In more ways than one could imagine, Paul Chelimo and Nicholas Kipruto ventured upon nearly identical paths to the final 100-meter stretch of Sunday’s 31st annual Army Ten-Miler.
Both runners were born in Kenya but left home several years ago after receiving full scholarships to attend college in the United States, where they would also be a part of Division I cross-country and track and field programs. After Chelimo graduated from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro in 2014 and Kipruto from the University of New Mexico in 2012, both enlisted in the Army.
They never got an opportunity to run against each other in college, but they did so when their paths crossed at last year’s Army Ten-Miler, in which Kipruto finished fifth and Chelimo 32nd.
On Sunday, Chelimo, 24, and Kipruto, 31, had the luxury of running together as teammates on the All-Army Team, which consisted of seven runners — all of whom are Kenya natives who ran collegiately in the United States before joining the military.
Together, they set the pace, but midway through mile nine a few fell behind. Chelimo and Kipruto emerged around the race’s final turn ahead of everyone. So in these brief moments down the stretch, they were admittedly no longer teammates. They were fierce competitors.
Steps before the finish line, Chelimo burst ahead of Kipruto to claim first place in 48 minutes and 19 seconds.
The official results also list Kipruto’s time as 48:19.
“Just microseconds behind me,” Chelimo said afterward with a smile.
The All-Army Team placed all seven of its runners in the top 15 and claimed all top five spots. Shadrack Kipchirchir, Augustus Maiyo, who won the 2012 Marines Corps Marathon, and Hillary Bor followed up Chelimo and Kipruto to round out the top five.
Emmanuel Bor finished in ninth while Julius Bor placed 14th, 3:30 behind Chelimo.
“The Army told us to work together, work as a group,” Chelimo said. “We worked together till the finish line. Toward the finish line, that’s when we decided who’s gonna go for the win. The strongest guy would go for the win.”
In Kipruto’s mind, he was going to win it all, though his hope failed to materialize.
“When it comes to that last 100 meters, it’s like who really wants it? It comes down to how good you’ve trained for it. At the end of the day, as much we’re teammates, I want to kick your [butt],” joked Kipruto, a supply specialist stationed at Fort Hood in Texas. “In that 100 meters, the last mile, it’s give it all you can.”
After the race, Chelimo, Kipruto and Kipchirchir were honored twice during the award ceremony for ranking as both the top three overall and top three finishers enlisted in the military.
The trio posed for pictures, hoisting their various-sized trophies while some of the race’s 35,000 participants approached to congratulate them.
“Next year he’s gonna get you! I got my money on him,” said one of Kipruto’s comrades from Fort Hood in Chelimo’s direction.
“I didn’t calculate the finish nicely,” Kipruto said afterward. “I didn’t know how fast Chelimo was.”
As part of his first-place winnings, Chelimo was presented with a glass-encased American flag that had flown over the Pentagon — the site of the race’s start and finish line.
“I’m just gonna keep it in my house. It will always remind me of my first Army Ten-Miler title,” Chelimo said. “That’ll keep me going. I’ve got to work to win it next year again. Every time I see the flag, it will remind me I have a lot of work to do to get to the top again. It’s easy to win, but staying up there is not easy.”
Sunday’s Army Ten-Miler marked Chelimo’s final race of the year, he said. Though he’s commissioned as a water treatment specialist at Fort Carson in Colorado, Chelimo spends a lot of time training in Oregon as a member of the U.S. Army World Class Athlete Program and still has his sights on competing in the 2016 Olympics.
“I want to represent the Army in Rio,” he said. “It’d be good for the Army and good for the U.S. if I was able to get to the Olympics.”
Tina Muir, 27, of Lexingon, Ky., was the first-place female finisher with a time of 55:20. Perry Shoemaker, 44, of Vienna, Va., came in second at 57:31, and Stephanie Bryan, 23, of Frederick, Md., finished in 57:46.