BOULDER — Bobby Curtis knows how to bide his time racing at altitude.
Go out too hard, and you risk overextending yourself to unrecoverable exhaustion. Go out too moderately, and you risk being left behind.
His strategy worked probably as well as it could have at Monday’s Bolder Boulder 10K. Curtis, who ran the fourth-fastest marathon time last year among Americans, started off about 12th after the first mile and ended as the top U.S. finisher in the men’s elite race, chewing up ground on the final climb to Folsom Field to finish in fourth overall in 29 minutes, 42.87 seconds.
“The race went out pretty moderately, and I was just hanging back a bit,” said Curtis, who finished second at the USA cross country championships in Boulder in February. “There was a break about midway. I didn’t go with that break, but about half the people fell off. I ended up in eighth place at Mile 4 and then picked up four spots going into the stadium.”
The trouble was, well, Ethiopia. (It was for the Americans in the women’s race too.) The country continued its reign over Colorado’s premier road race, led by Belete Assefa, who won his second Bolder Boulder title by finishing in 29:04.13. His countryman, Solomon Deksisa, finished in 29:20.72. Even a modest 10th-place finish by their third teammate, Tolossa Gedefa, was enough for Ethiopia to claim the team victory as well, with 13 points. Allan Kirpono, a two-time winner of the Bolder Boulder, last in 2013, placed third.
Tuscon’s Abdi Abdirahman was fifth (29:50.78) and Jared Ward of Kaysville, Utah, finished eighth (30:00.22), places that were high enough to give the U.S. second overall with 17 points. It was the first time since 2009 that the U.S. put two finishers in the top five.
“I thought I was going run a little bit better, but I’m happy with the outcome,” said Abdirahman, 38, who will be trying for his fifth Olympic team in 2016. “It was just a tough race. I didn’t remember how tough it is running Boulder. I haven’t run it since 2004, when we won the race. But it was a great race today.”
Ward, who most recently competed for BYU, burst onto the wider elite marathon scene in March by finishing third in Los Angeles — the site of next year’s U.S. Olympic trials in the event. He was the top American in 2:12:56, a performance that made him the 2015 U.S. marathon champion. He was just 18 seconds behind Curtis.
“We were keeping a steady rhythm and we were catching a lot of the Africans that went with that initial break, but were falling off,” Curtis said.
Curtis used the Bolder Boulder as part of a tuneup before the U.S. outdoor championships in late June in Eugene, Ore., where he will compete in the 10K to try to make the world team going to Beijing.
“With my past coach, I trained at altitude all the time, but never raced at altitude,” Curtis said. “Now, I haven’t trained at altitude in three years, but I’ve been racing really well at altitude.”
Athletes expressed approval in the changes in team scoring — the top three Americans were designated USA Red, the next three USA White and the last three USA Blue. That allowed for a race within a race as Americans vied to be among the top three to win additional prize money.
Previously, teams were predetermined, a practice that could punish runners who performed well but whose teammates didn’t.
“I think (the changes) pushed a lot of people to keep going,” Curtis said. “And that worked for me, Abdi and Jared because we broke away a little bit. And I’m sure in each of our minds we were thinking, ‘Stay in the top three, and keep getting as many people as you can.’ I hope they keep it that way because I think that’s the fairest way as possible.”
Curtis vowed to return, if for no other reason than the atmosphere.
“You go up a steep hill where you’re desperate — you just want to be done,” Curtis said. “And you can start to hear the roar of the crowd, and then you get in, and you just forget everything. You can really take it to another level.”
Updated May 26, 2015 at 6:36 p.m.: The following corrected information has been added to this article: Because of a reporting error, the ranking of Bobby Curtis’ time at the Chicago Marathon last year was misstated. His time was fourth-fastest run by an American in 2014.
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