As the two Kenyans approached the finish line Sunday, both had the same thought.
Both knew Mary Wacera had the stronger final kick.
Wacera, a 25-year-old making her Bloomsday debut, outkicked three-time champion Lineth Chepkurui down Monroe Street to win the women’s elite race in the 38th running of the event.
Wacera, the silver medalist at this year’s World Half Marathon Championships in Copenhagen, completed the 12-kilometer race in 39 minutes, 36 seconds for a 2-second gap on Chepkurui, who won Bloomsday every year from 2008-10. The relatively slow winning time ranks nowhere near the top 15 in Bloomsday history.
“I knew I had the kick,” said Wacera, a recent convert to road racing whose only other American race was a half marathon in New Orleans last year.
“I was fast to the finish. That’s where I beat her.”
Chepkurui, who set the course record (38:10) in 2010, was gracious in defeat.
“We came together very nicely and she outkicked me,” Chepkurui said.
“In the last mile I was feeling comfortable, but I know her.”
The runners fought wind and cool conditions, but the predicted rain held off for the race.
“The wind was very strong, so it was like pushing us backward,” Wacera said.
The elite runners bunched together in a pack of about 16 at 1 1/2 miles, but the group became 10 at 2 miles of the 7.46-mile race.
By the 3-mile marker, prerace favorite Wacera, Chepkurui and countrywoman Risper Gesabwa had broken free. They opened a big gap by the time they reached Spokane Falls Community College.
The three were still together at Doomsday Hill, where Chepkurui made the decision to attack. Gesabwa dropped back and ultimately finished third in 39:53.
“Being there with the group, I was very comfortable going up the hill,” Chepkurui said.
Although Chepkurui took a slight lead, Wacera stayed close and pulled even once the course leveled off. Chepkurui said she battled a tight hamstring the rest of the way.
“I knew if I pushed very hard (on Doomsday) I might not do it at the finish, so I went with my pace and then I recovered when I (cleared) the hill,” Wacera said.
They were neck and neck at the 10K mark. The two ran together down Lindeke Street and Broadway Avenue, but Wacera had the kick in the final quarter-mile.
“It’s good to run together because we are helping each other,” Wacera said.
“My friend was very strong and we helped each other,” Chepkurui said. “On the flat she was strong and we had a good run.”
Wacera earned $7,000 while Chepkurui took home $4,500. Gesabwa won $3,000.
Agnes Cheserek (40:22) made it a 1-4 finish for Kenya. Rkia El Moukim of Morocco placed fifth in 40:41, 2 seconds ahead of Ethiopians Almaz Negede and Etalemahu Habtewold.
The top American was Mattie Suver of Colorado Springs, Colorado, who finished eighth in 40:59.
Ethiopia’s Gelete Burka, rated No. 6 headed in, was a late scratch. Five Americans were in the top 16, including Boise’s Meaghan Nelson, who was 16th in 42:46.