PARKERSBURG - The local runners and spectators of Parkersburg caught another glimpse of Kenyan athleticism at the 30th running of the Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon yesterday, with male and female Kenyan elites taking incredible strides to conquer the 13.1 mile trek through the neighborhood. Among those racers, Joan Aiyabei claimed first place as the Road Runners Club of America National Half Marathon champion in the women's category, crossing the finish line at 75 minutes, 33 seconds.
The weather set great conditions for the morning runners, with a 98 percent humidity level and cloudy conditions, sublte sheets of fog and haze rolled across the lower dips and plains of the Parkersburg course. Thankfully, racers managed to fair the course without any rain showers and the temperature stayed an even 75 degrees throughout the trek.
Gloom and haze aside, it was great weather for another Parkersburg News & Sentinel Half Marathon.
Photo by Jeff Baughan
Joan Aiyabei, of Kenya, was the first female to cross the finish line at Saturday’s Parkersburg News and Sentinel Half Marathon. She finished in 1 hour, 15 minutes and 33 seconds.
From the starting line, the female elites of Kenya and Ethiopia trailed only minutes behind the male starters, running in a small pack of six as they rounded the first curve toward Camden Memorial Hospital on Murdoch Avenue.
The small group of runners, including Kenyans Ayabei, Daisy Kimeli, Gladys Kipsoi, Susan Jerotich, Sophy Jepchirchir and Ethiopian Demse Tewabech, stayed in a fairly tight pack as they approached the West Virginia 68 incline toward Blennerhasset Heights Road. As the group passed water stops, Ayabei's sportsmanship shined as she exchanged cups of water and Gatorade with returning racer Jeretich, who claimed 4th place in last year's half marathon. The runners pushed onward as Ayebei and Jerotich exchanged the lead downhill.
But as the group approached West Virginia 95 towards Gihon Road, Ayabei began to gain some distance from her Kenyan cohorts.
As Ayebei trekked across the hilly mounds of Gihon Road, she maintained a pace of 5 minutes and 30 seconds. Kipsoi trailed in second about 100 yards behind the leader, but Ayebei's speed gradually increased the distance between her and her opposition.
As Ayebei crossed onto Camden Avenue, her lead over Kipsoi continued to expand. As the racers reached the turn from the avenue, Ayebei set a 200 yard distance from her opposition. Kipsoi continued to carry second place as Jerotich maintained third.
Ayebei continued to maintain her lead. Once she passed through the 5th Street bridge onto Avery Street, Ayebei stepped up the pace. For the first and only time in the race, the Kenyan runner did a double-take to assure her lead over Kipsoi, who trailed about 300 yards behind.
Ayebei's pace continued relentlessly, showing little sign of slowing against the steep 13th Street hill. Once she finally looped back to Market Street, Kipsoi and Jerotich were hardly visible from Ayebei's lead.
In that final stretch, Ayebei's pace strengthened to assure her victory. She crossed the finish line at 75 minutes, 33 seconds. Kipsoi and Jerotich followed just minutes later.
"The course was really good for me because I usually run half marathons," Ayebei said.
Speaking on the huge lead she gained through Gihon Road and Camden Avenue, Ayebei knew exactly when to up the tempo. "I usually start slowly, but at six miles I was feeling good," she said.
Ayebei said she was beyond pleased with her race result, especially when she wasn't used to the Parkersburg climate. "In Kenya, where I train, it's actually very cool. I was feeling very hot during the race, but it was actually okay for me."
Ayebei is now the defending female champion for the local half marathon, taking the place of 2015 winner Buze Diriba, who was unable to compete this year due to injury. Ayebei said she will return next year to defend her win.