Monday, August 20, 2012

Ethiopian’s blistering pace puts heat on others in the AFC half marathon

Tesfaye Alemayehu of Ethiopia wins the men's division of America's Finest City Half Marathon. — Howard Lipin / U-T San Diego

On a warm San Diego morning, Ethiopian runner Tesfaye Sendeku Alemayehu not only set a blistering pace at the America’s Finest City Half Marathon, he also sizzled the rest of the competition in winning Sunday’s race in 1 hour, 3 minutes, 44 seconds.

Even a 7 a.m. start at the typically cool, comfortable Cabrillo National Monument wasn’t enough to keep the humidity at bay. Temperatures got progressively hotter as each minute ticked by while 8,000 runners made their way through Point Loma, along Harbor Island and into downtown San Diego en route to the finish in a very bright, sunny Balboa Park.

Still, Alemayehu, second in last year’s AFC Half (1:03:18), hardly seemed to sweat a thing, starting with a 4:40 first mile before smoking the competition. Alemayehu beat Jeffrey Eggleston of Flagstaff, Ariz., by more than a minute at 1:04:57; Kenyan Kirwa Meshack was third in 1:05:36.

“I train in the mountains in Antioch, and run around 7 to 9 in the morning,” said Alemayehu, 28, who will take $1,500 for his first-place finish back to his adopted suburban San Francisco home, and who later did freely admit: “It was hot the last few miles.”

In the women’s race, three runners kept pace together for much of the race before Paula Whiting, a 24-year-old New Zealand native who now lives in Ocean Beach, pulled away over the last two miles to win her first half-marathon in 1:16:47. She earned $1,500 plus a $350 bonus as the first San Diegan. Alvina Begay of Flagstaff was second at 1:17:53 and Natasha LaBeaud of San Diego was third in 1:18.01.

“This was mentally a lot different,” said Whiting, who specializes in 5-kilometer track races (her PR is 15:45). “With a 5K, you can run hard the whole way. In a half marathon, you know it’s going to get hard.”

Eggleston and Begay both earned $1,000 for their runner-up finishes. Meshack and LaBeaud received $750 for third. LaBeaud also finished third at the AFC Half last year in 1:18:14.

It seems Alemayehu, who was ahead on Sunday by almost 1 1/2 minutes after four miles, is accustomed to running alone.

He is fresh off a July victory at the Napa-Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon, where he three-peated and set a course record in a time of 1:02:38. Second place there went to Christian Hesch — almost five minutes later at 1:07:13.

“I ran 62:38 by myself, so I was thinking I could do this, just push in the downhills,” he said. “I train by myself, so if I get out in front (early), I figure, why can’t I? I just focused on my pace. After I ran the first mile, I was expecting some runners with me but they didn’t come, so I kept going. I always shoot to win.”

In honor of its 35th year, AFC Race Director Neil Finn noted that San Diego’s fastest runners were spotted an extra $50 on top of the usual $300 for a first-place finish.

While part-time Chula Vista, part-time Mammoth resident Scott Bauhs placed fourth overall (1:06:02), the top San Diego mark went to 37-year-old Oceanside resident Okwaro Raura (1:12:18), who finished 13th overall.

“With the heat and humidity together, if you didn’t get out as fast as that guy, you knew you were going to have to settle,” Raura said. “We could see (Alemayehu) get out front like that, and I knew I was not going to be a factor. No one was going to be a factor.

“He was the fittest, you could easily tell. You could see he would be running on his own.”