Kenyan wins half marathon as leg of race returns to Westport
Although he was neck-and-neck with a fellow Kenyan, when Eric Chirchir hit the 10-mile post of Sunday's Stratton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon, he knew he was going to win.
Sure enough, the 29-year-old runner was right.
Chirchir pulled away from Shadrack Kipkorir Kiyai over the final 1.1 miles, winning the 33rd-annual race with a time of 1:05.58.
"After like 10 miles, I was sure I would win," Chirchir said. "I was looking at [Kiyai], and I knew I could go at the same pace as I came in, and I can just pull in the last mile."
On a hot, humid morning that took a toll on runners over the 13.1-mile course, Kiyai was second, 17 seconds behind Chirchir at 1:06.15.
Another Kenyan, Amos Sang placed third, 30 seconds behind Kiyai at 1:06.28. Ethiopian Girma Bekele was fourth with 1:06.50.
Christopher Zablocki of Essex was Connecticut's top finisher, coming in seventh overall in 1:08.39 -- 2 minutes, 41 seconds off the winning pace.
Tesfaye Girma, last year's champion, finished 12th.
Newtown's Kevin Hoyt was the top Fairfield County finisher, taking 13th place -- 1 minute, 16 seconds behind Girma.
Ethiopia's Tigist Tufa was the top female runner, placing 16th overall with a time of 1:15.24. Stratford's Laura Sara was Fairfield County's first female to finish, placing fourth among the women and 30th overall with a time of 1:21.00.
"The last part was not pretty," Sara said. "It was a lot harder, and it was hot. But it was really well organized, and I think they took out one of the big hills, which was nice."
Christopher Barrett was the top Fairfield finisher. The 26-year-old placed 35th and posted a personal-best time of 1:21.39.
"It was awesome," Barrett said. "There were a lot of people out on the course. It was just great."
Tom Harding was Westport's top finisher, placing 52nd with a time of 1:24.47.
Chirchir, Kiyai, Sang and Bekele ran in a pack for about five miles, as the route meandered through Sasco Hill and into Westport for approximately three miles.
Chirchir led with a 29:01 time after six miles, then he and Kiyai pulled ahead. They even passed the police escort and press truck, which were momentarily stalled on Westport's exclusive Beachside Avenue when a motorist in a Porche wandered onto the course.
The Kenyans ran side-by-side through mile 12, until Chirchir kicked in the afterburners -- sprinting ahead and crossing the finish line ahead of Kiyai by 17 seconds.
"I was trying to push," Kiyai said. "But I didn't have any energy anymore."
The hilly course stretched into Westport for the first time in 12 years. Miles 5 through 8 looped through Westport's Greens Farms area and offered scenic views of Long Island Sound as the courses headed back toward cheering crowds in Southport and Fairfield.
"I love the old course, but this one is good too," Barrett said. "It got a little quiet out by Greens Farms Academy, but other than that, you get a lot of crowd support coming back into Fairfield."
Chirchir lauded the course, saying "it reminds me of my home in Kenya." Still, like Sara, the winner admitted he was worn down by the intense heat and humidity.
"The weather was not nice," Chirchir said. "It was hot, humid, and I was not feeling comfortable."
With 80-plus-degree heat and bright sun, there were multiple police-radio transmissions about runners in distress. Fairfield Assistant Fire Chief Chris Tracy said there were "heat-related injuries, but nothing out of the ordinary."
Twelve people were treated for dehydration, and five of them were transported to the hospital, race officials said.
Sara, a 2010 Bunnell High graduate who is a long-distance runner and just finished her junior season at UConn, was impressed by the pace. She ran the race in 2010 and averaged a 6:50 mile but posted a 6:11 average mile this year.
"We went out really fast, too fast for me," Sara said. "I was definitely feeling it after mile 8. I wasn't sure I was going to finish it, but I did."
Other top finishers from Westport included Charles Crofts (178th, 1:35.45), Graham Corneck (240th, 1:38.30), Alan Martin (253rd, 1:38.44), Bruce Geller (258th, 1:38.58) and Georgian Marcu (296th, 1:40.22). Jamie Wittendale (349th, 1:42.05) was the top female finisher from Westport.
Stratton Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon (13.1 miles)
1. Eric Chirchir, Kenya 1:05.58
2. Shadrack Kipkorir Kiyai, Kenya 1:06.15
3. Amos Sang, Kenya 1:06.28
4. Girma Bekele, Ethiopia 1:06.50
5. Getachew Asfaw, Ethiopia 1:06.56
6. Robert Wambia Mbithi, Kenya, 1:08.12
7. Christopher Zablocki, Essex, 1:08.39
8. Birhanu Tadesse, Ethiopia, 1:09.57
9. Sam Morse, Camden, N.Y., 1:10.27
10. William Sanders, Wethersfield, 1:11.24
11. Thomas Young, Old Lyme, 1:11.29
12. Tesfaye Girma, Ethiopia, 1:11.33
13. Kevin Hoyt, Newtown, 1:12.49
14. Matt Klein, Trumbull, 1:13.02
15. Julian Saad, Trumbull, 1:14.17
16. Tigist Tufa, Ethiopia, 1:15.24
17. James Rosenberger, Thomaston, 1:17.01
18. Steve Flanagan, Providence, R.I., 1:17.28
19. Chris Repecki, West Harrison, N.Y., 1:17.44
20. Tisia Kiplangat, Kenya, 1:17.44
21. Kalvin Nyambene, 1:17.46
22. Michael Johnston, Darien, 1:17.47
23. Askale Merachi, Ethiopia, 1:17.50
24. Heidi Westover, Walpole, N.H., 1:18.43
25. James McKirdy, New Britain, 1:18.49