Friday, August 23, 2013

Africans rule in Tijuana marathon

Africans rule in Tijuana marathon
By Sandra Dibble July 28, 2013

The starting line during the Third International Marathon and 19th half-marathon in Tijuana on Sunday. - David Maung

TIJUANA - Runners from as far away as Kenya, Argentina and England - and as near as Los Angeles and San Diego - joined crowds of homegrown athletes who raced through some of Tijuana's busiest thoroughfares Sunday.

The city's third International Marathon and 19th half-marathon brought a global flavor to the city's Río Zone as close to 3,000 participants ran courses that began and ended at the foot of a giant statue of Abraham Lincoln.

The early morning event stirred the civic pride of residents celebrating their city's 124th birthday this month, and highlighted Baja California's growing running culture.

"People have learned to respect runners when they train on the city's streets," said Yolanda García Bañuelos, director of Tijuana's Municipal Sports Institute.

A former Mexican national champion runner, she remembers training in Tijuana on dirt tracks and barefoot "because we didn't have special running shoes."

Today, Baja California has two yearly marathons: The Tijuana marathon and the Governor's Marathon held each December in Mexicali, the state capital.

Organizers of the Tijuana event said it is the only one in Latin America with no registration fee. For this year's races, the city offered more than $80,000 in prize money, drawing a cadre of professional African athletes who dominated both the full and half-marathons.

The top prize went to Kenyan Hillary Kimaiyo, who ran the 26.2-mile marathon in two hours, 17 minutes and 26 seconds, while Ruth Chepkoech, also from Kenya, was the top female, completing the marathon in two hours, 49 minutes and five seconds.

In the half-marathon, Kenyan Christopher Kipyego finished in one hour, five minutes and 15 seconds. The top female runner, Belainesh Gebre of Ethiopia, completed the course in one hour, 14 minutes and 16 seconds.

Most of the registered participants, about 2,500, ran in the half-marathon; 485 runners registered for the marathon. Close to 40 percent the runners came from the United States, but the event also attracted athletes from Europe and Latin America, in addition to Africa, said Juan Bujazán, marketing director for the Municipal Sports Institute. The great majority of runners were from Baja California, Tijuana, he said.

The course took participants past some of the city's best-known areas, from the Avenida Revolución shopping district in downtown to the Xolos stadium and the adjacent Caliente Racetrack.

The 6:30 a.m. start shattered the usual Sunday morning stillness of Paseo de los Heroes, the tree-lined main boulevard of the Río Zone, and as the morning wore on the crowds grew to cheer on the runners at the finish line. Some athletes made the sign of the cross, others raised their arms in victory.

Top competitors in the half-marathon from San Diego included Somali-born Ahmed Osman, 25, now a professional runner, and Daniel Farmer, a coach at Torrey Pines High.

"It's a lot of fun, it's different, it feels more intense than a lot of the local races, more competition shows up," said Farmer, an Escondido resident.

The marathon brought Dave Holmen, 52, a software engineer from Minneapolis, to Tijuana for the first time.

The night-before the race, he had his first taste of Mexican pizza with jalapeño peppers. On the night before a race, "I would think that something that spicy wouldn't be your typical choice," he said.

But this was a time for new experiences. "I like running as a way of seeing places," he said. "You see things differently when you're running."

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