Seven-mile mark

"The hills were no problem because ... I am used to it," said Julius Keter, 19 (left). Tekeste Kebede (right) of Ethiopia took second place. (Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston / October 11, 2008)

The Baltimore Marathon this year attracted the most elite class of runners in its eight-year history, and a 19-year-old runner from Kenya put on a historic performance.

Julius Keter won the full marathon yesterday with a time of 2hours, 11minutes, 56seconds that broke the previous record of 2:14:51 set in 2004 by John Itati, also of Kenya. Keter also broke the state marathon record of 2:13:46, set in 1977 by Garry Bjorklund.

Maria Portilla of Peru won the women's marathon with a time of 2:36:32. She finished second in the Baltimore Marathon last year, with a time of 2:36:23, which qualified her for the Olympics in Beijing. This year's race attracted a record 17,922 preregistered runners, and Keter and Portilla each won $18,000 for finishing first.

"I entered the field tired, but now I feel very good," Keter said. "The hills were no problem because I usually train up in the hills. I am used to it. The temperature [low 70s] was no problem."

Keter, Nicholas Kiprono of Uganda and Tekeste Kebede of Ethiopia pulled away from the pack and stayed together for the opening 10 miles. Keter then turned a 41-second lead in Mile 11 into a 2:07 lead by Mile13 through the Inner Harbor.

Mile 16 is historically when the more elite runners take charge and others fall farther behind because of an incline for about four miles. The theme from the movie Rocky blared from a house near the corner of Baltimore Street and Linwood Avenue, and Keter continued his record pace.

By the 19th mile, Keter appeared to begin to struggle, running his slowest mile at 5:24 in Mile 22. However, his pace began to pick up again, and the only question remaining in the final four miles was whether he would break the record.

"This was the best elite field we ever had," said Lee Corrigan, head of Corrigan Sports Enterprises, which manages and promotes the marathon. "It's pretty exciting that Keter won because down the road, that could even give our marathon even more prestige, especially if he goes on to win another event."

Kebede finished second in 2:13:00 and won $10,000, followed by Christopher Kipkering ($6,500), Joseph Mutinda ($4,000) and Nicholas Kiprono ($3,000). Itati finished 10th.

Portilla finished well ahead of second-place Caroline Chepkorir (2:41:48) and Rachel Kinsman (2:44:31). Portilla set a national women's record at the 2008 Olympic marathon in Beijing with a time of 2:35:19 and finished 39th overall.

"I started a little slowly because I felt a little tired," said Portilla, 35. "After the half-mile point, I started to push hard. The course, I love it."

Clay Shaw, who is the marathon's elite athlete coordinator, said that although the marathon is not at the level of the most elite races in New York, Boston, Chicago, London and Berlin, the event has continued to grow and is attracting more talented runners each year.

"There are enough athletes to go around," Shaw said. "With our course, some people do shy away from it because it's got a few hills."

Girma Tolla won the men's half-marathon with a time of 1:04:23 and Yelena Orlova won the women's event in 1:05:24. Abiyot Zere Yohanes of Silver Spring won the men's 5K in 13:53, and Julie Culley, a former track and field coach at Loyola College, won the women's event for the second consecutive year with a time of 15:34.

Falls Road Running won the men's team relay in 2:25:42, and Shorties on Your Left won the women's event in 3:03.42.