An open field awaits Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run

By Jim Hage
Saturday, April 10, 2010; D03

Although the bloom is already off the signature blossoms, some 15,000 registered runners will take part in the 38th Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run on Sunday morning at 7:30. The race starts and finishes at the Washington Monument, running on Memorial Bridge, Rock Creek Parkway, the Tidal Basin and Hains Point in the interim.

The elite women start first and will be followed 10 minutes later by six waves of approximately 2,500 runners each. Two-time defending women's champion Lineth Chepkurui, from Kenya, is poised to become the first to win three times in a row since Julie Shea did it in 1975-77. Chepkurui, 23, has been running well this spring but must again hold off last year's runner-up, Belaynesh Zemedkun, 22, from Ethiopia.

The men's race is more open, to the point that three-time champion John Korir (2001, '03 and '05) and 2006 winner Gilbert Okari are not the favorites. Although Okari will wear bib No. 1, two 20-year-old Ethiopians, Tilahun Regassa and Lelisa Desessa, are the class of the field. Regassa ran 59 minutes 17 seconds and Desessa 59:59 to finish first and third at January's Zayed Half Marathon in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Local women competing against the fleet international field include Army Ten-Mile winner Samia Akbar, from Herndon; Phebe Ko, from Baltimore; and Susannah Kvasnicka, from Great Falls. Wilson Komen, of Washington; Bert Rodriguez, of Arlington; and Jake Klim, of North Bethesda, will vie for top local honors among the men.

Four-time Cherry Blossom winner Bill Rodgers (1978-81), 62, will run; Rodgers had surgery for prostate cancer in 2008. Another icon in the running world, 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson, 52, will make her Cherry Blossom debut. Samuelson set an age-group record of 2:49:08 when she finished the 2007 Olympic trials marathon.

Ben Beach, from Bethesda, will start -- and barring disaster, finish. Beach, 60, is the only runner to have completed every Cherry Blossom run, which is only a warmup for his effort eight days later, when he will run his 43rd consecutive Boston Marathon.

© 2010 The Washington Post Company