February 28, 2010Former World Half Marathon champion Berhane Adere of Ethiopia won the inaugural Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Half Marathon in New Orleans on Sunday (28), clocking the fastest time ever run by a woman on American soil for the distance.
Her 1:07:52 time bested the mark set by America’s Deena Kastor at the 2005 Philadelphia Distance Run by a single second. Adere, 36, needed to be at her best to hold off New Zealand’s Kim Smith, who finished a close second in 1:07:55, the third fastest half marathon ever run in the U.S.
On the men’s side, three-time London Marathon champion Martin Lel of Kenya outpaced his countryman and Half Marathon World record holder Sammy Wanjiru by 26 seconds, winning with a time of 1:01:07.
In all five out of the top six women produced personal records. Adere’s winning time was a huge 25-second personal best for the former two-time Chicago Marathon champion. Smith’s second-place time was a New Zealand national record. Both of their efforts were helped by near-perfect weather conditions, as the day dawned sunny, dry, and windless, with a starting line temperature in the low 50s (11-12 C).
Though the top men ran a little slower than might have been expected, both Lel and Wanjiru have been logging heavy miles in training as each prepares for the Virgin London Marathon on 25 April, where Wanjiru is the defending champion and course record holder. Nevertheless, after his win Lel said, “I felt very comfortable the whole way. I had good legs today.”
“My expectation was to win,” added Lel. “I think the race gives me good confidence on my preparation for the London Marathon. (New Orleans) was a very interesting city and the people were cheering, it really gave me a lot of energy.”
Smith, who led the entire race until the final straight, pushed a sub-1:08 pace from the start. She said that her performance gave her a good confidence boost despite the narrow loss.
“I tried to break away early, and I got rid of everyone except Berhane,” she said. “I knew she probably had more closing speed, so I did everything I could to shake her.”
Smith blasted through the10 kilometre split in 31:49, at a 1:07:20 Half Marathon pace. But Adere was able to shadow the former Providence College star the entire way until the two women turned onto the home stretch at City Park. With only a quarter mile to go, it became an all-out sprint to the tape that was not decided until the closing metres when Adere pushed ahead. An exhausted Adere was barely able to raise her arms in celebration as she broke the tape.
“I knew I would have my speed,” she said succinctly after emerging from a medical tent.
The men’s race had more contenders through the majority of the distance, but didn’t produce quite as scintillating a close. A select group of five runners – Lel, Wanjiru, Ireland’s Martin Fagan, recent University of Oregon graduate Shadrack Biwott and Kenyan McDonard Ondara – ran in tight formation through the first nine miles. The runners were packed so closely together that eventual winner Lel tangled his feet with those of other runners on several occasions. At 15K, which was reached in 43:42, Lel decided to take control of the race and surged away from his rivals.
He cruised to the finish line a comfortable 26 seconds ahead of Wanjiru, who is the reigning Olympic Marathon gold medallist. Biwott, brother of the world’s second fastest marathoner Duncan Kibet, finished third in his Half Marathon debut with a time 1:01:40, a major step onto the professional stage for this former U.S. high school and collegiate star. Fagan took fourth place and Ondara faded to fifth.