Kenyetta Iyevbele lowered her head and spread her arms out to the side as she crossed the finish line Sunday morning at the inaugural Navy Mile on Pennsylvania Avenue. Waiting for her as she looked up moments later were several family members rushing over to embrace her for winning the elite women’s division in 4 minutes 52.34 seconds.
It was Iyevbele’s first road race.
“Probably about three-fourths of the way in I knew I had to pick it up and close in really strong,” Iyevbele said while catching her breath shortly after the race. “I kind of was like, ‘Tuck in and finish really strong.’ ”
Former Georgetown all-American Rachel Schneider finished second (4:54.55), and 19-year-old Weynshet Weldetsadik, who arrived in the District from Ethiopia last week, took third (4:56.06).
Sam Penzenstadler, a recent graduate from Loyola University in Chicago and two-time sub-four-minute miler, won the elite men’s title in 4:16.07. Diriba Yigezu of Ethiopia was second (4:16.76), and Virginia Tech and Potomac Falls alum Ryan Hagen finished third (4:17.00).
Both champions took home $2,500 in prize money for winning the event, which kicked off the U.S. Navy’s 240th birthday week.
Windy and chilly conditions from Hurricane Joaquin contributed to the sparse crowd along the course, which finished between the U.S. Navy Memorial and National Archives building in Northwest, but around 500 total runners in different age groups showed up to compete.
Iyevbele, an all-American in the 800 meters at North Carolina State, arrived Friday afternoon and toured the city in preparation for the race. A recent college graduate, Iyevbele, 23, has been working full time at a pharmaceutical company in Raleigh, N.C., and does not have a race sponsor.
“It takes a lot of discipline. [But] I love it.” Iyevbele said, before adding that she hopes the win will help her land a sponsor.
She used her sprinter’s speed to outkick her opponents with about 300 meters to go, and there was no one within striking distance as the course narrowed and the cheers grew louder close to the finish line.
Penzenstadler, 23, used a similar tactic in the men’s race. With a strong headwind in the first half of the race, he had planned to stay even with the front pack before separating with 400 meters to go.
“I think everyone sprinted a little early because I was wiped towards the end,” he said. “Maybe at the [1,200-meter mark] everyone just kicked it in. I guess I just had a little bit extra left.”
Penzenstadler moved to Arlington last month to train with the recently founded Athletics East running club led by American University coaches Matt Centrowitz and Tom Brumlik. The Oshkosh, Wis., native has won back-to-back road races in the D.C. area after breaking the Clarendon Day 5K course record last week.
“Out of road races, this one was the best one so far,” he said. “I like running the mile. Miles are more fun to run than 5Ks to me.”
Dixon Hemphill of Fairfax Station also had a race to remember. The 90-year-old World War II veteran received the loudest cheers of the day as he crossed the finish line in 14:49.49.
The oldest competitor in the field, Hemphill started running at age 50 and nearly had his running career ended after a serious bike accident 16 years ago. Since then, Hemphill, a member of the Potomac Valley Track Club, is a regular in local road races and continues to compete in Masters track and field championships.
For Hemphill, there was a personal connection to the Navy Mile, which benefited the Naval Sea Cadet Corps, the Safe Harbor Foundation and the Navy Memorial.
“It’s a real special thing to run a Navy course,” said Hemphill, who served in the U.S. Navy. “I really hope they keep it going.”