Winner of women's 5K starts run toward Olympic goal

Julie Culley of Arlington, Va., hopes winning yesterday's 5K at the Under Armour Baltimore Running Festival is just the first step toward her goal of competing in the Olympic track and field trials next year.

Culley, a former track and field coach at Loyola College, finished in 16 minutes, 59 seconds, ahead of Hirut Mnadfro of Takoma Park, who crossed the line in 18:12.


"I lived in Baltimore for three years and wanted to do it, but we always had a meet that weekend," said Culley, a Rutgers graduate. "This is the first time I didn't have to travel with a team, so I decided to come up."

Local runners had a good showing in the women's 5K; six of the top 10 finishers live in the metro area. Culley, however, led the race most of the way.


"I was hoping there would have been more people to push me, but I'll take it," Culley said.

On the men's side, Stephen Koech won in 14:47, ahead of fellow Kenyan David Cheromei (14:54). Koech is training to run a full marathon next year.

"The course was very nice. There was a little wind, but not too much," Koech said.

Culley and Koech each earned $500 for their victories.


The men's half-marathon was dominated by two Ethiopians. Girma Tolla took first place in 1:04.27, ahead of Worku Beyi (1:04.34).

Valentine Orare, who set a course record last year in 1:03.45, did not compete this year. Dan Kahn of Baltimore had the best showing among local runners, finishing fifth in 1:14.35.

"The competition was very nice," Tolla said.


Belainesh Zemedkun, a native of Ethiopia who lives in Washington, won the women's half-marathon in 1:14.45, ahead of Nadezhda Trilinskaya of Russia (1:16.54). Cori Koch and Christine Ramsey, both of Baltimore, finished sixth and seventh, respectively.

"I trained hard, and that is why I came in first for this race," Zemedkun said through an interpreter.

Winners of the half-marathon each earned $2,000.

Team relays

Feet First Howard County Striders captured first place in the marathon relay in 2:19.55, almost seven seconds better than Falls Road Running. The Blue Badgers and Team UGOP, both Baltimore-based running teams, finished third and fourth, respectively.

The relay consists of four runners who cover 6.8 miles to 7.3 miles of the course. This was the first year the team relay sold out before race day.


Event is growing

This year's Baltimore Running Festival broke a record for runners with 14,500, compared with 11,919 last year.

Lee Corrigan, head of Corrigan Sports Enterprises, which manages and markets the event, said marketing, sponsorship and word of mouth have helped the event grow.

"We do a good job executing and implementing and showing the runners a good value," Corrigan said. "As they leave, they can get a beer, there are great bands and they are having fun. It's a great event, and word of mouth has helped it spread."

Fine temperatures

Kipchirchir Bitok, a Kenya native who is a doctoral student at Johns Hopkins University for biomedical sciences, was this year's marathon pace-setter through the halfway point. He found the conditions to be windy, but the weather was perfect for most other runners.


It was about 48 degrees at the start of the race. Most race experts said ideal temperatures for a marathon are in the 48- to 58-degree range.

"The temperature of 48 degrees is ideal for running, except when you are from Kenya because that is cold," Bitok said. "It took me awhile to warm up. I slowed down because no one wanted to run with me."

Bitok would like to run a full marathon, but he finds training difficult because of the demands of graduate school.

No major injuries

Marathon organizers were prepared to take extra precautions this week to avoid the problems that marred the Chicago Marathon last weekend. During that race, temperatures reached almost 90 degrees and the race was shut down after dozens of runners were sent to area hospitals. One runner died from a heart ailment.

Even though Baltimore was expecting much milder temperatures yesterday, Corrigan called emergency meetings all week to discuss "worst-case scenarios." There were no major injuries reported from yesterday's race.


"Chicago was a big wake-up call for us, but luckily we are having cooler temperatures," Corrigan said last week. "Still, you have these meetings to ask over and over again, 'What might happen?' Our medical group is awesome."

Et cetera

The Johnny Unitas statue in front of M&T; Bank Stadium was a popular attraction among runners, with many climbing onto its base to have a picture taken. ... With temperatures in the mid-40s yesterday morning, many runners wore black trash bags to keep warm. ... Rima Dubovik, last year's winner in the women's marathon, finished third yesterday. Yirefu Birhanu, last year's men's winner, opted not to run in Baltimore this year, race officials said.