The Subaru 4-Mile Chase will never have a closer finish than the one in the women’s division of Friday night’s event on the streets of Buffalo.
According to the official results, Mary Wacera defeated Cynthia Limo by zero seconds.
Wacera nipped Limo at the wire in a battle of Kenyans to take home the $1,000 prize for the women’s open championship. Both Kenyans were timed in 20 minutes, 20 seconds, a bit off the course record of 20:03 set last year by Limo.
By those standards, the men’s race was a relative blowout. Teshome Mekeonen of Ethiopia won the Subaru title by seven seconds with a time of 18:01, finishing ahead of Eliud Ngetich of Kenya. The course record is 17:53.
Wacera and Limo figured to be the class of the women’s field, and they proved it rather quickly. The two pulled ahead of the rest of the field in the early going, and stayed close together for the four miles.
“It’s good,” Wacera said about the way the two women tested each other on Friday. “She’s good competition, and she’s my friend.”
Monicah Ngige of Kenya finished in third place in a time of 20:32.
While Limo was trying to defend her 2014 Subaru championship, this was Wacera’s first trip to Buffalo. She said winning this race was hard work.
“It’s a very flat course, but it’s also hard,” she said. “When you are running on a flat course, it’s very fast. And it was quite humid today. But it’s a good race.”
Wacera and Limo have developed quite a rivalry in the past week. Wacera beat Limo by two seconds in the Boilermaker Run in Utica last Sunday.
“We train together,” Limo said. “She’s very strong.”
The two of them built up some goodwill after the race, posing for pictures with anyone who wanted one near the finish line on Bidwell Parkway.
Mekeonen, who was unavailable for comment after the race, looks to be one of the sport’s rising stars at the age of 19. Earlier this year, he ran a half-marathon in a time of 1 hour and 27 seconds - a world-class figure. Mekeonen was fourth in the Boilermaker, trailing eventual winner Ngetich.
The male field, which was filled with good runners, wasted little time in showing Western New York how good it was. The first mile was covered in an astonishing 4:20, and the lead pack already had built up a good-sized lead over everyone else by that point.
“It’s a different league,” said Jose Fuentes, a Venezuelan native who lives in Hamilton, Ont., and is a fine Masters runner. “They have great training, stay focused, control their emotions. I don’t know how they do it, but it comes down to talent.”
Slowly but surely, many of the runners fell away from the leaders. By the two-mile mark, covered at 9:05, the pack was down to about four runners. A minute later the group was down to three - Mekeonen, Ngetich and Yonas Mebrahtu, the defending champion.
Right around the three-mile mark, Mekeonen put on a little burst, came back to the other two runners briefly, and then took off for good.
“I knew that he had me then, and I had to settle for second place,” Ngetich said.
About the only issue for Mekeonen came up with three-quarters of a mile to go. The Ethiopian almost took a wrong turn while running down Elmwood Ave., but was back on the right path after a few missteps.
“I thought, ‘Where is he going? Did they change it at the last minute? “ Ngetich said. “Then I knew we were back on the right way. I knew the course.”
Mebrahtu finished in 18:18 for third-place honors.
The top finishers in both classifications are already starting to look ahead a little bit. After all, 2016 is an Olympic year.
“It’s every athlete’s dream to run in the Olympics,” Wacera said. “I think 5,000 meters would be my best distance. I like that. But I have a year to go. So I’ll have to check my training and decide which event to take.”
“I know I still have 15 years of running ahead of me,” said the 21-year-old Ngetich. “One day I’d like to make it.”
The top American finishers were Fernando Cabada of Clovis, Calif., (18:40) and Jessica Odorcic of Madison, Ohio (22:13). Local winners were Steve Bohan (21:13) and Brooke Adams (24:36).