Sam Chelanga waited patiently before making his move Sunday morning at the 44th annual Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run . For more than six miles in windy and chilly race conditions in Washington, Chelanga was content with staying among the lead pack of 10 runners.
But when Kenya’s Silas Kipruto made a charge to the front at the straightway stretch at Hains Point, Chelanga followed inches behind. Kipruto zigzagged through the street for several yards in attempt to shake Chelanga, but it was no use. Chelanga had him where he wanted.
“It’s just a game that guys play. They don’t want somebody following them because they know you are creeping on them,” Chelanga said. “But I just thought, ‘You know what, it’s fair game. I can’t just push right now and go to the front because I’m not ready.’ ”
The strategy worked for Chelanga, who sprinted to the finish line to win his first 10-mile road race in the District in 48 minutes 26 seconds. Kipruto was second in 48:27, followed by former Syracuse standout Martin Hehir (48:29 ) in third.
A Kenya native and former all-American at Liberty University, Chelanga, 31, became a naturalized U.S. citizen in August. His victory Sunday marked the first time an American man had won the event since Chris Fox in 1990.
“I think there’s a potential to break the American record here,” Chelanga said of the U.S. 10-mile record of 46:13, set in 1983. “I’m going to come back. I think I’m going to take that thing down, too.”
Because of the wind advisory in Washington, the race was forced to make several adjustments for the approximately 15,000 runners, including combining the elite men’s and women’s start times.
It was a move that ended up benefiting Kenya’s Veronica Nyaruai Wanjiru, who paced with a few of the elite men for the majority of the race to win the women’s division in 53:12. Ethiopia’s Buze Diriba (53:20) was second, and Silver Spring’s Maegan Krifchin (54:59) finished third.
“I was very strong today,” Wanjiru, 26, said, “but I was really freezing. My hands couldn’t move because of the cold. My eyes were in tears.”
Krifchin, 27, did not know she was running in the race until Saturday night. The heavy wind worried Isaya Okwiya, the coach of the Maryland-based Riadha running team that includes Krifchin, but he figured his runners would be better served competing in a race with other people instead of trying to tough out a workout on their own.
Krifchin and teammate Serena Burla, who was the second American female finisher and sixth overall, had just run a hard hill-repeat workout Friday, so the expectations were low for the race.
“It was kind of exciting,” said Krifchin, who finished seventh at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Los Angeles in February. “It was a little bit out of the typical race mentality, but I think it kind of takes away a little bit of that pressure as athletes that we put on ourselves. . . . It was just thrilling and exciting, and I ran my own kind of race and put myself in the mix.”
Perhaps the most popular runner all day, though, was nowhere near contention. Olympian Meb Keflezighi, who finished in 1:00:41, came to the District to check the race off his bucket list and act as a pacer for the six-minute-mile group.
After a late start because of interview requests, Keflezighi was off and running with the amateurs, interacting with fans and handing out advice to anyone who asked. It’s an experience he enjoys and one he hopes to continue.
“I thought it was wonderful,” Keflezighi said. “To be able to run with the people, they appreciate it a lot more. . . . I would love to keep coming back.”