By his own admission, Simon Ndirangu’s first experience at the Lilac Bloomsday didn’t go as planned.
“I was here in 2007, but I didn’t do very good,” the 25-year-old Kenyan said of his eighth-place finish.
Ndirangu made the most of his second chance Sunday, out-kicking countryman Allan Kiprono over the final 250 meters to win one of the closest men’s races in Bloomsday’s 35-year history by 1 second. Ndirangu covered the 12 kilometers in 33 minutes, 58 seconds, roughly 61 seconds faster than his 2007 time. He collected a $7,000 winner’s check.
Kiprono, 21, was a couple of strides behind at 33:59. Ndirangu’s time was the fifth fastest and Kiprono’s the sixth in Bloomsday history. Belete Assefa finished third in 34:09.
A lead pack of 11 at Mile 2 dwindled to four at the top of Doomsday Hill. At that point, Kiprono, who beat Ndirangu while finishing second at the Crescent City 10K in New Orleans last weekend, led by a few meters.
At the six-mile mark, Ndirangu took the lead with Kiprono just off his left shoulder and Assefa, who won the Crescent City and was bidding to become Bloomsday’s first Ethiopian men’s winner, was perhaps 3 meters behind.
Ndirangu and Kiprono took turns at the front as they pulled away from Assefa. When the two leaders turned right on Monroe Street for the finishing stretch, Ndirangu edged in front and put the throttle down.
He took a couple of anxious glances over his shoulder to make sure Kiprono wasn’t catching up and won by a margin of roughly 5 meters.
“This is my second race that I race with him,” said Ndirangu, who finished sixth in New Orleans.
“I knew he was a very good runner, but I know I’m better in the last part than he is. I keep running behind him so I can save some energy to sprint.”
Kiprono was satisfied with his time.
“The race was very tough,” he said. “We were three (runners in front) at about 7 miles, then we push almost to the finish line. (Ndirangu) was very fast.”
Ndirangu tried to make up ground “on the climbs, when maybe they were tired.” Of his finishing kick, he said, “I feel strong, comfortable, because we were running a good pace. I was tired, but I still saved some energy, even when I was sprinting at the finish.”
Ndirangu, who won the 2010 Cooper Bridge Run and 2007 Carlsbad 5000, called the victory “among the best of my career.”