Li became impressed with both, and Lalang and Kibet starred on Arizona’s cross-country and track and field teams. Then, a few years after they graduated, Lalang and Kibet joined the Army.
On Sunday morning, Lalang and Kibet were the top finishers at the Army Ten-Miler in the men’s and women’s races, respectively. Lalang finished in 48 minutes 38 seconds, while Kibet ran 54:05.
The Army Ten-Miler, celebrating its 35th anniversary, is a 10-mile race that starts and ends near the Pentagon. The race, sponsored by the U.S. Army Military District of Washington, spans Washington. About 35,000 runners participated Sunday, making it the world’s third-largest 10-mile road race, according to event staff.
“This is actually a dream come true for me,” said Kibet, 29. “I came from a very humble background. I came to this country, and so many doors opened up for me. For me, being in the Army is giving back to the community.”
Growing up, Kibet watched two of her older sisters star in track. One of Kibet’s sisters, Sylvia, won a silver medal in the 5,000 meters at the 2009 IAAF world championships. Another sister, Hilda, was one of the world’s fastest 10,000-meter runners in 2009.
Kibet didn’t consider joining them.
“I thought it was their thing,” Kibet said.
That changed when Kibet was 19. Kibet’s sisters explained she could obtain a running scholarship in the United States while getting an education. So Kibet started running. She hated it at first, but after a few weeks, she fell in love with the sport.
After Kibet’s time trial with Li, she said Li was unmoved. But after reviewing video of Kibet running, Li saw potential and offered her a scholarship. She became a six-time all-American before graduating in 2015.
Kibet joined the Army just over a year ago as a financial management technician. She has kept up her training while at Fort Carson in Colorado.
Earlier this year, Kibet cried when she wore her Army race singlet for the first time, honored to represent the military. Racing while thousands of American supporters cheered made Sunday’s win more special for her.
“I was like, ‘I want to be a part of something bigger,’ ” said Kibet, a member of the World Class Athlete Program. “I’m actually running for something.”
Kibet wasn’t just excited about the race. This weekend was her first time visiting Washington, so she planned to view the White House on Sunday afternoon.
“For me, it’s humbling and an honor to be part of this,” Kibet said. “I’ve always dreamed about doing something special.”
Lalang, 28, still trains with Kibet in Colorado. He and his roommate, Benard Keter, entered Sunday’s race aiming to place as the top men’s runners. They accomplished that with ease.
Keter, 27, placed second behind Lalang in 49:04, high-fiving spectators before crossing the finish line. While Keter stuck with Lalang for parts of the race, Lalang said he broke away around the seven-mile mark.
“I was ready for this race,” said Lalang, an Army specialist. “I wanted to challenge myself a little bit. I wanted to show the soldiers running a 10-miler in under five-minute pace is possible.”
Lalang said he has run in competitive races the past 10 years, but Sunday’s was one of the most notable because of the fans’ patriotism. Many competitors ran in honor of late family and friends in the Army, donning their names and faces on shirts.
“When I see those flags,” Lalang said, “it motivates me.”
While humid weather slowed runners the past two years, participants said they benefited from cooler temperatures Sunday. Kibet ran close to 2½ minutes faster than last year’s women’s winner.
Hannah Cocchiaro of Columbia, Md., and Maura Linde of Sykesville, Md., rounded out the women’s top three finishers. MacDonard Ondara of Lakewood, Wash, placed third in the men’s race.