HONOLULU (09-Dec) -- Fighting sometimes strong trade winds, Wilson Kipsang of Kenya and Valentina Galimova of Russia won the 40th Honolulu Marathon here today, leading a field of over 25,000 runners to the finish line at Kapiolani Park adjacent to Waikiki Beach. Kipsang clocked 2:12:31 in his debut at the event, while Galimova ran 2:31:23 to move up from third place at last year's race. Both athletes won $40,000 in prize money.
The winds were both a blessing and a curse for what will be America's second-largest marathon this year. Last week, organizers were worried about atmospheric haze caused by volcanic ash blowing to Oahu from the Big Island of Hawaii, a condition called "vog." The trade winds blew the haze out, making conditions clearer and cooler for the recreational runners, but making it harder for the top athletes to run fast. The $15,000 course record bonuses on offer here today were impossible to obtain.
"You know, there's two races going on at any major marathon, the elites/professional race, and then you have everybody else," commented Dr. Jim Barahal, the president of the Honolulu Marathon Association. He continued: "This kind of wind helps cool people down, but it does slow the elites down tremendously."
Kipsang, 30, who won the Virgin London Marathon last April and won the Olympic Marathon bronze medal in the same city last August, could feel the winds slowing him down, and realized that he needed to abandon any time goals he had today.
"The first half of the race I was really thinking of how the pace was, and feeling the humidity and the wind," Kipsang explained. "It was challenging; you could really fell it."
Kipsang was in a lead pack of eight which passed through halfway in a leisurely 1:07:07. He was watched closely by Ethiopian Markos Geneti; Moroccan Abderrahime Bouramdane; and Kenyan compatriots Kiplimo Kimutai, Nicholas Chelimo, Patrick Ivuti, Julius Arile, and Nicholas Manza. He decided that his best strategy was to wait until later in the race to make his move.
"I waited until 30-K," Kipsang explained. He added: "It was a small group and I was still feeling strong."
His rivals tried to give chase, but quickly realized that they were running for second. Kipsang ran alone through the upscale neighborhood of Kahala, then up the two-kilometer climb to the top of Diamond Head, reaching 40-K with a 28-second lead over his nearest chaser, Geneti.
"Kipsang is a tough guy," lamented Geneti, who ran 2:04:54 at the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon last January. "Many times I tried (to push), but the last 5-K/10-K he was gone."
Kipsang clocked 1:05:24 for the second half, recording a rare "negative split" on this course, helped by a 4:39 23rd mile. He was clearly pleased with his victory, especially after he was unable to compete at the cancelled ING New York City Marathon. He came to Honolulu with his wife Doreen and has already fallen in love with Hawaii.
"This place is fantastic; I like it very much," Kipsang said, breaking into a broad smile. "It's a nice place."
Geneti held on to finish second in 2:13:08, followed by Kimutai (2:14:15), Ivuti (2:14:55) then Arile (2:15:17). Taku Harada was the first Japanese finisher, clocking 2:25:23 in 9th place.
Galimova Wins Late-Race Battle With Girma
For nearly two thirds of the race, Valentina Galimova ran in the dark without being able to see the women's leaders.
Early in the race, Japan's Kaori Yoshida, who had entered the race as a pacemaker, and Kenya's Hellen Mugo took off, setting a fast pace. Hitting 10-K in 34:23, then the halfway point in 1:14:36, the two women had a one minute and 14-second lead on Galimova. The Russian, who was running with defending champion Woynishet Girma, was dismayed when she saw her half-way split of 1:15:50.
"When I saw one hour 15 minutes I was so upset," said Galimova, 26, in halting English.
But with the winds bending the tops of the palm trees which line parts of the course, Mugo was in trouble. First, Yoshida spurted away from her at the 25-K drinks station, quickly opening a gap on the Kenyan. By 30-K (1:47:28) Girma was just 12 seconds behind Yoshida, Galimova was within striking distance of second, and Mugo was so far back that reporters could no longer see her from the lead vehicle (she would finish sixth in 2:39:17 and had to be taken for medical treatment in a wheelchair).
"I wasn't worried about the first athletes," Galimova said of her thoughts at that point. "I see that they are running at our speed."
At 31-K, Girma caught Yoshida, then Galimova passed the Japanese woman, too, to take over second place. Minutes later, Galimova pulled up to Girma and the real battle for victory had begun.
"Last year it was the same situation," Galimova said because she was contending late in the race, then faded to third. She knew she needed to use her strength for the two-kilometer climb up Diamond Head. "I don't like to run downhill," she said.
Girma made the first move on the climb, opening up a 10-meter lead, but Galimova quickly closed it down. The two women crested Diamond Head together, then hit 40-K side by side in 2:24:06. Galimova kept Girma close, then launched a long sprint just after the 41-K mark. Girma immediately let her go, allowing Galimova to enjoy the finish straight alone. Her thoughts turned to how she might spend the prize money with her new husband, Aleksandr.
"I just got married in September," Galimova told reporters. "We need to make decisions with our home, then shopping." Bursting into a laugh she added: "My husband doesn't like my shopping."
Girma was timed in 2:32:22, and was nearly caught by American Stephanie Rothstein Bruce who ran her own race and finished third in 2:32:47. She's the first American to make the top-4 here since Amy Legacki finished fourth in 1995.
"I was really just reminding myself that it's a long race," Rothstein Bruce recalled telling herself during the first half of the race. "I wasn't concerned about where they (the other women) were."
Well back in the pack, 2008 Olympic decathlon champion Bryan Clay finished his first marathon, running the entire race with his wife, Sarah. The couple were timed in 4:46:31.
"It was a beast," Clay said of the marathon immediately after crossing the finish line. "The decathlon is a completely different animal. I think that it helped that I was running with my wife and not trying to be competitive. If you put a competitive atmosphere to this thing I think it would hurt you bad."
PHOTO: Wilson Kipsang wins the 2012 Honolulu Marathon in 2:12:31 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)