The shape of a race frequently is defined by inclines and declines, the curvature of the course and the tangents the runners follow to save ground.
In Saturday’s Freihofer’s Run for Women, the geometry was much simpler — a tight equilateral triangle that, in the blink of an eye, transformed into a straight line.
Three Kenyan runners, Emily
Chebet, Esther Chemtai and Isabella Ochichi, ran in formation comfortably ahead of the field, then Chebet burst away to win the 35th annual 5k in 15:25 on a hot and humid day that took a toll on the record field of 5,045 entrants.
On a day when times suffered because of the heat, the 27-year-old Chebet made a triumphant return to the Freihofer’s Run after missing the race with a knee injury last year.
She ran the course record (15:12) in 2010.
“This race is very good, but it’s hot and humid, and that’s not good,” she said in halting English.
Chebet made her big move as the three Kenyans made a turn out of the park onto Madison Avenue at the corner of Willett Street, and it was also single-file from there.
Chemtai, 24, finished six seconds behind Chebet, and Ochichi, 33, was two more seconds behind her in 15:33.
It was almost a half-minute before anyone else showed up at the line, 25-year-old Amy VanAlstine, the top American, from Flagstaff, Ariz.
“They went out pretty hard, and usually, I would go out harder,” VanAlstine said. “I wanted to stay at least 20 feet back or so. I knew I would die if I went out with them. I tried to keep them close, but they got away, but I did catch up to the Ethiopian women. It was good that I could stay with them.”
The lead group of seven through the first mile in 5:04 included the Kenyans, an Ethiopian group of Merima Mohammed, Amane Gobena and Zemzem Ahmed, and Diane Nukuri Johnson of Burundi.
The Kenyans gained a little bit of separation through 2k, then were shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder as they wound through the rolling hills past the lake toward Lake Avenue.
Ochichi took a glance back as they turned right onto Western Avenue for a long straightaway, and no one was in contact with the Kenyan group.
They formed a triangle with Chebet outside of Chemtai and Ochichi behind them, and it stayed that way through a 9:30 3k and 10:12 for two miles, about five seconds behind Chebet’s record pace.
They were greeted by a huge, protracted cheer from the back-of-the-packers running in the other direction while winding back through the park, and Chebet subtly asserted herself when they turned onto Madison for the long, straight downhill back to the Empire State Plaza.
“We ran together, and then I said go,” Chebet said.
She put away her rivals by finishing the final kilometer in 2:47 and the final half-mile in 2:04.
VanAlstine worked with Karolina Jarzynska of Poland and was able to catch the Ethiopians to finish fourth in 16:00, followed by Mohammed (16:01), Gobena (16:04), Jarzynska (16:08), Ahmed (16:19) and Alica Kimutai of Kenya (16:29).
Megan Hogan, a 25-year-old former basketball player for Saratoga Central Catholic, was 10th overall and the second American in 16:29, followed by Michelle Frey in 16:30.
“Everyone has to deal with the same environment, and I was happy that I was able to hold it [heat] off,” VanAlstine said. “After the first mile, I thought maybe I went out a little too quick. The Polish woman that was with me, she really helped me out a lot. I just tried to stay with her to the end. Just make it to the finish. Everybody was pretty much hyperventilating during the race.”
None of the elite runners suffered more than Sarah Crouch of North Carolina, who passed out at the finish line after coming in 14th (16:56).
She was carried to the medical tent and revived in a few minutes with ice packs, then was bright and cheerful at the interview tent not long after that.
“It was absolutely brutal,” she said. “I was talking to some of the other girls, and we’re all glad it wasn’t a 10k or a half marathon. Even the elite runners are having medical problems with the heat. You have to accept the fact that your time is not going to be there and you have to just fight for place, because everyone’s dealing with the same condition.”
Chebet earned $10,000 out of the $23,000 purse for open athletes.
The Freihofer’s Run drew over 5,000 entrants for the first time in the history of the race.
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