To get an idea of how competitive the field was in yesterday's 18th annual Constellation Classic 10K at the Inner Harbor, all you have to do is compare the finishing times with last year's.
Defending champion Kevin Ruch, who ran 30 minutes, 47 seconds last year, ran a 29:50 but wound up third in this year's race. Thirteen men ran sub 31-minute races this year, and Ruch, along with winner Khalid Kairouani (29:18), second-place Chris Fox (29:20) and fourth-place Earl Stoner (29:53), ran sub-30 minutes.
And Kairouani's time was only eight seconds off Randy Thomas' 10-year-old event record of 29:10.
Among the women, defending champion Misti Demko, 25, of Hershey, Pa., was almost a minute quicker than Oriole Advocates 8K and Lady Avia Classic winner Stacey Nicholson of Baltimore.
"It [this year's race] was different only in that it was a lot cooler and that I led from the start," said Demko. "Last year, it took me about four miles to catch Stacey."
Demko, who with a 32:50 had one of the top American times in last week's Revco-Cleveland 10K, ran the Constellation in 33:59.
Demko, who improved her personal record by 68 seconds in Cleveland, received $600 for her Constellation finish and Nicholson $350.
"I told my wife at the start that, given who was here, I was realistically trying for third," said Ruch, 28, of Camp Hill, Pa. "I kind of thought Chris and Khalid were the class of the field.
"It's much more satisfying getting third against a field like this than it was winning last year. My wife enjoys the money more, but I was pleased."
For their efforts, Kairouani, a Moroccan living in Astoria, N.Y., and running on the American road-racing circuit, received $600; Fox $350 and Ruch $200.
Ruch said that he ran the quickest first mile that he is capable of and still found himself behind at the first split.
"I had run against Kairouani at Broad Street [10-miler in Philadelphia] three weeks ago," said Ruch. "I ran my best time [48:09 for 10 miles] there and I was still behind by a minute.
"Here I went the fastest I was willing to go and they [Kairouani and Fox] were still ahead by two or three seconds at the mile. I thought I would pick up Chris or the Moroccan if they came back to me, but obviously, that didn't happen."
Said Fox, a Hagerstown resident and former Constellation winner who was not able to out-kick Kairouani in the race to the finish on Key Highway: "I'm never satisfied to get out-kicked like that. I just settled in and thought I could beat him on a kick but I got fooled.
"I thought I was coming down for an average race, but with Khalid coming down, that just changed the whole complexion of the race."
Kairouani and Fox brought with them the credentials that said they wouldn't come back to the rest of the field that included Stoner, who is being coached by Fox, and former Constellation winner John Doub (ninth, 30:38), 36, of Waynesboro, Pa.
Kairouani was second last September in the Philadelphia
Half-Marathon, probably the premier half in America, and ran a 47:13 at Broad Street.
Fox was the fifth American and 10th overall finisher in last week's Bay to Breakers 12K in San Francisco. Earlier this month, he won the first leg of the West Virginia Grand Prix.
"I haven't been able to come down [to Baltimore] lately," Fox said, "because I'm usually running someplace else that weekend."
"Last year, I was the only guy under 31 minutes," Ruch said. "That was a reflection of last year's hot and humid weather and the fact that this field was going to bring out the best in each other. We knew everyone was going to run better than the year before."
' The top finishers:
1. Khalid Kairouani, 27, Astoria, N.Y. 29:18
Chris Fox, 34, Hagerstown 29:20
3. Kevin Ruch, 28, Camp Hill, Pa. 29:50
Earl Stoner, 24, Hagerstown 29:53
5. Jim Hage, 35, Lanham 30:02
6. Jeff Cannada, 27, Columbia 30:21
7. Douglas Walter, 25, Chambersburg, Pa. 30:30
8. Doug Mock, 26, Bowie, 30:30
9. John Doub, 36, Waynesboro, Pa. 30:38
10. Brad Uhlfelder, 32, Owings Mills 30:48
11. Ken Fowler, 27, Baltimore 30:52
12. Des Proctor, 25, Richmond, Va. 30:53
13. El-Mostafa Nechchad, 30, Norristown, Pa. 30:54
14. Scott Frampton, 22, Reisterstown 31:21
15. Jim McKeon, 31, Baltimore 31:28
16. Tim Schuler, 29, Lancaster, Pa. 31:30
17. Jack Peach, 27, Baltimore 31:32
18. Chris Pass, 25, Boiling Springs, Pa. 31:34
Robert Schlau, 45, Charleston, S.C. 31:45
20. Mark Gilmore, 25, Westminster 31:51
1. Misti Demko, 25, Hershey, Pa. 33:59
Stacey Nicholson, 29, Baltimore 34:57
3. Cricket B-Shakle, 29, Collingswood, N.J. 35:08
4. Charlotte Thomas, 35, Baltimore 35:55
5. Carol Schultze, 38, Bethesda 36:18
6. Bea Marie Fritsch, 26, Baltimore 36:20
7. Donna Moore, 32, Kensington 36:36
8. Maureen Hall, 28, Baltimore 36:56
9. Vicki Lang, 24, Columbia 37:40
10. Dianna Miller, 40, York, Pa. 37:59
11. Kimberlee Burns, 34, Winchester, Va. 38:04
12. Linda Wack, 37, Germantown 38:18
13. Barb Willig, 30, Kingsville 38:35
14. Robyn Humphrey, 29, Ellicott City 38:44
15. Pat Keeney-Ryan, 31, Clarkville 38:56
16. Nadine Taylor-Tolbe, 36, Gaithersburg 39:01
17. Jenny Caple, 27, Westminster 39:09
18. Susie Kinnecome, 29, Bethesda 39:18
19. Marny Gilluly, 43, Washington 39:20
20. Marge Rosasco, 45, Joppa 39:29
Wheelchair division Open
1. Steve Lietz, Salisbury 25:37
1. Ron Sondgregger, Reston, Va. 44:10