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Ethiopians come through when heat is on to win Marathon

Senbeto Geneti Guteta made his debut in the Buffalo Marathon a winning one Sunday.

The 23-year-old from Ethiopia crossed the finish line in 2 hours, 22 minutes and 50 seconds to take home the $2,000 winner’s check in the 16th annual event. While he fell short of the marathon record of 2:15.50 set last year by two-time defending champion Kip Tisia – who was unable to compete for a third straight victory because of a family emergency – Guteta was elated with his performance on an unseasonably warm day.

“I’m very happy today,” he said after the win. “I’m working very hard. You have to plan to win, so I succeeded and I’m very happy.”

Guteta, who is currently based in New York City, said the early start to the race – organizers moved the time up from 7 to 6:30 a.m. in an effort to combat the expected high temperatures – helped at the beginning, but that his pace slowed as it wore on.

“It was hot,” he said. “After 30 kilometers, especially. The course was very hard.”

On the women’s side, Hirut Guangul of Ethiopia defended her title in record-breaking fashion. After finishing in 2:39.01 in 2015, the 24-year-old shaved 35 seconds off that Sunday, crossing in 2:38.26.

“It’s incredibly impressive,” race director Greg Weber said. “It’s always nice to see them break the record. It means we’re getting faster. People are looking to come here. They’re really training to do this race.”

Guangul, whose margin of victory of more than 14 minutes was the third largest in Buffalo Marathon history, said there was a simple reason for her improved time Sunday.

“There was no wind,” she said.

A pair of Americans finished in second place and earned $1,000 – Rochester’s Tyler Eustance on the men’s side and Bailey Drewes of Bemidji, Minn., on the women’s.

Drewes, 23, completed just her second marathon, so it was understandable when she said she “wasn’t sure what to expect.”

“I knew I would have to stay hydrated,” she said. “I felt really good. The winning time is just amazing.”

Drewes’ time of 2:52.40 is the 15th fastest in Buffalo Marathon history on the women’s side.

“The females have done really well today,” Weber said, joking that “they’re putting the males to shame.”

Eustance, a 23-year-old who ran in college for Cornell, said his goal was to break his personal record of 2:25.26, but that he was “not too disappointed,” when he fell just short with a time of 2:26.09 – a little more than 3 minutes behind Guteta.

“It was a really nice course,” Eustance said after finishing his first Buffalo Marathon. “With it being so hot, to get that close to my ‘PR’ was great.”

Eustance called Guteta’s time “pretty impressive, but not too surprising.”

Coming from a country renowned for its distance runners, Guteta has several impressive finishes on his resume, including a victory last month in the Kansas City half-marathon with a time of 1:05.54. His first experience in Buffalo left him beaming.

“It’s a beautiful city,” he said. “All the people are so nice. I liked it.”

That hospitality could be seen on the course. Several runners mentioned how thoughtful it was that residents along the route set up sprinklers for them to run through.

“It’s a great race. The city is amazing,” said Lucas McAneney, a 29-year-old from the Toronto area who finished fourth on the men’s side. “I love the support here. Coming from Ontario, we don’t get anywhere near that type of course support, so it was really good to see.”

A field of about 1,930 runners took part in the marathon, with another 4,700 taking part in the half-marathon. The marathon continues to grow by about 10 percent each year, according to organizers.

Weber said that several runners had been treated for heat-related issues like dehydration and cramping. The finish line in front of the Buffalo Convention Center had a medical station next to it, and several runners were taken there immediately after they crossed, with some of them having their body temperatures closely monitored and others simply icing down sore body parts.

Weber said he was aware of at least a few runners who were transported via ambulance to local hospitals, but did not believe that any of their conditions were serious.

“That was my biggest fear when I woke up this morning,” he said. “In talking with our medical director, this was like any other race, and that’s a good thing.”

email: jskurski@buffnews.com