About a mile before the Freihofer’s Run for Women finish line, Mamitu Daska stole a glance over her shoulder, unsure just how much she had separated herself from the pack.
Though this was the largest race in the event’s 33-year history, with almost 5,000 recreational runners and a handful of elite professionals entered, Daska’s field of vision included only pavement and clear blue sky.
“I saw that I was alone,” she said through a translator.
Daska then zipped down Madison Avenue to cross the finish without a challenger, completing the course in 15 minutes, 19 seconds, a pace of 4:56 per mile.
On a gorgeous, sunny morning featuring temperatures in the mid-60s, Daska led a record field of 4,816 entrants, which shattered the previous record of 4,029, set in 2009.
The winner of the 2011 Houston Marathon and 2010 Dubai Marathon, Daska had turned in second- and third-place performances at the Freihofer’s the past two years.
But this time she drew off and led the pack by 30 yards by the time the runners crossed Lark Street toward the finish and topped second-place finisher Aheza Kiros, a fellow Ethiopian, by four seconds.
“After a certain point I saw they were not able to keep up,” Daska said. “So from that point on I was pretty much on my own.”
For the third consecutive year African runners dominated the field, this time claiming the top three spots. Emily Chebet, a Kenyan and last year’s champion, finished third.
But two Americans, including Ballston Spa native Megan Hogan, were next. Americans claimed two top-five spots for the first time since the event became international in 2005.
Alissa McKaig, of Fort Wayne, Ind., finished fourth and Hogan took fifth. Hogan and Nicole Blood, a former Saratoga High star who finished 16th, heard their names called from the sidelines throughout the five-kilometer run.
“I was having a blast,” said Blood, now a professional runner in Oregon. “I was shaking with excitement.”
Blood led briefly at the start, but the top three African runners began to pull away by the end of the first mile. Their second mile, which they blazed in 4:58, provided even more separation.
Daska made her move as they headed uphill on Lake Avenue and turned onto Western Avenue. She built a comfortable lead as the runners re-entered Washington Park and received a rousing cheer from the recreational runners who were just turning off Madison Avenue.
Experience worked to Daska’s advantage. Kiros, the second-place finisher, sprinted to the finish to make up considerable ground in the final 50 yards, but that came far too late. The problem was Kiros, who’d never run the course before, didn’t realize she was approaching the finish until she actually could see it.
“I felt I had time,” she said through a translator. “But then when I looked up it was ending, and I couldn’t catch up.”
Ahead of her, Daska already was crossing the finish line, the first of 4,142 women to do so.
Reach Pete Iorizzo at 454-5425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.