Everyone connected with Sunday’s Buffalo Marathon was a little nervous, considering the tragic events at the Boston Marathon last month. Therefore, an ordinary race was more than welcome.
“Everyone can breathe a sign of relief,” assistant race director Tom Donnelly said as the race wound down late Sunday morning.
In other words, the attention could go where it belonged – on the nearly 6,000 runners. Zerihun Ambaye of Ethiopia took home the men’s marathon title, and Muliye Gurmu of Ethiopia was the women’s winner.
The day’s drama was supplied by the women’s race, one of the closest in recent Buffalo Marathon history. Gurmu defeated Buffalo’s Aileen Hoak by a mere three seconds. Gurmu finished in 2 hours, 51 minutes and 15 seconds.
“I caught the lead runner at mile eight, and she hopped on me like white on rice, which I expected,” Hoak said. “I’m sure she could run in the 2:30s … so I tried to set a game plan and run my own race.”
Throughout the second half of the race, Hoak had the chore of leading the way, cutting into the wind as Gurmu trailed closely behind.
“If I ran eight-minute miles, she’d run eight-minute miles,” Hoak said. “If I stopped at the porta potty, she would have handed me the toilet paper.”
Gurmu took a wrong turn for a few strides near the end, but then put on a burst in the final blocks to win.
The third- and fourth-place finishers, Katie Sanders of Spencerport and Kara Patrick of East Greenbush, have been part of the University at Buffalo’s running program.
“I just graduated, she has two years left at school,” Sanders said. “I’m starting my job soon, so I figured we’d run a marathon first. This was our first marathons.
“She does a lot of mileage, but the most I’ve done is 14. This was a tester. … Maybe I’ll train next year.”
In the men’s race, Ambaye finished in 2:21:48. That was almost 10 minutes ahead of second-place finisher Jason Lokwatom of Kenya, the 2009 winner here. Another four-plus minutes back in third was Steve Bohan of Boston.
Ambaye, who speaks no English, was one of the pre-race favorites. He has a personal best in the marathon of 2:13:21, set about five years ago in Austria.
It was Ambaye’s fastest marathon of the month. He took part in the Pittsburgh Marathon three weeks ago, and finished 10th in a time of 2:21:56 – eight seconds slower than Sunday’s time.
“I think we ran faster than we expected,” Lokwatom said. “At eight miles, he pulled ahead.”
African runners dominate long-distance running, and it didn’t take long for them to take charge Sunday. Corey Levin, a Williamsville native who now lives in New York City, finished eighth. He was impressed by the performance of the leaders.
“I actually got to the line a few minutes late, not that I’m that good anyway,” he said. “But I never even saw them, basically.”
In the half-marathon, Kiplangat Tisia successfully defended his title in the men’s division.
Tisia finished in 1:07:13. Natasha Yaremczuk of Paris, Ont., won the women’s race in 1:19:46, which is a personal best.
The runners started at 7 a.m. in temperatures a bit above 40 degrees with a breeze off the lake. That’s better than extremely hot conditions, but still offered an extra challenge.
“With the cold weather, the wind was difficult today,” Lokwatom said.
“The course was a little hillier than I expected, but I’ve got no complaints about the weather,” Levin said. “It was a little breezier than I would have liked in some stretches, but I’ll take it.”
This year’s Boston Marathon wasn’t far from the minds of anyone connected with the race Sunday.
Security had been raised a few notches from previous races. Several runners sported the temporary tattoos that were handed out in all runners’ packets before the race. The postrace gathering in the Buffalo Niagara Convention Center featured several runners who were wearing Boston Marathon apparel.
“I ran Boston. The way the security was, and the whole moment of silence before the race – this really meant a lot,” said Dean Bell of New York, who finished in 3:07:30. “I finished and was in the area, but I left before the explosions … thank God.”
Melissa Squire of Grand Island said the events in Boston were constantly in the background as she prepared for the Buffalo Marathon.
“Since it happened, all throughout my training, it’s been my focus. It’s on my bucket list to run in Boston,” said Squire, who ran her first marathon Sunday. “It’s been heart-wrenching. To see the running community here is so great. Everyone is cheering for everyone. People who don’t know anyone were cheering for people. It’s just fabulous.”
As for the overall picture, Donnelly was happy to see that no major problems marred the event.
“Safety is always a big issue for us, but usually it’s vehicular traffic,” he said. “This year it was the other issues that caught our attention because of Boston.
“I’m thrilled. We had a record number of runners, and it was a great day for runners. … When you train for so many months, you just hope it’s a day like this.”
If Donnelly is looking for an endorsement of the event, he could consult with Bell.
“I loved it,” Bell said. “They said it was fast and flat, and it was definitely true. Good fan support – a great race.”