Race Coverage

February 16, 2014 at 2:10 pm

Tough Conditions Slow Austin Marathon; Joseph Mutinda and Marnie Staehly Prevail

Bell Wealth ManagementNot every race in the Austin Marathon’s 22-year history has had ideal weather, but the race has a well-deserved reputation as having some of the best marathoning weather in the country. Typically, marathon Sunday weather is clear, dry and cool.

Sunday’s race was anything but that.

The temps—60 degrees at the start—were manageable but as the morning fog burned off the soaring humidity made conditions abysmal for the 17,000 runners in the combined fields of the marathon and half marathon.

How bad was it?

Nearly everyone in the field suffered, including the elite runners who are usually immune to such stuff. Even Austin Marathon winner—Joseph Mutinda of Kenya who ran a brilliant 2:14:17—paid dearly. Mutinda, who was third in the Austin Marathon in ’08, ran a gutty, bold race, but cramped and collapsed right at the finish and had to be wheeled away to the medical tent where he was treated for dehydration. An hour later, Mutinda had to be wheeled into the awards ceremony where he was still so wasted, he couldn’t get out of his wheelchair to accept the first-place award from marathon director John Conley.

“I think I brought Oregon weather with me,” joked Craig Leon of Eugene, Oregon who finished second in the half marathon in 1:05:44.

Leon was part of a seven-man contingent which led the masses through the thick air through the early morning mist and drizzle on Congress. But Leon and Kimutai Cheruiyot were running the half marathon, while Kenyans Mutinda, Kipkoech Ruto and Abraham Rutto were running the marathon.

“I tried explaining to them that I was running the half and not the marathon,” said Leon, “but those guys didn’t seem to care.”

Instead, the three Kenyan marathoners hammered away at a 2:10-marathon pace which, on a day like Sunday, was close to insane. Cruising through 10-K splits of 30:35 and 10 miles of 49:22 on the hilly first half of the course would have been ambitious on a perfect day.

The four reached halfway in 65:30, alternating 5:10 and 5:15 miles, and then reached the critical 18th mile at Northcross Mall in 1:31:25. At Northcross, the course flattens out and if any of the Kenyans could close on the long downhill stretch along Duval at five-minute pace, a 2:10 marathon would be within reach.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t within reach on this sultry morning but these bold front runners still gave it a shot on a course that marathon veteran Dick Beardlsey thinks is worth five minutes on a flatter course.

Coming down Duval, Rutto led the pack and made a major move as he upped the tempo at 21 miles with a 4:56 mile. The move shook up Mutinda who dropped about 20 seconds back, but Ruto stayed with Rutto. The Rutto move was a costly one—for him. After taking the lead, he gave it right back and, within a few hundred meters, stopped dead in his tracks and, according to race officials on the lead truck, had to be checked by the medical staff before he was allowed to continue.

Meanwhile, Mutinda, who clearly knew the course, was closing the gap between he and Ruto. (Yes, it’s confusing, but one Kenyan is “Rutto” and the other is “Ruto”.) Mutinda would eventually take over the lead for good at 24 miles reached in 2:02:41 and the course record of 2:14:02 by Jocelyn Basweti (and the $5000 bonus for breaking it) was still in play.

But it was not to be on this muggy morning.

Like everyone else, Mutinda was struggling in the humidity and suffered a cramp in his hamstring as he ascended the San Jacinto hills outside the Capitol. He fought to the finish in 2:14:17.49—an amazing time, given the conditions.

Kipkoech Ruto was second in 2:14:45 and Toyoyuki Abe of Japan took third in 2:19:58. Abraham Rutto, who had done much of the front running, held on for fourth in 2:20:43 and Masaki Hori of Japan was fifth in 2:24:39.

Erik Stanley, the tall, talented former UT runner, who had won four of the previous five Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenger Series races, toughed it out for sixth in only his second road marathon in 2:28:33. Trevor Middleton of New York was seventh (2:33:35), Mark Hillers of Golden, Colorado was eighth (2:35:26), Scott Rantall of Cedar Park was ninth (2:36:55) and Cheyne Inman of Hayward, California rounded out the top 10 in 2:37:30.

The women’s marathon was a bit less dramatic. Marnie Staehly, who came up from San Antonio with her own support group (Marnie’s Minions) had a 2:55 PR and was clearly the class of the field. Staehly, who had run the Austin Half Marathon before, knew the course, especially the early hills, and opted for a conservative strategy.

Staehly and three Austinites—Jena Kincaid, Hannah Steffens and Jennifer Harney made up the top women–also knew the course well and were especially mindful of the conditions. Kincaid, who won the San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in a PR of 3:05 in November in even worse weather, led until about the 22 1/2-mile mark when Staehly passed her.

Once Staehly made that pass, and with the support of her Minions who were all around the course, she held onto the finish for her first marathon victory in 2:57:26. It wasn’t a PR, but she’ll take it nonetheless.

“It is a difficult course,” said Staehly who works for Humana in San Antonio, “so I wanted to wait until the flat section began around 18 miles. Once we got there {at Northcross Mall}, I picked up my speed a little and didn’t feel too badly all the way to finish. Actually, I predicted I’d run a 2:57. This wasn’t a training run for me, but I’m running the Boston Marathon in April so this will give me a big boost.”

Kincaid, who is coached by Scott Rantall and trains with Hannah Steffens, collected second place in a seven-minute PR of 2:58. Harney, the single mother of two who was running with a heavy heart (her 12-year-old beloved dog died on Friday night), finished fourth in a PR of 3:02:58 but was moved up to third when Steffens was DQ’ed for wearing someone else’s race number.

The men’s division of the half marathon was won by Kimutai Cheruiyot in 1:05 with Leon, utilizing the hilly Austin course to prepare for the Boston Marathon, second in 1:05:44 and Sammy Cheptoo third in 1:07:10. Top local was Derick Williamson of Austin. Williamson, a 32-year-old triathlon and running coach whose best running days are behind him, had won the Austin Half way back in ’07 and just entered Sunday’s race on a whim. Remarkably, Williamson grabbed fourth in 1:12:32.

Said Leon on Saturday in a pre-race talk, “I thought the course would be good for my training for Boston—and it was—but some of the hills here were really tough. The ones in the final two miles are much harder than anything I’ll face at Boston. But I really enjoyed the race and my first trip to Boston.”

Kristen Fryburg-Zaitz was also using Austin as a marathon tune-up. The 33-year-old from Boulder, Colorado won the women’s division of the half in 1:15:01 as her final race before tackling the Los Angeles Marathon on March 9th.

“My plan was to run relaxed at my marathon goal pace,” said Fryburg-Zaitz who took the lead for good at five miles and was never headed. “I’m really pleased with how I went up and over the hills, including those last ones in the final couple of miles. I ran the Boston AA Half Marathon and thought that course was hilly. But that’s nothing compared with Austin. It’s tough, but fair.”

Following Fryburg-Zaitz to the finish were Florence Mose in second (1:18:40), Paula Apolonio in third (1:19:42) and Lauren Smith in fourth in 1:21:19. First Austinite was Megan Betts, who is getting ready for her first marathon at The Woodlands in a couple of weeks. Betts, the Adidas rep who was on her feet, working the Marketplace Expo on Friday and Saturday, still had enough left to run 1:25:11 for seventh.

The Austin Marathon was the final race of the 2013-14 Austin Fit Magazine Distance Challenge series and although official results aren’t in, the overall winners are Erik Stanley and Jennifer Harney.

Wish

About Wish

Bob “Wish” Wischnia has more than 30 years of running industry experience across publishing, retail, web, and race organization. An Arizona State University alum, Wischnia has been a runner virtually his entire life, still competing in track and road race competitions. And in the free time he’s not pounding the pavement? He’s swimming, cycling, and catching days on the green.

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