Spokane, Washington—Don't trust your training partner. That might be the motto of the 39th Lilac Bloomsday Run, at least in the men's race, as pre-race favorite Allan Kiprono, who was shooting for a rare third title here, failed on several tries to reel in his friend and training partner Lani Rutto. In the end, Rutto held off Kiprono's repeated surges and raced to an eleven-second victory on the challenging Bloomsday course. And while the men's race broke open early by virtue of some mid-race heroics by Rutto, the women's battle wasn't decided until the final 300 meters, when newcomer Cynthia Limo finally sprinted in front of two other contenders to capture her first Bloomsday crown.
The field of 46,913 who signed up for this year's Bloomsday were treated to ideal weather, with cloudless skies, virtually no wind, and temperatures at the start in the mid-40s. Those conditions were embraced by the nearly two dozen men who ran together for a 4:37 first mile. Defending champ Kiprono asserted himself into the lead shortly after that on the first uphill at about a mile-and-a-half, but his time in front was brief. Rutto caught up shortly after at Cemetery Hill, and the pair ran side-by-side as they passed three miles, with a half dozen others close behind. Then, as the runners turned onto Ft. George Wright Drive, Rutto make a stunning surge. By four miles he had a 50-meter lead.
Kiprono, though, hadn't given up. Rutto's lead had grown to 100 meters by the base of Doomsday Hill, but Kiprono accelerated up the hill as he had done in his two Bloomsday victories, cutting the gap to 20 meters by the top. It looked like Kiprono might be on the way to regaining the lead, but at the turn onto Mission Street just after the five mile point Rutto glanced back, regrouped, and put in his own surge. By the time he reached the 10-kilometer mark on Broadway, Rutto had rebuilt his lead to 50 meters.
"I saw Allan following me, and I said OK, let's maintain," said Rutto after the race. "And so I tried to maintain."
One more surge by Kiprono brought him as close as 10 meters to Rutto with a little over a half mile to go, but Rutto did something more than maintain at that point. He hit the gas pedal one more time, and by the final 300 meters he had 80 meters on his friend, sprinting to the line in 34:22. After finishing in fifth place twice here, it was a satisfying victory for the Kenyan, who only two days earlier had had a wisdom tooth extracted.
In the women's race, fifteen racers were still in the lead pack after the first mile, with Ethiopian Etulemahu Habtewold leading the charge. After the first hill the pack was still twelve as they passed mile two, with Habtewold still working at the front. That pack of a dozen stayed together past three and four miles, all the way to the base of Doomsday Hill. That's when the hill worked its brutal magic, thinning the group to a mere three survivors at the top—Kenyans Cynthia Limo and Jane Kibii, and Ethiopian Aga Ruti.
Doomsday may have broken that first pack apart, but nothing seemed able to break up the surviving trio, who continued together past five, six and seven miles, with the lead alternating among the three. On the 300-meter downhill homestretch on Monroe Street, though, it was every woman for herself, and Limo proved to have the edge, sprinting across the line in 39:27 to Ruti's 39:28 and Kibii's 39:29.
"It was very tough, and I never knew I was going to win it," said Limo. "Towards the end I had to struggle through it for that position."
Rutto and Limo each earned $7,000 for their wins, part of a purse of nearly $100,000 in all divisions of the race. Along with the prize money, both earned the right to compete for the PRRO Circuit Bonus of $10,000 at the Utica Boilermaker on July 12th. Luke Puskedra and Blake Russell each took home Bloomsday's top U.S. citizen prize of $5,000, plus open prize money. Kevin Castille of Lafayette, Louisiana, and Victoria Russell of Spokane each earned the top masters prize of $1,500.
In the men's wheelchair race, 2014 Bloomsday champion Josh George of Champaign, Illinois, broke from a pack of four as he charged up the first uphill at 1-1/2 miles, with Aaron Pike, also of Champaign, in hot pursuit. George, though, continued to press the pace, and as he reached the top of Doomsday Hill at five miles he had a commanding lead. George went on to a 26:45 victory, the best wheelchair time on the course in years. Laurens Molina of Costa Rica and Aaron Pike finished second and third.
The women's race lived up to its pre-race billing, as newly crowned World Marathon Champion Tatyana McFadden and last year's Bloomsday champion, Susannah Scaroni, who grew up in nearly Tekoa, Washington, crested Doomsday Hill together. Over the next two miles, though, McFadden managed to steadily pull away to claim a nine-second victory. Both women broke Jean Driscoll's 20-year-old course record of 31:24, with McFadden posting a 30:42 and Scaroni 30:51.
In the Quad-52 Division, Santiago Sanz pulled away from Ray Martin to notch his 11th Bloomsday championship in a row. His time of 32:43 would have placed him 8th in the open men's field. Jeremy Finton rolled to the Quad-51 title in 1:24:58.
Along with top competition in all Bloomsday divisions, finishers enjoyed performances from nearly 30 bands, vocalists and performing troupes along the course, eventually reaching the finish and claiming this year’s finisher T-shirt. Next year’s Lilac Bloomsday Run, the 40th, will be on Sunday, May 1st, 2016.
# # #