Former Bloomsday champion Allan Kiprono hung with the lead pack early in Sunday’s race and he followed a fellow Kenyan all the way to the base of Doomsday Hill.
Kiprono then put on a running clinic, leaving 24-year-old Cloephas Ngetich and another fellow Kenyan, Kevin Kochei, far behind as he took a commanding lead coming out of Doomsday Hill and won the 12-kilometer race going away in 34 minutes, 11 seconds.
The 2012 champion finished third last year before winning by the huge margin of 29 seconds in a race that ranks as the 12th-fastest time in the 38-year history of Bloomsday.
“I was not expecting to run a time like that. It was very great,” Kiprono said as he continued to sweat in a blustery wind on the Monroe Street Bridge. “It’s very good. I’m happy.”
Kochei finished second (34:40), Ngetich third (34:42) and top American racer – Aaron Braun, of Alamosa, California, fourth (35:11) over the 7.46-mile race.
Before the race, top contender Mosinet Geremew, 22, of Ethiopia, scratched because of illness. But he probably would have had a tough time catching Kiprono, who has never finished worse than third.
At the beginning of the race, Kiprono ran behind the lead pack that initially was paced by 25-year-old Julius Keter of Kenya.
But by the time the runners reached Riverside Avenue and Maple Street, Ngetich had pushed his way to the head of the lead pack of about 20 runners. He continued to lead past mile one, which he ran in 4:33. He continued to lead the downhill stretch into People’s Park and into mile 2.
But Kiprono took the lead briefly near Riverside Memorial Park as he paced the lead pack of seven runners, which were all Kenyans except for one Ethiopian.
By the time they reached River Ridge Boulevard and Government Way, the lead pack had dropped to Kiprono, Ngetich and Kochei, who was running in Spokane on his first trip to America.
Kochei, 24, then took the lead as they passed mile 4 and the group was on pace at that point to possibly beat the Bloomsday record time of 33:51, set in 2008 by Micah Kogo of Kenya.
Kiprono then ran stride for stride with Kochei as they approached T.J. Meenach Bridge. They remained abreast as they reached the base of Doomsday Hill. Then it was all Kiprono.
“Up the hill, he pushed and I lost it,” Kochei said. “He knew the course better. This is the first time I ran it.”
By mile 5, Kiprono was pulling away. Soon after, he stopped looking back as Kochei and Ngetich fell well off his pace. At that point, he looked at his watch and appeared to be racing only his own time.
As Kiprono passed the Spokane County Courthouse, it was all over except for the final time.
“I knew after that hill and I opened the gap,” Kiprono said. “I knew I had to push. It’s about tactics.”
And he won going away on a Sunday when he woke up feeling off.
“Before I started the race, I told my friend my legs were very heavy. I felt tired,” he said before grinning. “But when I feel tired, I know I can do something.”
The weather was cool and breezy at the beginning of the race.
The conditions actually worsened as the day went on with wind picking up just as the elite races were finishing.
Asked how the wind affected him, Kiprono said: “Not a lot. This weather is not bad. It’s better than being humid.”
After interviews, Kiprono jogged forward and received congratulations from many of the racers as they exited the finish line.
“I was so happy to win this,” Kiprono said. “I won in 2012. I didn’t win last year. I had to win this year.”
Kochei, who will train in Boulder, Colo., said he hopes to return next year to Bloomsday.
“Maybe that one, I will win,” he said.