BALTIMORE, MD , October 13, 2012 – Last year Stephen Muange made his debut marathon a memorable one here at the Baltimore Marathon. No longer a rookie at the 26.2-mile distance, he successfully defeated his 2011 title today with the same close finish as last year.
While Muange pulled off a four-second victory over Ethiopian Ambesse Tolosa last year, he cut it even closer this year. The 31-year-old Kenyan who trains in Santa Fe, NM, ran step for step with another Ethiopian, Tesfaye Alemayehu of Antioch, CA, for the final five miles to capture the 2012 Under Armour Baltimore Marathon in 2 hours 13 minutes 8 seconds.
His margin of victory was just three seconds.
But the women’s race for the victory was even tighter. Also running head-to-head in the final five miles, Ethiopian Elfneshe Melaku Yado enjoyed her first trip to America with a virtual photo finish with Malika Mejdoub of Morocco. Both were given the same time – 2:38:46 – the 10th fastest time in race history.
Both Muange and Yado earned $25,000 for their efforts, matching Muange’s $25,000 from last year and recording the biggest payday in the 25-year-old Yado’s burgeoning career.
Some 26,600 runners registered for the Baltimore Running Festival, which included 5,000 marathoners, 11,000 half marathoners, 4,200 5k runners and 1,200 four-person marathon teams. Elites and pack runners alike were treated to perfect conditions, with a 45-degree start, moderate temperatures, clear-blue skies and little wind.
“This year it was very competitive, more than last year,” said Muange, a tribute to elite athlete coordination Clay Shaw’s ability to draw top-shelf athletes for the annual Charm City event. “Today we were many many elite athletes. The first half was very slow, then after 13.1 miles we picked it up a lot.”
The early going was dreadfully slow, with two dozen elite men passing the first uphill mile in 5:41, just 15 meters ahead of the lead pack of elite women. Passing two miles in 11:30 and three near Druid Hill in 17:01, it was evident that the leaders were content to relax the pace. The pack fluctuated from 20-22 members as they headed back downtown to Inner Harbor at eight miles and still nobody was in any rush with the pace.
After an out-and-back which took the field past title sponsor Under Armour’s headquarters at 11 miles, the leaders passed Inner Harbor again at the halfway mark, hitting the split at 1:07:50. Still, 13 runners remained in the mix.
Suddenly, 31-year-old Muange began throwing in surges. By 16 1/2 miles, only Ernest Kebenei, the eventual third-place finish, could match him. Over the next mile, Alemayehu would join them, and in Clifton Park, Julius Koskei made it a four-some as they climbed a short hill on Harford Road en route to Lake Montebello and the 20-mile mark.
Around the lake and back into the city streets, the pace quickened even more, dropping Kebenei after 23 miles and Koskei right about 24 miles into the race.
This left just Muange and Alemayehu, both veteran racers, to decide who would be first and win $25,000 and who would settle for second and $15,000. They were side by side down Eutaw Street through 25, then 26 miles and just two-tenths to go, Muange had a half-step lead into the alley behind the outfield of Orioles Park.
With 75 meters to go, Muange found the last surge of speed and broke the finishing tape, with Alemayehu just a blink behind him. Both improved upon their last year’s time of 2:15:16 for Muange and 2:16:16 for Alemayehu, who was sixth.
“Times were faster than last year,” said Alemayehu, winner of last year’s Army Ten Miler in Washington who sports a 2:11:18 personal best from the 2012 San Diego Marathon. "The last mile I tried to separate. I pushed and pushed. He was just stronger.
Then came Kebenei in 2:13:50 ($8,500) and Koskei in 2:14:13 ($5,500). Kenyan Fred Kosgeim, a late entrant with Bib #3296, rounded out the top five in 2:15:35 ($3,500).
Tom Kozlowski, a 49-year-old from Parkton, Md., was the top master runner in 2:16:49, good for eighth place and $1,000. Top female master was 42-year-old Shawna Jones from Raleigh, N.C., 10th among females in 3:07:43, earning $1,000.
The women’s field was as diversified as the men’s but not as deep. Elites came from Kenya, Ethiopia, Russia, Belarus and Morocco.
What was stunning about the race was the finish, that after 26 miles and 384 yards, just a yard from the tape, Yado and Mejdoub were inseparable. Race officials determined that Yado just barely edged her Moroccan competitor.
“I knew I had to win,” Yado said through an interpreter. “I knew I had to increase my speed. I am ecstatic with the win today.”Like the men’s race, the women proceeded relatively slowly through the first half of the race, with seven women in contention at the 13.1-mile mark.
“Actually, it was slow,” said Mejdoub, who trains in Albuquerque, NM, and ran a personal best today in her fourth marathon. “The girls were watching each other. I was planning on running faster. But it didn’t happen.” Mejdoub already has wins this year at the Pittsburgh Marathon and Mississippi Marathon.
It was Mejdoub who made the move at 19 miles which strung out the field.Down the last stretch, the two traded the lead, back and forth and back again, all the way across the finish line. Liudmila Biktasheva of Russia was third in 2:39:14 ($8,500), Volha Mazuronak of Belarus was fourth in 2:40:06 ($5,500) and Rose Jebet of Kenya was fifth in 2:40:23 ($3,500).
Two-time runnerup Lee DiPietro of Baltimore completed her seventh Baltimore Marathon, albeit a bit disappointed with her time this year. “I was on pace for the first half,” said DiPietro, hoping for a 3:05 finish at age 54. “I came through the first half in 1:31. Then my hamstrings tied up about 19 to 20 miles.”
She ended up in 3:12:42, 15th among women and fourth master behind three 40-somethings.
Nate Brigham of Baltimore (1:11:39) and Katie Hursey of Hampstead, NY, (1:18:30) were winners of the accompanying CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Half Marathon and Tyler Saunders of Baltimore (15:44) and Stephanie Hoag of Hunt Valley, MD (18:16) were winners of the accompanying CareFirst 5K.
Lee Corrigan, president of Corrigan Sports Enterprises, and the event organizer, was happy with the events of the morning. “We’ve been fortunate, 12 years of great running weather,” he said. “There were two great finishes in the men’s and women’s race and we did pretty good at the execution of the race. We just keep getting better.”