By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
December 13, 2015
HONOLULU — For the second consecutive year, Kenyans swept the wins here at the 43rd Honolulu Marathon. Taking advantage of excellent racing conditions –cool temperatures, no wind, and moderate humidity– Joyce Chepkirui and Filex Kiprotich attacked the course eyeing fast times and possible event records. Though they would fall short of the course records, both earned impressive wins in 2:28:34 and 2:11:43, respectively.
CHEPKIRUI DEFENDS TITLE, EARNS MEANINGFUL WIN
As fireworks lit up the Hawaiian sky at Ala Moana Beach Park, Joyce Chepkirui got off to a blazing start. Leaving the pacemaker in their wake, Kenyans Chepkirui, Isabella Ochichi, and Lucy Karimi would roll through Waikiki well under course record pace, splitting an improbable 33:21 at 10-K. Chepkirui thought a fast early tempo would play to her advantage.
Just before halfway, Chepkirui took the lead and slightly gapped her compatriots Ochichi and Karimi. Splitting the half-marathon in an eye-popping 1:11:43 –believed to be the fastest half-way split in race history– Chepkirui was clicking off miles like a metronome. If she could keep this pace up, she would finish minutes under Lyubov Denisova’s event record of 2:27:19.
However, just like last year, the second half would slowly but surely catch up to Chepkirui. In the 18th mile (29th kilometer) Karimi and Ochichi came up on her shoulder, drawing even with the defending champion.
Overcoming the building fatigue, Chepkirui relied on sheer determination to complete the final miles: clear on her mind was here late manager Zane Branson, who passed away suddenly this past July at the age of 57. He was one of the first people to congratulate her after last year’s victory.
“I loved Zane, and Zane was like a brother,” said Chepkirui, who also won the Amsterdam Marathon last October. When asked if she dedicated today’s race to him, she responded with a firm, “Yes!”
Powering down Diamond Head Road with less than a mile remaining, Chepkirui broke away for good. She’d cross the finish first in 2:28:34 after running second half in a gritty 1:16:51.
“I won again and I feel happy. This was a great win today,” said Chepkirui, a medal and flower lei resting on her neck. “It was my plan, because on Wednesday I said I want to run 2:28 and I made it. I am so happy.”
Karimi finished second in 2:28:55, with Ochichi rounding out the top three in 2:29:44. The day, however, belonged to Chepkirui.
“By God’s will I’d like to come back again next year!” she said.
KIPROTICH RUNS AWAY WITH MEN’S TITLE
In a word, Filex Kiprotich’s race could be described as calculated. The 27-year-old Kenyan played his cards perfectly, staying patient through the early stages before unleashing a surprising surge at 30 kilometers.
Through the half-marathon in 1:06:58 (much slower than the 1:05:30 organizers had requested from the pacemaker), all pre-race favorites were in contention: defending champion Wilson Chebet sat a meter off pacer Samuel Ndungu’s shoulder, while masters world record holder Kenneth Mungara and fellow Kenyan Kiprotich ran comfortably alongside. In all, a group of six were tightly bunched.
Ndungu stepped off the road at 30-K (18.6 miles) as his pacing duties were complete, and the rest of the field grabbed their fluid bottles. Holding his bottle firmly, Kiprotich stepped on the gas pedal and spread the field thin, taking all by surprise with a quick surge. In the blink of an eye he held a ten second lead.
Though Mungara came up on his shoulder a mile later, he simply could not keep pace with Kiprotich. Climbing up Diamond Head’s long hill from 37 to 40 kilometers, Kiprotich glanced back twice and saw no competitors. He continued to press unaware how close he was to James Muindi’s event record of 2:11:12.
“When I was at 30-K I planned to break the course record so I decided to go,” said Kiprotich, smiling. “I kept going.”
In the end, Kiprotich would come up nearly a half minute shy of the record breaking the finish tape in 2:11:43. Kiprotich’s margin of victory was a minute and three seconds over Chebet (2:12:46), while Daniel Limo finished third in 2:13:24.
“The weather was not bad but the course is too hard! When I was at 35 (kilometers), the course was difficult. There were a lot of hills,” he said.
Though disappointed not to retain his crown, Chebet gave credit to Kiprotich for maintaining the hard pace.
“When the eventual winner tried to push the pace, I was expecting that maybe he would not finish that pace. He was lucky because he tried to maintain his pace and I tried my best to follow,” said Chebet, who added that with nine kilometers left he believed he could catch Kiprotich. “I congratulate him for the win.”
In addition to the $40,000 winner’s check (same as Chepkirui in the women’s race), Kiprotich will take home $10,000 in time bonus incentives.
A total of 30,783 athletes entered the 43rd Honolulu Marathon. With no time limit to complete the course, competitors will be coming through the Kapiolani Park finish line throughout the late morning and afternoon.