By Mario Fraioli
The 25-year-old Kenyan runs the fastest half-marathon ever on American soil.
SAN DIEGO --- At the 16th edition of the Rock n' Roll San Diego Marathon & Half Marathon it was Bernard Koech who delivered the day's biggest smash hit.
Employing a fast-from-the-start strategy with a 4:25 opening mile, the 25-year old Kenyan broke away from countrymen Augustine Kipchoge and Stephen Kibet just after the 5-mile mark in near perfect conditions (overcast skies, 62 degrees and little wind) to win the half marathon in dominating fashion, breaking the tape at the finish line outside PETCO Park in an incredible 58 minutes, 41 seconds --- the fastest time run in the word this year, the fastest half marathon ever run on American soil and the third-fastest time in history.
"I was expecting it to be a fast race," said Koech, who also won the EDP Half Marathon (59:54) in March and leads the Half-Marathon Grand Prix Series. "I am in great shape. After 10K I realized I was going to run a fast time."
Koech's mark will not count as an official record, however, as the net drop from start to finish on the point-to-point course is not record-eligible per IAAF rules. Kipchoge held on for second in 1:00:18, over a minute up on the third-place finisher, Kibet, who crossed in 61:43. The trio, which made a clear break from the rest of the elite field just after the 2-mile mark (8:58) hit 5 miles in 22:27 before Koech shook things up with a 4:23 sixth mile, which brought him through 10K unchallenged in 27:50. He continued to stretch out his lead from there, running 44:48 through 10 miles and covering the final 5K in 13:53.
Two-time defending champion and San Diego native Meb Keflezighi was the top American finisher in fourth place, running 62:11. Keflezighi, who followed Koech, Kipchoge and Kibet through 2 miles before backing off the hot, early pace, was pleased with his performance today.
"I wish I had the opportunity to run this when I was in my prime running 1:01," said Keflezighi, who was set to make the final walk-through inspection of his new home in San Diego later in the afternoon. "But you know what, I'm still competitive, I still like to be there in the mix and the hometown crowd was phenomenal screaming, Go Meb! Go Meb!' I love racing in San Diego."
[Bernard Koech] Bernard Koech breaks the tape outside of PETCO Park in downtown San Diego. Photo: Bob Betancourt
Men's Half Marathon: Top-5 Finishers
1. Bernard Koech, 25, Kenya, 58:41
2. Eliud Kipchoge, 28, Kenya, 1:00:18
3. Stephen Kibet, 26, Kenya, 1:01:43
4. Meb Keflezighi, 38, Mammoth Lakes, CA, 1:02:11
5. Cuthbert Nyasango, 30, Zimbabwe, 1:03:39
Kiplagat Rallies To Win Women's Race
The women's race started in stark contrast to the men's, with the first few miles passing at a solid, albeit unspectacular clip of 16:26 through 5K. Eight women passed through the 10K mark together in 33:34 (1:10:44 pace) and not much changed until the 8-mile mark, when Kenyans Edna Kiplagat and Giorgina Rono, along with Ethiopians Firehiwot Dado and Embet Bedada, made a break. The pace dropped to 5:19 by mile 9 and 5:10 heading into mile 10 before Kiplagat --- the 2010 New York City Marathon winner and 2011 world champion --- and Rono clicked off 5:04 for miles 11 and 12, dropping the Ethiopian duo. In the final mile Kiplagat pulled ahead, splitting a 4:52 mile to win in 1:08:56, while Rono finished seven seconds back. Dado, the 2011 New York City Marathon champion, was third in 1:09:46.
"The start was a little bit slow but we picked it up after 10K," said Kiplagat, who also won the EDP Lisbon Half Marathon in March and took the lead in the Half Marathon Grand Prix Series with her victory today. At 15K I saw that we could make it under 69 so I pushed it. I feel happy and it's feels great to win here today and take the lead in the Grand Prix!"
Deena Kastor was the top American --- and top Master --- in ninth-place, crossing the finish line in 1:15:51. The 40-year-old, who finished to a raucous ovation from the crowd, was clearly disappointed afterward, having fallen off her early pace after 5K.
Women's Half Marathon: Top-5 Finishers
1. Edna Kiplagat, 33, Kenya, 1:08:57
2. Georgina Rono, 33, Kenya, 1:09:03
3. Firehiwot Dado, 29, Ethiopia, 1:09:46
4. Embet Bedada, 23, Ethiopia, 1:09:56
5. Paskalia Kipkoech, 24, Kenya, 1:10:14
Njoroge, Sergeeva Win Marathon Titles
In the marathon, which started 30 minutes before the half marathon at 6:15 AM, Kenyan Simon Njoroge lead from start to finish to win in 2:15:00, almost 20 minutes up on second-place finisher Jamey Gifford of Hillsborough, Calif., who crossed in 2:34:40. Tristan Mitchell of Centennial, Colo., was third in 2:39:42.
"I am excited to win," said the 32-year-old Njoroge, who went through halfway in 1:05:03 but slowed during the course's hillier second half. "I ran just to win but I am also happy with the time because this course was hard. Really hard."
Russia's Natalie Sergeeva, 28, was the runaway winner in the women's marathon, breaking the tape in 2:3505. Splitting 1:15:49 at halfway, Sergeeva slowed during the second half but ran unchallenged to the tape. San Diego's Elisa Karhu was second in 2:45:45, while Bonnie Axman finished third in 2:53:14.
Men's Marathon: Top-5 Finishers
1. Simon Njoroge, 32, Kenya, 2:15:00
2. Jamey Gifford, 35, Hillsborough, CA, 2:34:40
3. Tristan Mitchell, 27, Centennial, CO, 2:39:29
4. Patrick Murphy, 29, Washington, DC, 2:43:46
5. Adam Walton, 30, Shreveport, LA, 2:43:47
Women's Marathon: Top-5 Finishers
1. Natalia Sergeeva, 28, Russia, 2:35:05
2. Elisa Karhu, 20, San Diego, CA, 2:45:38
3. Bonnie Axman, 28, Apo, AP, 2:53:06
4. Kirsten Allan, 22, San Diego, CA, 2:56:39
5. Shannon Bixler, 25, Austin, TX, 2:58:26