By Glae Thien, Union-Tribune: The men’s winner at this year’s America’s Finest City Half Marathon (in San Diego) had extra reason to congratulate Belainesh Zemedkun Gebre after she set the women’s course record in the 33rd annual event.
Ezkyas Sisay also has been her coach and training partner since the two moved to this country a month apart close to four years ago from their native Ethiopia.
So, steps beyond the finish line, Sisay was the first to salute the repeat women’s winner with a handshake and a simple compliment “Good job!” on Sunday after the 13.1-mile race that started at Cabrillo National Monument, traveled through downtown and ended at Balboa Park.
After coming within 12 seconds of the record last year with the third fastest time ever, Gebre broke the mark set in Kenya’s Margaret Okayo by nine seconds in 1 hour, 10 minutes, 28 seconds under overcast morning skies.
“I’m happy,” said Gebre through a translator. “I trained better than last year, and that’s why I got the record.”
It became a most profitable day for Gebre, as she doubled the $1,500 first-place prize with a $1,000 bonus for the record and another $500 for adding another title in this event. This was her straight third race here, starting with third place (1:14:33).
Gebre took charge from the outset and led by 1:05 heading into the Sheraton Island loop at the midway point. She would prevail by nearly two minutes, followed by England’s Claire Hallissey (1:12:22) and Japan’s Yuri Takamizawa (1:13:22).
“I didn’t see anybody behind me,” said Gebre, 22, who came within five seconds of her personal best set last year in Columbus, Ohio. “I just ran at my pace. Everything was very nice. I have no complaints.”
Gebre remained steady up the steep Sixth Street hill approaching the finish, citing the help this year of increased mileage in her workouts and the benefits of altitude training at her Flagstaff, Ariz., base.
“It’s inspirational to see someone to go like that,” said Hallissey, 27, who recently moved to Arlington, Va. “I’m pleased with myself, but I would have liked to have gone slightly better. With the hill, it’s not the fastest of courses although the winner would beg to differ.”
In the men’s race, Sisay (1:03:58) survived a touch of illness to begin pulling away in the eighth mile to finish nearly a minute ahead of Kenya’s Benard Langat (1:04:56). In third pace was Ventura’s Josh Spiker (1:05:23), the 2009 Carlsbad Marathon winner.
Sisay stepped up this time after finishing 11th (1:10:47) last year, when he even finished behind Gebre. His pace this time was on par with last year’s first-place showing (1:04:01).
From the outset, Sisay stayed at or near the lead. As the early pack of seven leaders diminished to two contenders by the midpoint, he led by 30 yards going into the nearly two-mile loop. However, he subsequently vomited twice, and out of the loop, Langat moved ahead by a step.
Sisay then answered the challenge by progressively pulling away leading into the final hill.
“I knew I had to push it,” said Sisay, 21, who made repeated glances at his watch past the midpoint. “I still wanted to break the record (1:02:24). But the last mile, I was almost dead.”
Sisay, whose expression bore a grimace over the last half of the race, had to grin when he saw the women’s record broken by his Ethiopian compatriot.
“I know she’s much better than she was last year,” Sisay said. “I was expecting her to break the course record.”
There was a sellout field of 8,000 entries, with 6,646 finishers