-- John Itati had this crazy idea about three months ago. Why not try to run a marathon?
Itati is a world-class distance runner, having first mastered the 1,500 meters before adding 5- and 10-kilometer races to his resume. He ran a half-marathon for the first time last month, and finished fourth in the Philadelphia race. Itati's next step was obvious.
So, last month, happy with his training, Itati signed up to run the Baltimore Marathon, and proved to be a quick study. After catching Russian Mikhail Minyukhin after 19 miles, Itati held off fellow Kenyan Fred Getange to win by nearly two minutes in a race-record 2 hours 14 minutes 51 seconds.
"I want to be a marathoner. That's why I wanted to come here," said the 30-year-old Itati, who last month won his fourth straight Pennsylvania Avenue Mile. "I just wanted to try to see what I could do. [My goal was] winning or a top-five [finish] or just feeling good at the end" of the race.
Matching Itati's good feeling was 43-year-old Russian Ramilia Burangulova, who won the women's race by more than a minute in 2:40:21. It was Burangulova's 30th career marathon, and, she guessed, it was her fifth or sixth victory.
Like Itati, Burangulova also approached marathons with a ho-hum attitude. As a 23-year-old cross-country skier, Burangulova was not good enough to compete on the national level. After the birth of her son, Burangulova decided to try running, her longtime hobby.
This was Burangulova's third marathon in the past nine months. She was the women's masters champion at the Boston Marathon in April.
"When she was younger she loved running," said Burangulova's translator, Andrei Baranov. "Even when she was skiing, running was always her first choice" as a sport.
Itati and a trio of other Kenyans -- Getange, Wilson Komen (finished fourth) and Andrew Musuva (fifth) -- ran together while Minyukhin surged to the lead about a quarter-mile into the race.
Two weeks ago, Minyukhin twisted his right ankle when he stepped on a rock while doing speed workouts. His doctor in St. Petersburg advised him not to run Baltimore, but Minyukhin felt it wasn't serious, and set off for Baltimore three days ago.
Minyukhin dominated the first half of the race. He ran three of the first eight miles in fewer than five minutes apiece, and was at least a half-mile ahead of the pack at the 10-mile marker. Occasionally, he peeked behind him, only to find no other runners in sight.
The Kenyans revamped their strategy as Minyukhin pulled farther away.
"There was a time when we couldn't see him, so I told the guys that we needed to close," Itati said. "Then it came to me that it was a full marathon, not a half-marathon."
But when the course turned hilly after Mile 16, the Kenyan quartet could see Minyukhin. Little by little, they erased his margin on North Washington Street, and as they passed Clifton Golf Course.
"He realized the Kenyans went out too slow, and he knew they could accelerate in the second half," said Konstantin Selinevich, Minyukhin's interpreter. "So he wanted to create a gap. He didn't slow down. The Kenyans just sped up and caught him on the hill."
Shortly after Mile 19, Itati took the lead, and his legs were just getting warm. By Mile 21, his lead was seven seconds. The margin doubled by the next mile, and reached 20 seconds by Mile 23. Itati ran Mile 24 in just 4:45.
"Whenever you [turn] a corner, and someone is close to you, that's the time you usually charge and I made up three or five seconds there," said Itati, who finished 1:42 ahead of Getange. "I was comfortable. I didn't realize I was running that fast."
Itati felt a little restless after winning. After most races, he usually runs a little more on his own.
"A 10K I usually finish and then maybe I could run another 5K," Itati said.
"A marathon? That's totally different."