The Fourth of July weather was hot, but not as hot as the Kenyans at the 43rd Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race on Wednesday.
Peter Kirui led a Kenyan sweep of the top three in the men’s race with a winning time of 27 minutes, 37 seconds, the fifth-fastest time in race history. Micah Kogo finished second (27:39) and Mathew Kisorio finished third (27:39). It was Kirui’s first Peachtree victory.
Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska won the women’s division, completing the 6.2-mile course in 32:22. It was also her first victory in the race. Kenya’s Lineth Chepkurui finished second (32:23) and yet another Kenyan, Risper Gesabwa, who trains in Marietta, finished third (32:23).
“The race was good,” Kirui, 24, said. “I’m happy to be the winner.”
Eight Kenyans finished in the top 10 of the men’s race, and three of the top 10 spots in the women’s race.
The Kenyan’s dominance, like the warm weather, wasn’t a surprise. What was a surprise was that neither the temperature nor the humidity passed 85 by the time the last runners crossed the finish line. The combination of milder temperatures and cautious runners contributed to no serious medical incidents during the race, according to Dr. Joe Wilson, the event’s medical director. He said there were fewer heat-related illnesses this year than in past year’s and no serious cardiac-related issues.
Start-time temperature at 7:30 a.m. for the men’s race was 71 degrees with 85-percent humidity, similar to last year’s 73-degree start, without the shirt-soaking humidity. The temperature reached 84 degrees with 58-percent humidity at the finish line at 11:45 a.m. in Piedmont Park as crews began breaking down the race’s different structures.
It was, one racer said, pleasant, especially considering the 100-degree temperatures that melted Atlanta last weekend.
“It wasn’t bad, the temperature was good,” said Johnny Buice, 58, a member of the Douglas County Fire Department who ran the race in his outfit. “I don’t know what the humidity is, it feels less … but coming off what we’ve had, those 106s, this is great.”
Atlanta Track Club organizers alerted runners earlier this week to the possibility of high temperatures at the start of the race. Some racers worried that last night’s rain would lead to high humidity Wednesday morning. But many said it felt warmer at the start than at the finish.
“There were some breezes, but it really wasn’t bad, especially considering how it it has been,” Atlanta’s Melinda McGuire said. She was competing in her sixth Peachtree.
To assist the runners, the Atlanta Track Club instituted a color-coded flag system this year to symbolize the changing conditions on the course. The colors of the flags, which were placed throughout the route, ranged from green (conditions are good) to black (extreme and dangerous conditions; the race has stopped). Race director Tracey Russell said on Monday that the race would start under yellow (exercise caution). It changed to red, symbolizing extreme caution, at 9:20 a.m.
Participants said the flag system was helpful.
“I would have liked to have seen an American flag, but the flag system was helpful,” said Andrew Stanforth, who ran the race dressed as “Uncle Sam.” He was competing in either his 236th Peachtree, or his ninth, depending upon if Sam or Andrew answered.
Kirui, the third seed, said conditions were good at the start of the race, but started to warm up 20 minutes in. He said he doesn’t run well in the heat, so he was happy.
Kirui said he learned from a mistake he made in 2010, when he got out in front too fast. The pack eventually caught him by the end. This time, he stayed in the pack until the final 400 meters and won the sprint to the finish line. Kenya’s Sammy Kitwara, the defending champ, finished eighth.
The top finishers in the women’s race seemed to follow the same strategy until Daska outsprinted the other two in the final 200 meters.
“It was too hot to push too soon, but I knew coming to the end I was going to beat them to the finish line,” Daska, 28 and the top seed, said.
This was the first time in the race’s history that the women started before the men’s Open division.
Werknesh Kidane was the defending champ (31:23). She didn’t return to defend her title.
Aaron Gordian won the men’s wheelchair division race and Tatyana McFadden won the women’s division for the third consecutive year.
Gordian, the second seed and a native of Mexico, completed the route, which started at Lenox Mall and ended at Piedmont Park in an unofficial time of 19 minutes, 52 seconds. Gordian, 46, became the oldest wheelchair champ. He also won the race in 2005. Gordian opened a 50-meter lead midway through the race and held off the pack. Krige Schabort was the defending champ (19:47). The course record was 18:36.
“I knew I needed to push more when it’s uphill,” Gordian said. “I said [to myself] ‘This is the moment.’ It’s good for me because I always feel comfortable going uphill.”
McFadden, who recently qualified for five events in the Paralympic Games in London this summer, won in 24:54.
“This course is tough, it’s always tough,” McFadden said. “I had to play to my strengths. My strengths aren’t doing downhill, but they are in climbing. As soon as I knew that first climb was coming I had to hit it hard.”
Jae Yung Hyung won the men’s Masters division (31:21). Sheri Piers won the women’s Masters division (34:38).
“It was a little warm, but it was great,” said Valdosta’s Mark Buescher, who was running the race with his son Carter. “I thought it would be a little hotter. There was a lot of water on the route. It was great.”
Those in the later waves said the conditions weren’t as enjoyable as for those ahead of them, but the race was still fun.
“This breeze helped out, all the cheering on the side, it was perfect,” Acworth’s Vic Rice said.