For two years in a row, Buze Diriba outkicked Mamitu Daska at the end.
This year, however, neither were to be found at the end of the race.
Instead, second-seeded Rosemary Wanjiru was alone on Monroe Street as she crossed the finish line in 39 minutes, 6 seconds (unofficial) to win the women’s elite title in the 43rd annual Lilac Bloomsday 12K Run on Sunday.
Wanjiru, 24, of Kenya, split a $10,000 “super bonus” with men’s winner Gabriel Geay of Tanzania for winning the culminating event of the 2019 Professional Road Running Organization (PRRO) Championship Circuit – on top of her $7,000 purse for winning Bloomsday.
Vicoty Chepngeno of Kenya was second at 39:36 and Monicah Ngige of Kenya finished third at 39:56.
“I’m so very happy to be victorious,” Wanjiru said. “This is my first Bloomsday Run. I like the course.”
It was Wanjiru’s second win of the season. She set the fastest time of the year for a 10-mile run at 50:42 with a course-record victory at the 2019 Cherry Blossom Run in Washington, D.C., on April 7.
The runaway victory somewhat surprised Bloomsday elite race coordinator Jon Neill.
“Unexpected, but at the same time the best strategy to beat Buze Diriba, you have to take her kick out of her,” he said. “And if that means getting a lead, developing surges midrace and later on the race, that is the way that you beat Buze Diriba.”
Diriba, 25, of Ethiopia, and the two-time defending Bloomsday champion, battled a nagging thigh injury in the warm and sunny conditions and finished sixth in 41:19, while Daska did not participate this year.
“Today is very hot, so was no good for me,” Diriba said.
Wanjiru held a roughly 20-second lead over Chepngeno as she crossed the T.J. Meenach Bridge and made the right-hand turn off Fort George Wright Drive to begin her ascent of Doomsday Hill.
The lead doubled by the time she reached the top and when Wanjiru turned left onto N. Lindeke Street just before the 6-mile mark, she had opened up a 75-meter advantage.
“When we reached up to the hill, everyone wants to run with some power. So when I reached there I just looked back (and) no one was around me so I decided ‘Let me go.’ ”
Wanjiru was all alone as she raced the flat straightaway down Broadway and the lead grew to 125 meters, reaching the 10K marker at 32:41.
“I looked back, and somebody can sometime come from behind, you know,” Wanjiru said. “But I was looking back and I (thought) ‘Oh my god, today I’m to make it.’ So that’s why I was so happy.”
She recorded a 5:15 sixth mile and when she turned right onto Monroe Street for the final sprint she turned her head once again to see if Chepngeno had made up any time.
She had not.
Wanjiru did not let up on her pace, though, and she crossed the finish line just as Chepngeno turned onto Monroe – a 30-second advantage and a stark contrast to the tight finishes of the past two years.
“She’s a fantastic runner, one of the world’s best,” Neill said. “It doesn’t surprise me in the least. It was her day.”
No one got out of the gate quickly, with a lead pack of four runners – Iveen Chepkemoi, Lindsey Scherf, Kinsey Middleton and Jane Kibii – trying to set the early pace.
But Wanjiru started to exert herself and Chepkemoi joined her side by side at the 1-mile mark. After crossing Latah Creek, Wanjiru and Chepkemoi – along with Chepngeno and Ngige – had opened a big lead from the rest of the pack at the top of the long hill at the 2-mile mark.
Wanjiru started to pull away on the hill up Government Way, and Chepngeno was the only runner to keep pace as the others fell back into a pack with Diriba – well off the lead.
Coming down the hill past Spokane Falls Community College on Fort Wright Drive, Wanjiru opened a comfortable lead and started to make it a one-woman race.
The top American finisher was Maggie Montoya of Boulder, Colorado in seventh place at 41:20.
First-time Bloomsday elite runner Lexi Zeis, also of Boulder, finished 14th in 42:57.
“It was tough,” she admitted. “Yeah, that hill there is no joke. But it was just a beautiful race. I really liked the first half in the trees. Everything was so pretty.”
The top Washington women’s runner was Kari Hamilton of Spokane at 44:25.
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