finish, it was Steel who edged Flanagan at the line to claim victory and the $10,000 first-place prize on Saturday morning in coastal Maine. Both runners were given identical times of 31:26.5, but it was clear at the line Steel was the champion as she lifted her arms in celebration.

In the men’s race, Kenyan Bedan Karoki led much of the race and went on to win in a very quick 27:36.4.

This was inarguably the best Beach to Beacon ever for American runners as Ben True (3rd, 27:49.8) set American bests at the race for both time and place (Meb Keflezighi was previously the only American to run sub-28:00, in 2007). Flanagan’s 31:26.5 was the fastest time in the history of the course for an American and her runner-up finish tied her with Libbie Hickman (1998 & 2000) for highest American finish. Brief race recaps below with interviews.

Men’s race

The temperature was in the mid-60s when the race went off at 8:10 a.m. and though it was moderately humid, conditions were good for running. It was mentioned in yesterday’s press conference that the Japan-based Karoki (5th in the 2012 Olympic 10k) was eyeing the course record, and it was clear he meant business as he sprinted to the lead off the start line and had a gap of a few meters on the field within the first 30 seconds of the race. By 800, Karoki was surrounded by a pack of eight that included Kenyans Stephen Kibet, Emmanuel Bett, two-time NCAA XC champ Sam Chelanga, former marathon world record holder Patrick Makau and defending Beach to Beacon champ Micah Kogo as well as Ethiopian Markos Geneti and local favorite Ben True. The pack ran the first (slightly downhill) mile in 4:20 and by 1.5 miles, Chelanga had joined Karoki at the front of the pack to help with pacing duties. Geneti faded just before 2 miles (leaders: 8:49) but everyone was still together as the runners hit 2.5 miles.

The runners would crest several hills over the next 800 meters and that’s where Karoki made his move, pushing hard up the uphills and quickly dropping Bett, Chelanga and Kogo. True and Makau would hold on until just before 5k (13:43), but ultimately Karoki’s move was too much for them as well. It was down to Karoki and 58:54 half-marathoner Stephen Kibet.

Karoki continued to press the hills, making Kibet work hard to stay in contact, but a fourth and fifth miles of 4:23 and 4:18 did nothing to separate them. Karoki surged again with 2k to go, and this time he succeeded in creating a gap on Kibet, eventually pulling away for a six-second win over Kibet, who finished in 27:42.4. Behind them, True and Makau were waged in a similar battle for third, with True gapping Makau to finish third in 27:49.8.

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The race clearly took a lot out of the two top men as both Karoki and Kibet collapsed to the ground after crossing the finish line, with Kibet needing to be helped out of the finish area by an official. All of the top finishers were cheered on by Samuelson, who embraced fellow Mainer True after he crossed. Boston champ Meb Keflezighi also stuck around the line for a few minutes after he finished to cheer on his fellow runners.

Women’s race

Like the men, the women’s race was a two-runner affair, albeit with a much closer finish. The pace was moderate with Flanagan pushing through the first half of the race, but once Steel and Flanagan broke away at five miles, they quickly gapped the rest of the field over the hilly final portion of the race to set up the thrilling final sprint. The two were neck-and-neck heading into the narrow finishing straight, but Steel gained a step on the grass finishing straight and that was all she would need, barely holding off Flanagan at the tape. There was a big gap to Iowa-based Diane Nukuri-Johnson of Burundi in third in 31:51.2, and another large gap to fourth-placed Jordan Hasay (32:19.4).

Top 10 men results

    1 27:36.4  4:27 Bedan Karoki Muchiri     23 M    6 KENYA                            
    2 27:42.4  4:28 Stephen Kosgei Kibet     27 M   14 KENYA                            
    3 27:49.8  4:29 Ben True                 28 M    3 Hanover NH                       
    4 27:56.4  4:30 Patrick Makau            29 M    5 KENYA                            
    5 28:14.4  4:33 Micah Kogo               28 M    1 KENYA                            
    6 28:18.3  4:34 Emmanuel Bett            29 M    8 KENYA                            
    7 28:28.9  4:36 Sam Chelanga             29 M    7 Hanover NH KENYA                 
    8 29:38.4  4:47 Markos Geneti            30 M   16 ETHIOPIA                         
    9 29:46.3  4:48 Fernando Cabada          32 M   10 Fresno CA                        
   10 29:49.6  4:48 Brian Harvey             27 M   28 Boston MA

Top 10 women results

    1 31:26.5  5:04 Gemma Steel              28 F  105 UK                               
    2 31:26.5  5:04 Shalene Flanagan         33 F  102 Usa                              
    3 31:51.2  5:08 Diane Nukuri-Johnson     29 F  113 Iowa City IA BURUNDI             
    4 32:19.4  5:13 Jordan Hasay             22 F  108 Beaverton OR                     
    5 32:30.2  5:14 Aselefech Mergia         29 F  104 ETHIOPIA                         
    6 32:30.5  5:14 Hanae Tanaka             24 F  114 JAPAN                            
    7 32:31.4  5:15 Alexi Pappas             24 F  109 Eugene OR                        
    8 33:00.2  5:19 Kaho Tanaka              23 F  115 JAPAN                            
    9 33:04.9  5:20 Desiree Linden           31 F  106 Washington MI                    
   10 33:10.3  5:21 Blake Russell            39 F  110 Pacific Grove CA

Champ Bedan Karoki had to adjust his race plan when Kibet went with him

Karoki, who ran 26:52 for 10k on the track at the Pre Classic on May 31, knew he was fit and pushed the pace early, adding in frequent surges throughout the race. Karoki is a strong hill runner and that’s where he tried to do most of his damage. The approach worked well but his countryman Stephen Kibet was also in great shape and hung tough for most of the race. Karoki had initially planned on really hammering the final 3k but when he saw Kibet was running so well, Karoki held off until 2k before unleashing his kick. Karoki is planning on running through September and will run the Philadelphia Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon on September 21.

Another near miss for Stephen Kibet

Kibet loves Beach to Beacon and always runs well here, but never quite well enough to take the title. He was 4th in 2010, 2nd in 2012, 4th in 2013 and now 2nd in 2014. Kibet was glad Karoki set an honest pace up front but he was never quite able to gap him before the finish as he had hoped. Kibet will next run a half marathon in Angola before focusing on a marathon, possibly Dubai in January. Kosgei also said he plans on coming back to Beach to Beacon next year because he knows he has to win it after being so close on three occasions.

Kibet said that he wasn’t too disappointed losing to Karoki because Karoki really earned it by countering every move during the race.

Ben True isn’t reading too much into the result

True is still in 5k mode and will be looking to break 13:00 when the Diamond League resumes later this month. He felt that he may have been better served going with Karoki and Kibet when they broke away right around 5k, but said that it was tough as they were going very fast (13:43 at 5k, which was course record pace). True was hoping for it to come down to a kick as he knows that he’s got good closing speed at the moment; now he’ll have to wait until the Diamond League to test it out.

New Oregon Duck Will Geoghegan is fit and fully healthy

Geoghegan, who was 14th at NCAA XC last fall and 5th in the NCAA indoor mile as a senior at Dartmouth, will be enrolling at grad school at Oregon in the fall, where he has indoor and outdoor track eligibility. Geoghegan was the top Maine finisher (must be Maine resident, so New Hampshire-based Ben True doesn’t count) in 11th in 29:53 and said that he’s recovered from the foot injury that sideline him for most of the outdoor season. Geoghegan said that he’s looking forward to cheering on his new Duck teammates in cross country even though he won’t be able to race and that he’s rooming with fellow Ivy 5th-year/indoor mile All-American Johnny Gregorek of Columbia.

Gemma Steel continues her success on the roads

With Kenyan favorites Joyce Chepkirui (defending champ/Commonwealth Games 10k champ) and Emily Chebet (Commonwealth Games 10k bronze) late scratches, first place was up for grabs and Steel seized the opportunity, moving up from second last year to win in 2014. Steel said that she tried repeatedly to break Flanagan over the final mile but that she could not succeed and thus had to rely on her sprint finish. Steel clearly respects Flanagan and what she’s accomplished in her career and it was a thrill for her to defeat her on Saturday.

Steel has had a lot of success on the roads recently. She was second at Falmouth last year in addition to Beach to Beacon and has finished in the top three in all six of her road races in 2014, with six victories (before Beach to Beacon, she won the Newcastle BUPA Great North 10k on July 13 and was third in the New York Mini 10k on June 14). Steel is headed back to Falmouth in two weeks and then will run the Bupa Great North Run (half marathon) on September 7 before deciding on a fall marathon.

Shalane Flanagan is now fully-focused on Berlin

Flanagan was happy with her performance, stating that she wanted to run under 31:30, which she accomplished today. Flanagan really wanted to be the first American champ but she gave credit to Steel for running tough and countering every move in the final mile. She also said that once the surface changed from pavement to grass (with 40 meters to go), she stumbled and that gave Steel the edge she needed. Flanagan is in the midst of marathon prep for Berlin next month and knew it would be tough to outkick Steel, so she sought to get a gap on one of the many turns before the finishing stretch. But Flanagan couldn’t do it, saying Steel was always quicker around the turns while Flanagan would be left a step behind taking bad angles.

Flanagan is done racing until Berlin on September 28 and anticipates a smooth two months of training, which may include another stint at altitude. She also anticipates having more training partners back in Portland, which should help her navigate the high mileage required for the marathon.

Jordan Hasay used the men to her advantage over the final miles

Beach to Beacon starts both the men’s and women’s races simultaneously and Hasay benefited from that after the leaders dropped her around four miles. Hasay keyed off several of the sub-elite men and that allowed her to move up and eventually finish at the front of her group in fourth place (32:19). She said that the first 5k was a little quick for her taste, but that she expected it with Flanagan in the field, and once she was separated the focus was on running her own race rather than worrying what was going on up front. The race was a nice 10k road debut and a $2,000 payday for Hasay, who said she will return to Portland for two weeks of training before coming back to the East Coast for the Falmouth Road Race in two weeks.

Alexi Pappas is still learning the longer distances

Pappas really came on as a senior at Darmouth in 2012 and said that she still feels a little out of place as a professional, likening herself to a 24-year-old looking for a partner at a middle school dance. She ran Beach to Beacon last year (10th, 32:56) and improved on that finish this year with a 7th-place effort in 32:31. Pappas has run the steeple the last few years but has been transitioning to 5k/10k in 2014, disciplines that she described as “scary and fun,” adding that Beach to Beacon was her “treat” road race of the summer since won’t be coming back for Falmouth; she’s shooting a movie and the race would have interfered with filming.

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