Erick Kimayo met Charles Kamindo, a fellow countryman from Kenya, yesterday morning at Camden Yards. They warmed up together for Baltimore's Comcast Marathon, then raced shoulder to shoulder for 21 miles, until the elder Kimayo ran away and hid with a royal performance near the castle on the hill - aka City College.
Kimayo's triumphant sprint down 33rd Street and through Charles Village punctuated the second annual Baltimore Running Festival, as he finished in 2 hours, 17 minutes, 43.4 seconds, more than two minutes ahead of Kamindo.
Elvira Kolpakova of Russia repeated on the women's side, as she took command in the fourth mile with a move that overtook Ruxton's Lee DiPietro. A revamped course was advertised as flatter and faster, and Kolpakova's time of 2:50:00.7 was two minutes better than the one she posted last year.
In near perfect conditions for a marathon, many returnees posted dramatic improvements. The 2001 field was more than double the size, however, and numbers were down across the board, from elite to novice. Whereas 50 men broke three hours last year, only 22 did in a footrace that began north of Oriole Park and finished north of Ravens Stadium.
What yesterday's race lacked in depth, it compensated with suspense.
Kimayo, 33, is a Fila employee who ranked 10th in the world after a marvelous campaign in 1997. Kamindo, who was listed on the early entries as Charles Njeru, moved to Kennesaw, Ga., earlier this year from his home in Nyahururu. The two animatedly spoke in their native tongue before and after, but something got lost in translation during the 26-mile, 385-yard test.
The Falls Road Running Store, also backed by Fila, stacked a group of locals for the race within the race, the Geico Direct Team Relay. Dave Berardi, a veteran of area road racing, found Kimayo drafting behind him for much of the first five miles. It wasn't until the 6.4-mile mark, when Berardi handed his timing chip off to Craig Morrell, that the meaning of the capital "R" on some backs came clear.
"I thought that the 'R' on his back stood for rabbit," said Kimayo, referring to the practice of pacesetters. "Those guys [the Falls Road team] helped us quite a bit."
Morrell escorted the two Kenyans and Russian Sergey Nochevny through the next 7.9 miles, to the second relay exchange at the Inner Harbor. Chris Chattin took over for Falls Road Running and pushed the next 3.4 miles, a surge that broke Nochevny, who fought a calf cramp all day and took third in 2:30.18.
Kimayo and Kamindo gauged the relay team after the final exchange, and when a fresh Joel Brusewitz wasn't up to the 5:08 split they churned in the 19th mile, it was mano a mano.
The opening stretch was uphill, and Kimayo was content to dawdle with a lead pack that covered the first three miles in 16:54. After he finally broke Kamindo, Kimayo ran the 22nd, 23rd and 24th miles in 14:55. That stunning bit of closing was set up by a 5:17 mile that sounds pedestrian until elevation is considered.
Kimayo and Kamindo climbed approximately 100 feet as they passed through Clifton Park and screamed up the Alameda. When they turned on to 33rd Street, Kamindo was done and Kimayo had his first marathon victory in five years. After Nochevny, Sean Dinces of the Naval Academy and former Glen Burnie High and University of Maryland standout Chris Ciamarra rounded out the top five.
"He's a 2:07 guy, I'm a 2:17 guy," Kamindo said of Kimayo's credentials. "He [Kimayo] is a very formidable competitor. I've looked up to him since I was in high school."
DiPietro had been eyeing Kolpakova since the inaugural Baltimore Marathon. A lingering injury forced DiPietro to withdraw from that race, and she watched the start on television from her home, "with tears rolling down my eyes."
DiPietro, 44, took the early lead yesterday but then surrendered it to Kolpakova coming out of Druid Hill Park. The 30-year-old, who grew up in a town near the Ural Mountains, won a major 100-kilometer (62-mile) test in Europe last month. She jetted in from Moscow on Thursday and was sniffling with a cold, but still ruled Baltimore for the second straight year.
The runner-up, DiPietro came through in 2:50.00. Heading into Patterson Park in the 18th mile, she left behind Olga Nikolaeva, another Russian, who wound up fifth. Amy Pyles of Hummelstown, Pa., and Baltimore's Denise Knickman made it four women under three hours.
Will Kolpakova, who speaks no English, be back for a shot at a third straight title in Baltimore?
"Yes," she told Nochevny, the man who finished third. "She said last year was very good. This year, she says the conditions are perfect. She likes running in America."