The quick feet of Lineth Chepkurui, Emily Chebet-Muge and Mamitu Daska beat a rhythmic click on the pavement up Cemetery Hill as they broke open the women’s race of the 34th annual Bloomsday run Sunday morning.
It was really taps.
Chepkurui, the two-time defending champion, barely made a sound 2 miles later as she floated up Doomsday Hill alone, leaving Chebet-Muge and Daska to battle for second.
But the 23-year-old Kenyan didn’t slow down and when she finally wound her way down to the north end of the Monroe Street Bridge she not only had a third straight title and the $7,000 that goes with it, but she had the Bloomsday record and a world record for 12-kilometers of 38-minutes, 10-seconds.
“It was so tough this time around,” Chepkurui said. “The ladies’ field was very fast. Breaking off from the rest of the group was so tough. I tried but I could not. I had to wait for my favorite hill.”
The previous fastest 12K was 38:22 by Asmae Leghzaoui of Morocco in 2005 in San Francisco, where last year Chepkurui ran the No. 2 time, 38:35, two weeks after Bloomsday.
Doomsday Hill is where Chepkurui broke away from a big pack to win in 2008, blasting Mile 6, the one after the hill, in a record 5:15 for a 25-second win, although the overall time of 39:47 was one of the race’s slowest winning times.
She ran 70 seconds faster last year, blazing through the first 2 miles and pulling away on the hills to win by 40 seconds, her 38:37 the second-fastest ever.
And that guaranteed her nothing this year with Chebet-Muge and Daska on hand.
“I had tension because the field this time was very tough,” Chepkurui said. “The two ladies, from the world cross country, they’re not easy and I knew they were in good shape.”
Chebet-Muge, 24, won the IAAF world cross country championship in March, finishing the 8K course in Poland 21 seconds ahead of her teammate, Chepkurui, who was 12th.
“The race was not bad but it was cold, not like Kenya,” Chebet-Muge said. “Hills are hard. It was difficult to stay with her.”
Daska finished in 38:25, Chebet-Muge in 38:50.
Daska, a 26-year-old Ethiopian, was eighth in the cross country championships and won the Dubai Marathon this year.
“I was happy,” she said, after recovering from a bout of post-race nausea. “The race was very hard. After the finish I was sick.”
Chepkurui’s record is impressive considering the first mile was run in 5:18, the fourth slowest in the last two decades, and the second mile still left her 17 seconds behind last year’s pace. That kept the lead pack at about a dozen, but when they reached Government Way the hammer was dropped. As they passed the cemetery the lead group was three as that mile, which ends at the top of the hill, was covered in a record 5:01.
Still, as they turned on Fort George Wright Drive and ran past Spokane Falls Community College, they ran three abreast at times despite a 5-minute mile. Then Chepkurui covered the fifth mile in 5:06 and was home free when she reached the top of Doomsday 25 meters clear.
“I tried the first hill and I went so hard the second hill,” she said. “I said I have to break it on the last hill. If I couldn’t have made it, it would have been hard for me to win.”
Her strong finish tidied up the record book. Delillah Asiago’s time of 38:31 in 1995 was adjusted after it was discovered the course, tweaked because of construction in 1994, was short. And that time had never been threatened.
The only other concern for Chepkurui was stomach cramps.
“Last night I had trouble sleeping,” she explained. “I said, ‘No, no, Lord, help me,’ because I came here to win, not to miss the race.
“I will be here again, it’s my favorite race.”