Lelisa Desisa (61:38), Mamitu Daska (68:20) Claim Titles at 2014 B.A.A. Half Marathon

By Jonathan Gault
October 12, 2014

BOSTON — It was a tale of two races in Boston on Sunday morning at the 2014 B.A.A. Half Marathon. While the pace in the men’s race dawdled (5:04 second mile), the first mile of the women’s race was run in the 4:40s and the race remained quick the entire way as 30-year-old Ethiopian Mamitu Daska pulled away from 24-year-old Kenyan Cynthia Limo to win in a course-record 68:20, breaking the tape at White Stadium inside Franklin Park. American Molly Huddle finished third in 69:23. 2013 Boston Marathon champion Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia repeated on the men’s side, but his finishing time of 61:38 was well off his 60:34 course record from last year.

Conditions were nice for racing, if a little on the chilly side, as it was 39 degrees with not much wind at the start. The sun was out, however, and it warmed up several degrees by the end of the race. All in all, it was a beautiful fall day in Boston without a cloud in the sky.

Men’s race

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Desisa breaks the tape in Boston's White Stadium Desisa breaks the tape in Boston’s White Stadium

After a quick 4:36 first mile (a little deceiving because the first mile is almost all downhill), the pace slowed considerably in mile 2 as a large group of 12 runners passed in 9:41 (5:04 second mile). As soon as they saw the split, former Arizona star Stephen Sambu, Kenyan road specialist Cleophas Ngetich and Daniel Salel (5th at B.A.A. 5k, 3rd at B.A.A. 10k) immediately began to pick it up and the pack was reduced to eight runners. At this point, a couple miles from the start in Franklin Park, it was hard to tell from the press truck if I was watching a race or a Sunday long run. With very few spectators and no cars on the normally-busy Boston roads, all that was audible was the pitter-patter of runners’ shoes on asphalt. The canopy of trees above and the shimmering Jamaica Pond to the left made for a peaceful setting, but once the leaders passed three miles in 14:22 I was reminded that this was indeed a race, with thousands of dollars of prize money on the line.

Ngetich and Ethiopian Raj Assefa began to push on the downhill right after 5k, but their surge did nothing to break up the pack. That’s the pattern the race would follow for the next several miles, with a runner occasionally moving to the front and surging, but never fast enough to drop anyone. At 10k (29:32), Isaac Mukundi fell off to leave seven in the lead pack, and seven remained at 8 miles (37:59; 4:46 and 4:39 for miles seven and eight).

Salel really began to push in mile 9, and Ngetich was the next to drop. Salel continued to push as the six remaining men ran alongside the Franklin Park Golf Course but it was Desisa who made the decisive move right around 11 miles. As he surged, gaps began to form in the once-airtight pack, and those gaps would widen as the runners entered the narrow zoo portion of the race. Salel tried in vain to keep pace but there was no catching Desisa on this day, as he pulled away comfortably for the win in 61:38, raising his arms in the home stretch in celebration. Salel crossed ten seconds later, quickly followed by 2011 NCAA 10k champ Leonard Korir (formerly of Iona), who was third in 61:51.

Lelisa Desisa and Mamitu Daska celebrate their wins in Boston on Sunday Lelisa Desisa and Mamitu Daska celebrate their wins in Boston on Sunday

Men’s results:

1. Lelisa Desisa, 61:38
2. Daniel Salel, 61:48
3. Leonard Korir, 61:51
4. Stephen Sambu, 62:00
5. Tesfalem Gebrearegawi, 62:11
6. Raji Assefa, 62:20
7. Cleophas Ngetich, 63:25
8. Ethan Shaw, 65:10
9. Isaac Mukundi, 65:10
10. Tekeste Kebede, 66:41

Men’s race Mile 1 through 11 splits

Mile 1 4:36
Mile 2 9:41 (5:04)
Mile 3 14:22 (4:41)
5k 14:50
Mile 4 18:54 (4:32)
Mile 5 23:49 (4:55)
Mile 6 28:33 (4:43)
10k 29:32 (14:42)
Mile 7 33:19 (4:46)
Mile 8 37:59 (4:39)
Mile 9 42:37 (4:38)
15k 44:02 (14:30)
Mile 10 47:16 (4:39)
Mile 11 52:05 (4:49)

Mamitu Daska set a course record at the B.A.A. Half on Sunday Mamitu Daska set a course record at the B.A.A. Half Marathon on Sunday

Women’s race

The women’s race did not have as many runners in the lead group, and after hitting five miles in 25:48, there were still four women together at the halfway point — Daska, Limo, Huddle and former Iowa State star and Falmouth Road Race champion Betsy Saina. Daska and Limo continued to throw in surges at around 5:00 pace, and ultimately that was enough to drop Huddle (just after 8 miles) and Saina (just after 9). It was down to Daska and Limo, and after pushing for the final mile, Daska finally broke Limo just before the runners entered White Stadium. Limo didn’t give up much ground, but couldn’t muster enough to pass Daska, who won in 68:20, 54 seconds better than Kim Smith‘s 2013 course record.

Women’s results

1. Mamitu Daska, 68:20
2. Cynthia Limo, 68:24
3. Molly Huddle, 69:23
4. Betsy Saina, 69:27
5. Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton, 70:38
6. Sophy Jepchirchir, 72:12
7. Aheza Kiros, 72:47
8. Beverly Ramos, 72:48
9. Michelle Lilienthal, 76:24
10. Mary Wangechi, 76:50

Quick Take #1: This Was an Oddly-Paced Men’s Race

The men’s race was fun to watch, as five men were still together when the press truck pulled off at 11.5 miles. It was clear from the start that this wasn’t going to be a fast day as the pace yo-yoed over the first seven miles before settling in at just under 4:40/mile for most of the second half of the race. This was due in part to the course’s rolling hills, which made it difficult for anyone to lock onto a specific pace. Still, that’s no excuse for the 5:04 second mile, during which the lead group numbered as many as 12. While fast times were out of the question from the beginning, it made for a frantic — and exciting — final few miles.

For comparison’s sake, the winning time in Boston today was 21 seconds faster than the half marathon split at the Chicago Marathon (which started at the exact same time) — 61:38 vs. 62:09.

Quick Take #2: Lelisa Desisa Is A Real Contender at the NYC Marathon

Desisa ran this race as a tuneup for the New York City Marathon on November 2 and it was clear that he was excited with today’s result. Though Desisa wasn’t close to his 2013 course record of 61:38, Desisa’s win was fairly decisive as he never faltered after making his move at 11 miles. The only person who could stop Desisa was the lead bike, which slowed down in front of him during the narrow section of the course that ran through the Franklin Park Zoo during miles 12 and 13. Desisa had to shove the bike out of the way but it didn’t impact the final result, as he had a comfortable lead entering the finish area inside White Stadium, eventually defeating Daniel Salel by 10 seconds. Perhaps it was a good thing that the pace wasn’t fast, because Desisa would be pretty angry if he missed out on a course record (and the $10,000 that goes with it) because the pace bike couldn’t get out of his way.

The biggest names in NYC are Geoffrey Mutai and Wilson Kipsang, but fans should keep their eyes out for Desisa. He won the RAK Half in the United Arab Emirates back in February, running 59:36 and had a great 2013, winning the Boston and Dubai Marathons and placing second at the World Championships. He also ran 60:34 at the 2013 B.A.A. Half, a great time considering the course is quite hilly with several long climbs. The only black mark on his recent resume is his DNF in Boston in April. Desisa said he took some time off due to injury (likely an ankle injury, as that is where he pointed when he said this) and then focused on building his endurance for NYC. He seems to be right on schedule, as he said after the race that he feels as if he is peaking right now. Let’s hope he can hold that peak for NYC in three weeks.

This was also a nice payday for Desisa as he picked up $10,000 for the win.

Quick Take #2: Daniel Salel Has Run 13:08 and 27:07 But He’s Far From His School’s Most Famous Alumnus

Salel pushed the pace during the middle miles and ended up second overall, a finish he was very happy with. Though he didn’t win, he was finally able to beat Sambu, who handed Salel defeats at the B.A.A. 5k in April, the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in May and the B.A.A. 10k in June.

Salel spoke about the race and how he was unable to match Desisa’s move, but I was more interested about his relationship with 800 Olympic gold medallist/world record holder David Rudisha, who went to high school with Salel at St. Francis Kimuron in Kenya.

Salel, who was a year ahead of Rudisha in high school even though the IAAF lists his him as being two years younger than Rudisha said that he didn’t work out with Rudisha that often because Rudisha was an 800 guy and he was more of a longer-distance guy but that they would practice together sometimes. I was curious why St. Francis Kimuron was able to produce so many talented runners (26:43 man Lucas Rotich and 7:37 3k man Cyrus Rutto are also recent alums) and he said that the training environment was ideal, with great practice facilities.

He added that he is still friends with Rudisha and enjoys spending time with him when they are both back in Kenya. Rudisha, a very quiet guy in interviews, is very friendly and also keeps a large number of cows, according to Salel.

Quick Take #3: Look For Stephen Sambu On The Track in 2015

2014 has been a breakthrough year for Sambu, as he claimed wins at the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler, B.A.A. 10k and Falmouth Road Race. He was only fourth today but took home a total of $7,500 for his efforts ($2,500 for fourth and $5,000 in bonus money for finishing top three in three B.A.A. Distance Medley events — the 5k, 10k and half marathon). That total could have soared to $22,500 if he won today, but it wasn’t in the cards Sambu also won the B.A.A. Distance Medley title for the second consecutive year, as he had the lowest cumulative time over the three events with 1:42:52 (13:27 5k, 27:25 10k, 62:00 half), eight seconds ahead of Salel with 1:43:00 (13:31 5k, 27:41 10k, 61:48 half).

Sambu said that he hoped it was a bit faster at the start and that he couldn’t match Desisa when he moved late in the race, partially because the narrow final portion of the race through Franklin Park Zoo made passing very difficult. Sambu will conclude his 2014 season with a race on Thanksgiving (still to be determined). Sambu said that he will run another 10,000 on the track next year (remember he ran 26:54 at Pre after serving as a pacemaker for the first 8100 meters of Galen Rupp‘s American record) and that if he’s selected for the Kenyan team, he will run the 10,000 at Worlds.

Quick Take #4: Mamitu Daska Loves Boston — And Wants to Win the Boston Marathon in 2015

Through a translator, Daska spoke of how excited she was to win the B.A.A. Half Marathon, adding that to her B.A.A. 10k titles in 2013 and 2014. Daska — who plans to donate $5,000 of her winnings today to the One Fund, which benefits those injured in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombings — said that her next goal is to win the biggest B.A.A. race of them all, the Boston Marathon. She said has dreamed of winning the Boston Marathon for a long time and that she would love to win it next year. Daska takes home a total of $40,000 for her win today ($10,000 for the win, $10,000 for the course record and a $20,000 bonus for winning two B.A.A. events — the 10k and half marathon).

Quick Take #5: A Breakthrough Race for Cynthia Limo

Before today, the 24-year-old Limo had never run faster than 69:40. She smashed that today, running 68:24 to take second behind Daska. Okay, you’re thinking, she’s relatively young — maybe she had only run the event a few times? Wrong. Over the past five years, she’s run 17 half marathons, including six in 2012. She had never run nearly as fast as she did today, and could likely chop a few dozen more seconds off her new pb on a faster course. She’s not done in 2014, either: she will race again in Angola in December.

Quick Take #6: Molly Huddle Eyeing Marathon Debut, Possibly As Soon As Next Year

Huddle has excelled at a variety of distances in 2014 and had another solid race today, taking third in 69:23. That’s a good time for Huddle, as her pb is 69:03 and the course in Boston is relatively hilly. She felt that anything higher than third place today would require someone to have a bad day as the hilly course didn’t favor the speed-oriented Huddle.That’s something that may change in the next couple years, however. Huddle, who ran her first half marathon in March, said that she’s thinking about running a marathon in the next two years — possibly next fall but more likely in the fall of 2016, after the Olympics (she clarified this off-camera). Huddle will finish her 2014 season in Alexandria, Va., for the U.S. 12k Championships next month.

Want more? Here is the RRW recap: Lelisa Desisa, Mamitu Daska Crowned Champions of 14th B.A.A. Half-Marathon

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