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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cynthia Limo sets Bloomsday course record for elite women’s division

The elite women runners take off down Riverside Avenue at the start of Bloomsday 2016. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
The elite women runners take off down Riverside Avenue at the start of Bloomsday 2016. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

On the flight to Spokane from her native Kenya, Cynthia Limo got sick.

Like so many airline travelers before her, the slight, soft-spoken woman came down with a nasty cold during the long flight halfway around the world.

By the time she reached Spokane Tuesday, she was miserable.

“I was very sick,” she said. “I had a very bad cough. I took some painkillers to get through it.”

As it turns out, the only thing Cynthia Limo ditched faster than an airline cold was the field of the 40th annual Bloomsday elite women’s race.

Running with an easy stride and a tempo that increased steadily the entire race, Limo slashed seven seconds off the course record, finishing in 38 minutes, 3 seconds with her nearest competitor more than two full city blocks behind her – barely visible turning the corner from Broadway as Limo crossed the finish.

There was nary a cough or sniffle from Limo, let alone a hiccup.

One of the elite runners left in Limo’s dust was the former record holder and three-time Bloomsday champion, Lineth Chepkurui, who ran 38:10 to win the 2010 race – the fastest women’s 12K in the world at the time.

At the start, a pack of a dozen runners surged to the lead, with Chepkurui setting the pace. The field, which lived up to its elite billing, set a five-minutes-and-change per mile pace early and it took a toll on the lead group. One by one, runners fell off the pace.

Blake Russell, 40, the top U.S. finisher a year ago, was one of the first casualties of the pace. Lindsey Scherf, 29, who won the 2015 USA 25K Championship, led briefly on the first downhill but also faded as the pack dwindled.

By the time the pack reached the water station at the base of Cemetery Hill, the pack dissolved.

While most of the pack went for water, Limo charged through the station on pace and by the time she hit the hill only four runners stayed with her demanding pace: Mestawet Demisse, 29, of Ethiopia; Chepkurui; Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton, 27, of Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Wichita State; and Jane Kibii, 31, of Kenya.

Once Limo turned onto Fort George Wright Drive, the pack was a thing of the past. Without so much as a glance over her shoulder, she upped her tempo at the turn and by the time she reached T.J. Meenach Bridge, her nearest competition was almost a full city block behind.

But rather than relax into her big lead, Limo hammered Doomsday Hill and doubled her lead to two full city blocks. By the time she reached the courthouse, it was impossible to judge. Her nearest competitor, Tuliamuk-Bolton, was out of sight.

But Limo had more in her tank. She ran her fourth mile in five minutes flat and her sixth in 5:02, putting her five seconds off the course record.

As she steamed toward the Courthouse, she didn’t look back and she didn’t slow down. She ran her next mile in 4:59 to put herself a second under record pace and she gathered speed down the hill to the finish.

Limo’s winning time in 2015 was 39:27 – 1:25 slower than her record time Sunday.

Limo said she was surprised to be so along over the second half of the course.

“There were several runners in the field who are so fast and I expected them to be with me,” she said.

Tuliamuk-Bolton came into the race after turning in a 31:54 at the Stanford Invitational last month. She ran the Philadelphia Half Marathon in 1:09:49 in 2015. Kibii was the third-place Bloomsday finisher in 2015 (39:29) and entered the race after a win at the SacTown 10 Mile, where she ran 53:21. And Chepkurui owned two of the five fastest Bloomsday times in race history coming into Sunday.

Tuliamuk-Bolton finished second with a time of 39:42. Kibii was third in 39:59 and Chepkurui fourth in 40:22. Ethiopia’s Simegn Abnet Yeshanbel was fifth in 40:36.

Risa Takanaka, the top Japanese runner at this distance, was sixth in 40:38. Etalemahu Habtewold of Ethiopia was seventh at 40:57. Scherf, from Mountain View, California, was eighth in 40:59.

Limo earned $7,000 for her victory. Tuliamuk-Bolton, originally from Kenya, earned $9,500 for her second-place finish plus a U.S. citizen award.

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