Stephen Sambu Breaks Away to Win Falmouth Road Race by 45 Seconds; Betsy Saina Wins Close Affair Over Gemma Steel, Molly Huddle

By Jonathan Gault
August 17, 2014

FALMOUTH, Mass. — It was certainly a tale of two races at the 42nd edition of the Falmouth Road Race Sunday morning on Cape Cod.

On the men’s side, favorite Stephen Sambu of Kenya pressed the pace after assuming the lead at the 800-meter mark and never relented, breaking defending champion Micah Kogo and everyone else and finishing the 7-mile course in 31:46 for a $10,000 payday. Sambu’s 45-second margin of victory was the largest since Bill Rodgers won the second edition of the race by 1:09 all the way back in 1974.

On the women’s side, Kenyan Betsy Saina, the 2012 NCAA cross country champion at Iowa State, won after pulling away from Brit Gemma Steel in the final mile, crossing in 35:56. Steel finished second for the second year in a row and was denied a sweep of the August New England road races as she won the Beach to Beacon 10K in Maine two weeks ago. American 5,000 record holder Molly Huddle was third in 36:15.

Men’s Race

Coach James Li of the University of Arizona and Stephen Sambu after Sambu won the 2014 B.A.A. 10-K in a world-leading 27:25 earlier this year (Photo by Karen Locke) Coach James Li of the University of Arizona and Stephen Sambu after Sambu won the 2014 B.A.A. 10-K in a world-leading 27:25 earlier this year (Photo by Karen Locke)

Ben Bruce led the men off the start line, but by 800 meters Sambu took over and after a 4:38 first mile, the lead group of Sambu, Kogo, Kogo’s training partner Emmanuel Bett and 2012 NCAA cross country champ Kennedy Kithuka — Kenyans all — had separated from the field. Bruce and recent NC State grad Andrew Colley were in fifth and sixth, with another gap back to the main pack.

Sambu still led as the top group ran alongside the ocean during mile two and they hit two miles together in 9:14. By this point they had about 60 or 70 meters on Bruce and Colley, who in turn had a big gap on everyone else. The first three miles are the course’s hilliest and Sambu would not relent, putting in a surge on the big downhill just before three miles. As they hit the flats of the beachside Surf Drive, Kithuka was hurting and couldn’t stand the pace much longer. A 4:34 mile brought the Sambu through three miles in 13:49 and though Bett and Kogo were still with him, it was evident that they were starting to feel the strain too.

Unfortunately for them, Sambu was just getting started, and Bett fell off at 3.5 miles. Sambu ran his fourth mile in 4:28 and at that point Kogo couldn’t manage anymore, either. Just after four miles, Kogo broke and Sambu’s lead grew at a staggering rate. He was 40 meters ahead within a quarter of a mile and by the time he hit 4.5, that lead had doubled. Sambu split 4:24 for his fifth mile and the race was, for all intents and purposes, over. As he made one of the course’s 90-degree turns just after 5 miles, Kogo didn’t materialize for about 20 seconds and he would only fall further back of Sambu as the race went on.

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Sambu looked incredibly strong throughout, running approximate splits of 4:30 and 4:33 for the final two miles to power away for a dominant victory in 31:46. Kogo crossed 45 seconds later in 32:31 with Bett an additional 30 seconds back in third. Kithuka, the first to drop from the lead pack, never looked comfortable and would ultimately DNF, paving the way for Bruce to finish fourth, earning him an extra $5,000 as top American. Colley held on for fifth, six seconds back of Bruce, after running with him for much of the race.

Results, interviews and quick thoughts below. Discuss this race in our fan forum: MB: And the winners of 2014 Falmouth Road Race Are…Stephen Sambu and Betsy Saina (Molly Huddle 3rd, Ben Bruce 4th).

Results – Top 10 (7 miles)
1. Stephen Sambu, 31:46
2. Micah Kogo, 32:31
3. Emmanuel Bett, 33:01
4. Ben Bruce, 33:21
5. Andrew Colley, 33:27
6. Jordan McNamara, 33:48
7. Zachary Hine, 33:54
8. Craig Leon, 34:04
9. Robert Molke, 34:15
10. Will Leer, 34:20
*Deeper Results Here

Quick Thought #1: The result should come as no surprise as Sambu was the top guy in the field coming in.

In his last race on June 22 at the BAA 10K, Sambu ran the current world-leader of 27:25, and the race before that he ran 26:54 on the track at the Pre Classic 10,000 after setting the pace for over 5 miles. That was a lot better than anything Kogo (5th at Beach to Beacon) or Bett (6th at Beach to Beacon, 13:14 track 5,000 in Glasgow on July 11) had done this year, and while Kogo is the former 10k road world record holder, he has moved to the marathon now (2:06:56 pb, 2nd Boston 2013). Sambu knew he was fit and was ready to dictate the race and he did just that, controlling the entire thing and winning by a huge margin.

Quick Thought #2: Sambu credits increased mileage to his truly incredibly summer of 2014

Sambu said that he’s now doing 80-90 miles per week under coach James Li as opposed to 60 or 70 when he was in college and believes that is one of the reasons he’s improved so much since he finished at Arizona in the fall of 2012. Sambu has a lot more free time as he no longer has to worry about classes and he’s used that to gradually increase his training workload. That approach has paid dividends in 2014 as Sambu now has wins at the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, the Healthy Kidney 10K, the BAA 10K and Falmouth.

Quick Thought #3: Ben Bruce is out to support his family.

Bruce is married to fellow runner Stephanie Rothstein Bruce but she hasn’t been able to collect any paydays on the roads as she recently gave birth to the couple’s son, Riley. Bruce said that means he’s the breadwinner for the family now, so he’s been running anything from steeplechases to marathons this year to support Stephanie and Riley. Bruce said he hasn’t really peaked for anything in 2014 because he’s not always guaranteed a good night’s sleep with his young son. Right now he’s still working on confirming a fall marathon but plans on taking a break from racing for the next month or two.

Quick Thought #4: Jordan McNamara found some redemption with a sixth-place finish today.

McNamara was disappointed with his fourth-place finish in last night’s Falmouth Mile, but he decided to run the road race this morning and is glad he did as he’ll be taking home $3,000 as the third American finisher.

The mile/road race double is tough at Falmouth as the mile is Saturday night at 6:45 and the road race is 9 a.m. Sunday morning. McNamara said he only got four hours of sleep, but he was excited to go out there and run. He quickly realized he felt good and was clicking off 4:45/4:50 miles before really racing it in at the end. McNamara is off to Europe now to run fast and is pleased to be leaving the States on a high note instead of his 4th-place finish in the mile. He also said that after his success today, he might consider running a 5k at Stanford next spring since he’s already got a good 5k training partner in 13:02 man Hassan Mead.

Quick Thought #5: A rough day for Kennedy Kithuka.

I was excited to see what two-time NCAA champ Kithuka — still racing in his Texas Tech singlet — could do in his pro debut and was (a bit optimistically) hoping he might be able to challenge Sambu as he did when he defeated him to win the 2012 NCAA XC title (Kithuka beat Sambu by seven seconds on that day). Kithuka always likes to go out hard, but the 26:54 man Sambu is out of his league right now and Kithuka paid for the early pace as he would eventually drop out. The win was the most important thing to Sambu today, but it must have been nice to get a little revenge on Kithuka for NCAAs.

Quick Take #6: Micah Kogo Talks About Not Being Able To Stay With Sambu

Women’s Race

The women’s race would prove to be a closer affair than the men’s and the lead group was still in tact after running an honest pace of around 5:12 per mile for the first three miles. Knowing she lacked the track speed of Huddle (14:42 5k PR) and Saina (14:39), Steel knew she had to start pressing once they hit the flatter section of the course at 3 miles and she did just that to break apart the field. Saina, coming off her 5,000 PR at Monaco on July 18, was ready for it however and she would open up a gap on Steel before Steel reeled her in over the ensuing miles.

Steel and Saina were level as the two crested the long final climb in the course’s last mile, but Saina opened up her stride on the downhill and Steel could not match it. Saina won in 35:56 with Steel second in 36:03. Huddle came in 12 seconds later in 36:15, just holding off Burundi’s Diane Nukuri-Johnson for third.

Results, interviews and quick thoughts below.

Results – Top 10
1. Betsy Saina, 35:56
2. Gemma Steel, 36:03
3. Molly Huddle, 36:15
4. Diane Nukuri-Johnson, 36:17
5. Mary Wacera, 36:59
6. Emily Infeld, 37:08
7. Risper Gesabwa, 37:22
8. Rachel Ward, 37:50
9. Katie Matthews, 37:51
10. Tara Erdmann, 38:04
*Deeper Results Here

Quick Thought #1: Betsy Saina finally gets a win. 

Saina has had a huge year, going from 9:07 to 8:40 in the 3,000 and 15:12 to 14:39 in the 5,000, but she’s won just one race, her indoor opener at the Washington Invitational in January. Saina has been really pleased with the progress she’s made and said that all that was missing was a win, which she earned here today.

Saina has been training at altitude in Colorado Springs with coach Scott Simmons of the American Distance Project and she said that everything has been going perfectly. Saina knew that she had to get a lot better than she was in college if she was to do anything as a professional and some huge PRs have now put her among the very best in the world (#5 in the 5,000) and a real threat to make the Kenyan team for Worlds next year.

Quick Thought #2: Gemma Steel has no reason to move off the roads.

Steel is the definition of a road specialist as she hasn’t run a track race since 2012. But she’s had a ton of success on asphalt — second at Beach to Beacon and Falmouth last year, a win at Beach to Beacon this year and now another second at Falmouth. She said that she prefers the atmosphere of the roads with the cheering fans lining the course and added that the runners seem to be friendlier on the roads. Even though many athletes run both, Steel thought everyone seems to be intense and focused on themselves during track races whereas road runners are a bit more at ease. Steel will now prepare for the Great North Run on September 7 which she is very excited about.

Quick Thought #3: The pace was too much for Molly Huddle to handle today.

Huddle has had a career year, resetting her American 5,000 record at 14:42 last month and running the fastest road 10k ever by an American woman in an all-female race when she won the New York Mini 10K in June. She wanted to win in Falmouth and follow in the footsteps of runners such as 6-time Falmouth champ Joan Benoit Samuelson, but said it would require a great day and Huddle was merely good today. Good is still a relative term, though, as Huddle’s 36:15 was the second-fastest time by an American at Falmouth, trailing only Lynn Jennings‘ 36:13 from 1992 (Benoit Samuelson’s best was 36:17 in 1985). Huddle expected the move to come once the course evened out at 3 miles but when Steel went she couldn’t respond and ultimately ended up focusing on defending her position rather than trying to reel in Saina and Steel. Ironically, Huddle will take home more than Steel (and the same amount as Saina) as she was the top American finisher, so she gets $5,000 for third and another $5,000 for top American.

Huddle’s next road appearance will be at the U.S. 20K championships in New Haven, Conn., on September 1.

Discuss this race in our fan forum: MB: And the winners of 2014 Falmouth Road Race Are…Stephen Sambu and Betsy Saina (Molly Huddle 3rd, Ben Bruce 4th).
*Deeper 2014 Falmouth Road Race Results Here

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