Stephen Sambu very well could be the best road runner in the world right now, and he showed just how dominant he can be this morning by crushing the field at the 42nd Annual New Balance Falmouth Road Race. The 26-year old Kenyan, who is a graduate of the University of Arizona, led nearly wire-to-wire to take home his first Falmouth championship in his first try at the iconic Cape Cod course.
Sambu finished the race with the fifth-fastest winning time in course history, finishing with a time of 31 minutes and 46 seconds. With warm temperatures around 74 degrees at the start of the race at 9 AM in Woods Hole, and high humidity, the conditions were not good for a run at Gilbert Okari’s 10-year old course record. Okari won the 2004 race in 31:08.
The win marked the fourth in a row by a Kenyan in Falmouth. Countryman and two-time champ Micah Kogo, who won last year’s race, finished second overall. He was well behind Sambu, though, as Kogo was playing catch-up the entire second half of the race and crossed the finish line in 32:31.
From the get-go, Sambu made it clear that he was the man to beat. American Ben Bruce charged hard off the starting line and set a quick pace, but he knew that his time at the front of the pack would be short-lived. Bruce said that as soon as Sambu pulled ahead of him, as the runners made the first turn of the day onto Church Street in Woods Hole, he knew who was going to be the favorite.
At Church Street the race was already down to just six contenders, and Sambu methodically whittled down his competition by running a fast, steady pace that no one else could match in the end. Once they spun past Nobska Light and headed down Nobska Road the pack began to struggle. By the 1.5-mile mark, just four men were out front: Sambu, Kogo, Emmanuel Bett and Kennedy Kithuka.
Kithuka was the first of the challengers to fall off. He was out of contention by the time the runners hit Surf Drive. By the end of the Surf Drive stretch, so were Kogo and Bett.
Just after the four-mile mark, Sambu dropped the hammer and challenged the rest to keep up with him. They couldn’t. The eventual champion ran by himself from the turn onto Shore Street until the finish line.
Bruce finished as the top American, breaking the finish line with a time of 33:21, which was good for fourth overall. He was followed by newcomer to the racing scene, Andrew Colley, who placed fifth overall in 33:27. Falmouth Mile record holder Jordan McNamara ran extremely well and was the third American, finishing sixth overall, with a time of 33:47.
The fasted time by a resident of Falmouth was turned in by 19-year old Connor Cobb. The former Falmouth High runner finished in 40:57, which will earn him the Margaret Bradley Award.
The women’s race was much closer. Kenyan Betsy Saina was neck and neck with Brit Gemma Steel for most of the race. A pack of eight lead runners slowly whittled down to just those two at the bottom of the final hill on Falmouth Heights Road.
Saina had never won a race before, and said that before the start of the race she had promised herself that it would be her day. She followed through on that promise by using her speed up the hill to open up some distance. She crossed the finish line in 35:56, finishing with the fifth fastest winning time in women’s race history.
Steel was unable to keep pace up the hill, and had to settle for second place. She crossed in 36:03. Molly Huddle, of Providence, was the first American female to finish. She was third overall, finishing with a time of 36:15.
Falmouth resident Anne Preisig finished in 45:41, which was the top time of any full-time female Falmouth resident. Dana Giordano, a part-time Woods Hole resident, ran 42:43.
It was a fast, fast day for the wheelchair competitors in the 40th running of the race for them. American James Senbeta, of Champaign, Illinois, went out hard from the get-go and said that he wasn’t concerned about records, but was targeting a fast time. The third time in the FRR proved to be the charm for him, as he broke Krige Schabort’s six-year-old course record, flying through in a time of 23:32.
Sebeta said he heard someone near the end of the race say something about going for the record, but that the last uphill had his concentration firmly set on just getting to the finish line. The fact that he did indeed break the old record left him smiling.
“It’s awesome. To beat Krige’s record, in only my third try here, awesome,” he said.
Tatyana McFadden charged out to a win in the women’s race, blazing by any of her competitors. She was the fourth wheelchair finisher overall.
McFadden, whose upper body rivals an NFL linebacker’s, raced hard from start to finish. She clocked a winning time of 27:06, a full minute faster than the previous top mark, which had been set in 1991 by Candace Cable.