Big Field Takes on Challenging Fairfield HalfEthiopian, Moroccan runners claim crowns in the Stratton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon
June 24, 2012
Tesfaye Girma and Ketema Niguesse ran neck and neck for 13 miles. That's routine for them. The two Ethiopians train together, and they shared strides, cups of water and the lead through a hot and hilly half-marathon course Sunday, waiting for the final one-tenth of a mile to make their moves.
Girma's finishing kick was better. Girma hit the tape one second ahead of Niguesse to win the 32nd-annual Stratton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon with a time of 1:05.37.
"This is good for me," the 29-year-old Girma said.
Nelson Kiplagat of Kenya was third, 2 minutes, 42 seconds behind Niguesse. Morocco's Marofit Mourad and Kenya's Boniface Kipkosgei-Biwott were fourth and fifth, respectively.
In the women's race, Morocco's Malika Mejdoub won for the second straight year, with a time of 1:17.47, six seconds faster than Turkey's Tertza Dengersa.
Among Connecticut men, 23-year-old Christopher Zablocki of Essex was the top finisher, coming seventh overall with a time of 1:10.45. New London's Scott Mindel was ninth and Marc Robacznski of Canton finished 10th.
Fairfield's Connor Rog was the top male finisher from Fairfield County, placing 11th. He posted a personal-best time of 1:13.38 -- six seconds better than his previous best and nine seconds faster than Norwalk's Eneas Freyre, who finished 12th.
"It was great," the 18-year-old Rog said. "After mile six, I started going and started feeling great."
Rog did not run the Fairfield half marathon last year, but the recent Fairfield Prep graduate -- who will run at the University of Virginia in the fall -- was pleased with his Connecticut send-off.
"I love this race and was disappointed that I didn't run it last year," Rog said. "This means a lot. I don't know how many more of these I'm going to do, but I'm going onto bigger and better things at Virginia."
In the women's race, winner Mejdoub was delighted with the victory. "I'm so happy," Mejdoub said. "I won last year and came with the idea to win this year too."
Wilton's Amy Bevilacqua was the top-American woman to finish, placing sixth overall with a time of 1:25.10. Stamford's Caitlin Stote was seventh with at 1:25.43.
"I think I ran a pretty steady pace," Bevilacqua said. "I didn't want to go out too fast because I was afraid I would not have much gas in the tank."
In the men's race, Niguesse finished second for the second straight year. Last year's winner, Kumsa Adugna of Ethiopia, did not enter this year's race.
For the first three miles Sunday, the pace was set by Girma, Niguesse, Kiplagat, Mourad and Kipkosgei-Biwott paced each other.
Then Girma, Kiplagat and Niguesse broke from the pack. Kiplagat hung with the Ethiopians until about the six-mile mark, when Girma and Niguesse began to pull away.
Although the course is shady, the top racers said they were bothered by the 90-plus-degree heat. "It was very hot," Girma said. "It wasn't a difficult course, but it was very hot."
Niguesse agreed. "It was hot, which made it difficult," he said.
Outbound, Girma and Niguesse stayed together through Southport and Greenfield Hill, then back through Southport and into Fairfield. Neither advanced more than a stride from the other, and they posted a 10-mile time of 49:56.
"After five miles, we just went together," Girma said. "We train together and know each other very well. We're close and good friends."
Women's winner Mejdoub shared the men's sentiment about the heat, and she said it dictated a more deliberate pace. "Today was a little bit hot," she said. "The pace was slow. Nobody wanted to push because of the weather."
Mejdoub ran with Dengersa and Ethiopia's Asha Gigi for much of the course. But the 30-year-old Moroccan used her experience from last year's race to pull ahead. "I like this race," she said. "My winning last year gave me confidence to take first place."
Bevilacqua—a triathlete and former Fairfield resident who was running her first half-marathon—was impressed with the course and the race. "It was hot, hilly and challenging, but fun," she said. "This was kind of an adventure for me."