Monday, June 21, 2010

New Yorker Deba wins Grandma's

Duluth News Tribune reports
Grandma’s Marathon legends Dick Beardsley and Garry Bjorklund chatted at a press conference Friday about a likely head wind that would greet runners in the 34th Grandma’s Marathon.

“If there’s a head wind,” Bjorklund said, “run behind a bigger guy.”

Sound advice from the pride of Twig, but Buzunesh Deba chose to go her own way Saturday morning, and the result was a decisive victory for the 22-year-old Ethiopian. Deba covered the 26.2 miles in a personal-record 2 hours, 31 minutes, 36 seconds, outdistancing countrywoman Yeshimebet Bifa (2:35:28) and Kenyan Everlyne Lagat (2:37:26).

Three-time defending champion Mary Akor was fourth in 2:38:02, collapsing after finishing and needing intravenous liquids in the medical tent.

Deba led for much of the race, in earning $12,000 in prize money, while Yeshimebet was in her shadow through 21 miles.

“Even though I was nervous going out in front (against a headwind), I had to do what I had to do,” Deba said through an interpretor.

Youth was served with Deba and the 21-year-old Bifa still relative newcomers to the sport. Both were running their first Grandma’s Marathon. Deba didn’t start running marathons until last October, and after Saturday, vowed to return.

Runners withered in record-hot conditions last year, but this year’s race featured strong west winds of 8-18 mph. Deba braved the conditions and had the fastest women’s time on the course in five years.

Although Buzunesh and Yeshimebet are from Ethiopia, they didn’t know each other until Saturday. Yeshimebet stayed close for much of the race, and then lost considerable distance in the closing five miles because of stomach cramps and foot blisters, the result of wearing new socks. Yeshimbet, from Addis Ababa, was running her fourth career marathon since debuting in the sport a year ago, and it was her first race in the United States.

“I learned from my mistakes today, but I am very happy that the winner is also from Ethiopia,” said Yeshimebet. “She trains hard and deserved to win. Ethiopian women runners train hard and have a passion for the marathon.”

Of the top 12 women’s marathon times in the world in 2010, nine are by Ethiopians.

Deba’s victory came with a price as she had a stomach illness after finishing.

“I threw up, but that happens sometimes. I drank a lot of water,” said Deba, who trains out of New York. “I felt tired, so to still have a good time is a big confidence boost.”

Deba, Bifa and Akor ran 1-2-3 throughout the race. Akor encouraged Lagat to join her late in the race and then was passed about a mile from the finish. Unlike Akor, who relishes the heat, Lagat despises it. Lagat heard horror stories of runners collapsing last year and was scared after seeing temperatures climb into the 80s Friday. Saturday’s 60-degree day was more to her liking.

“I can take on the wind. I can take on the cold, but the heat is too much,” Lagat said. “There was wind, but compared to last year, you can’t say a bad word. It was perfect. I almost didn’t come, but now that I finished, I’m glad I did.”

Akor, 33, from Hawthorne, Calif., was attempting to do what no runner has done in Grandma’s Marathon history — win four straight titles. Yet, she said by the three-mile mark, she knew her body was not up to the task. She undergoes surgery Friday to treat uterine fibroids, which have caused her considerable pain for a number of years.

“My body was in so much pain and I knew it was not my day. But I didn’t want to drop out; I have dropped out of very few races,” said Akor, a native of Nigeria and a naturalized U.S. citizen. “I didn’t want to think about my situation. I stayed positive and I finished.”

Male results until Deba: