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Kenyan overcomes heat, countryman to take Shelter Island 10K

Kenya-born Linus Kiplagat literally ran away with the 39th annual Shelter Island 10K race, finishing ahead of his countryman Isaac Mukundi by more than a minute and a half.

The 23-year-old Lansing, Michigan resident broke away from Mr. Mukundi, 30, at the two-mile mark and was never challenged, breaking the tape at 29:45.03.

Ethiopia-born Birtukan Fente Alemu, also a Lansing resident, was the first woman to finish, running the Island’s 10K in 33:40.36.

Mr. Kiplagat and Ms. Alemu each claimed a  $1,000 top prize.

Clearly exhausted, Mr. Kiplagat slowed a few steps before crossing the finish line. Just minutes before, all eyes had been turned to the spot where the course leads from Bateman Road onto the Fiske Field grass to see his bright yellow shirt emerging from the trees as he ran alone, making a final kick that lasted until just a few feet from the tape.

Asked a few seconds after crossing the line about his victory, the runner, with hands on knees and head bowed, dripping with sweat, said, “Hot.” He then caught his breath, smiled, and said, “But not too hot. I won.”

With more than 600 official entries, the Island’s premier sporting event had started in bright sunshine but soon high clouds drifted in turning the day overcast and humid with a temperature just above 80 degrees.

Several runners after the race at a tent set up dispersing water, orange slices and other reviving snacks said the late afternoon start had allowed the sun to bake the pavement all day. They could feel the heat rising from the pavement as they pounded along the roads and lanes of the Island.

“Lucky 13,” someone said after congratulating Mr. Kiplagat, commenting on his official bib number, but luck had nothing to do with it. On the elite road running circuit this season, Mr. Kiplagat has been racking up 10K victories. In the three weeks before his run on the Island, Mr. Kiplagat won 10Ks in Litchfield and Middletown, Connecticut and Huntsville, Alabama. He set the course record in the Litchfield race.

The first Shelter Island man across the finish line was Gary Baddeley — who took that honor for the second consecutive year — and the first Island woman was 17-year-old Shelter Island School track and cross country star Lindsey Gallagher.

Mr. Mukundi, who is a friend of his countryman, congratulated the winner immediately after the race, saying, “At two miles he just took off,” recalling that they had run shoulder to shoulder until Mr. Kiplagat broke away.

Also living in Lansing, he noted that he’s been travelling and competing with his friend in races this season. “I’ve been chasing behind him for a month,” he said, smiling.

Why Lansing is a center of running in America is partly due to Owen Anderson, an author of several books on the sport of running. Mr Anderson, who has running camps in Lansing and Kenya, is the coach of  Saturday’s number one and two finishers and was on hand for the race.

Ms. Alemu said the heat had affected her more that she had expected, but the beauty of the course and the cheers from Islanders gathered in groups inspired her to push toward victory.

She said “my true passion is the steeplechase,” but any kind of road racing spurs her competitive nature. One of the most respected women runners in the world, she’s run races from Shanghai to Stockholm and represented her country in the 3,000 meter steeplechase chase at the World Championships in 2011 and 2015.

Cliff Clark, who has kept the tradition of road running alive on the Island, was in the press truck ahead of the pack doing play by play with Mr. Anderson.

He also mentioned the race’s conditions. “Not a comfortable day for running,” Mr. Clark said. “But a comfortable day for watching.”

Early in the race, near St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, Mr. Mukundi and Mr. Kiplagat had broken from the pack and were running side-by-side, Mr. Clark said. But at 3 miles, Mr. Kiplagat “upped the tempo,” and steadily pulled away. By the 5-mile mark he had a quarter mile lead that was too much for his countryman to overcome.

One reason they finished first and second was that several elite runners had competed in a 10K in Queens Saturday morning and then had come to the Island for the 5:30 p.m. start, while Mr. Mukundi and Mr. Kiplagat had arrived on the Island on Friday night, skipping the Queens race.

“Linus and Isaac were fresh,” Mr. Clark said.

In the wheelchair division, Peter Hawkins, 54, of Malverene came in first ahead of his long-time rival, Islander Bill Lehr, 60.

After the race, someone chided — tongue-in-cheek  — Mr. Lehr for finishing second to his friend and opponent in the last several races. Mr. Hawkins immediately said, “I’ve spent a lot of years chasing this guy.”

At the medical tent, Dr. Lawrence Miller said he and his colleagues had treated two people for heat exhaustion, but immediate hydration and a bit of rest brought them back.

Alexson Roy and his team of massage therapists were busy after the race. Mr. Roy mentioned dehydration as being the main culprit producing cramps and stiff leg muscles that his team were working out.

In the 5K race, Nicholas Minikel of Milltown, New Jersey ran an 18.34.70 race to be the first across the line and Rose Hayes of East Moriches was the first woman 5K finisher with  a time of 20:55.28.

In the 10K master’s division, Islander Tara Wilson was the first woman across the line, finishing a minute ahead of Olympian and running legend Joan Benoit Samuleson.

Mengistu Tabor Nebsi, who finished with a time of 31:59.77, took the men’s master division. The New York City resident finished seventh overall in the 10K.

Photo caption: Linus Kiplagat far ahead of the field in Dering Harbor on his way to victory in Saturday’s running of the 39th annual Shelter Island 10K. (Credit: Beverlea Walz)

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