PARKERSBURG - It has been quite a summer for Kenyan Cynthia Limo.
The 24-year old, who now calls Lansing (Mich.) home, added yet another championship to her belt when she held off fellow Kenyans Lilian Mariita, Sophy Jepchirchir and Susan Jerotich over the final three miles to capture the 28th annual News and Sentinel Half Marathon Saturday morning.
"I am very, very happy to win this race," said Limo, who covered the 13.1-mile course in 1 hour, 11 minutes and 11.2 seconds. "I came here today to win and I did so I am very satisfied."
Limo began her professional career in the United States by establishing a new course record of 25 minutes and 46 seconds to win the Fifth Season Health Solutions 8K in Cedar Rapids. She followed that effort with another victory at the Steamboat Classic in downtown Peoria (Ill.) 10 days later, where her winning time of 20 minutes and 75 hundredths of a second was nearly two minutes ahead of runner-up Marion Cherop, also from Kenya.
Saturday's race would be much closer.
"I knew I would face a challenge," continued Limo. "When we got to the 11-mile mark I decided it was time for me to make a move. I am glad I did because then we came to that last hill (13th Street) and that allowed me to open up my lead for the final mile."
The race began as most with a large pack of 12 runners battling for position at the 1-mile mark. Included in that group were Limo, who has run a personal best of 1 hour, 9 minutes and 40 seconds at the distance, Kenyans Mariita, Mary Wangechi, Ann Wanjiru, Jane Njeri, Jerotich, Sepchirchir, and Joyce Kandi, Ethiopian Mahlet Behailu and American Serena Burla.
By the 2-mile mark, the pack had dwindled significantly with only Mariita, Limo, Wangechi, Wanjiru, Jerotich and Jepchirchir remaining in contention. Two more runners dropped off the pace by the end of the next mile and it was pretty much guaranteed that a Kenyan would take home the first place prize of $3,000 for the first time since Hellen Jemutai captured the race in 2009.
"Many of us run the same races so I had run against them before," said Limo. "When we got to the part of the course where the road goes up and down (Gihon Road), I decided it would be best to just keep pace and not try and push it too fast."
That strategy would see the four-Limo, Mariita, Jerotich and Jepchirchir-basically run stride for stride over the next four miles before the 27-year old Jerotich fell off the pace as the group came to the end of Rayon Drive.
With the race coming down to the final trio of Limo, Mariita and Jepchirchir as they came down to Old Camden Avenue and then back onto W.Va. 95 it became apparent that a move would not be made as each took turns leading the group until Limo broke away when the race crossed into the 1-hour time span.
"I saw that she (Limo) was trying to break away, but I did not have it today to go with her," said Mariita. "She is a very tough runner. The course is very, very tough. I ran as well as I could today."
Second place went to Mariita in a time of 1 hour, 11 minutes and 27.9 seconds with Jepchirchir finishing third in 1:11:35.2. Rounding out the top four was Jerotich with a time of 1:12:30.
Limo's time was less than a minute off of the course record of 1 hour, 10 minutes and 19 seconds established by Ethiopia's Mare Dibaba in 2010 and may be the reason why the Kenyan may elect to return in 2015.
"I was that close (to setting a new course record)?" said Limo. "I will plan to come back next year and make sure that I break it."
Capturing the Masters' Division title was 43-year old Russian Lyubov Denisova with a time of 1 hour, 22 minutes and 4.9 seconds. Second place went to Monroeville, Pa.'s Tammy Slusser (1:32:13.1).
The Grand Master championship went to 52-year old Sherry Martin of West Alexander, Pa. (1:28:49.3) while Janalee Stock from Athens won the Senior Grand Masters with a time of 1:42:12.0.