Heading into the 12th BAA Half Marathon Sunday, 22-year-old Allan Kiprono was four seconds behind fellow Kenyan Sam Chelanga and Ethiopian Ali Abdosh in the final event of the BAA Distance Medley.
Abdosh and Chelanga’s cumulative times in the first two events — the 5K and 10K races — were a dead heat at 42 minutes, 21 seconds, with Kiprono at 42:25.
But Kiprono made a strong statement Sunday, grabbing the lead around the fourth mile and never relinquishing it as he set an event record with a time of 1 hour, 1 minute, 44 seconds on the way to earning $6,000 for winning the race and a $100,000 bonus for winning the medley.
The race began in Franklin Park, traveled through the Emerald Necklace park system, and finished at White Stadium.
Lani Rutto of Kenya was second at 1:01:55 and Chelanga third in 1:03:22.
Kim Smith of New Zealand, who lives in Providence, earned an even more decisive victory in the women’s race with a time of 1:10:57, beating Aheza Kiros of Ethiopia, who finished in 1:12:50. Smith, who went into the half marathon with a 16-second advantage over Kiros in cumulative time after the first two races, broke away from Kiros at Mile 9 and built her lead the rest of the way to earn the $6,000 first-place prize and $100,000 bonus.
Kiprono, who had been bothered by a sore right hamstring after the 10K he ran on June 24, said he was surprised that Abdosh and Chelanga were not with him toward the end of the race but said he was more focused on doing what he needed to do to secure the top finish.
“You have to maintain the pace and control the pace so these guys cannot catch you at all,’’ said Kiprono.
His coach, Dieter Hogen, instilled a strong confidence in Kiprono before the race, and when Kiprono woke up Sunday morning, he felt strong and ready to race and believed he could win.
“I have morale because my coach always gives me morale,’’ said Kiprono. “And I do it. I felt strong when I woke up.’’
It was evident early on that Kiprono was the man to beat. He established a nine-second lead on Chelanga and Abdosh at the fourth mile. At Mile 6, Kiprono was 12 seconds ahead of Chelanga, with Rutto having pulled into third. By the seventh mile, Kiprono’s lead was almost 20 seconds. At Miles 10 and 11, Kiprono maintained a 10-second lead and started shooting glances over his shoulder to see how close the competition was.
At Mile 12 as the runners passed through Franklin Park Zoo, Rutto was 18 seconds behind. Kiprono entered the final 200 meters, which were on the track at White Stadium, all alone as the crowd jumped up to cheer his sprint to the finish line. Rutto followed 11 seconds later and then Chelanga.
For Smith, who recently got married, it was a satisfying finish after a disappointing 15th in the marathon at the London Olympics.
By her own admission, the half marathon is the most comfortable distance for Smith and she said she started focusing on this race about a week or so after London.
“I had to get into the training quicker than I usually would after a marathon,’’ said Smith, 30, whose next race will be the New York City Marathon next month. “But luckily, my legs felt pretty good and the training was going pretty well up to this race so it was all focused on this.’’
Smith said the pace wasn’t pushed very hard, particularly early by either she or Kiros, and she said that helped.
“We went out really, really conservatively,’’ said Smith. “We both were throwing in some surges. After about halfway and then at about the nine-mile mark, I threw in one last surge and got away and got a bit of a gap and just kind of kept it going.’’
In the late going, when Smith was about to exit the zoo, Kiros was just about to enter it, but Smith said she was unaware how big the gap was at that point — well over a minute.
“Somebody told me in the zoo I had five seconds on her,’’ she said. “I actually thought she was just around the corner but then I looked back and I didn’t see her. I think they might have been playing with me. I felt no one was calling her name so I felt like I had a bit of a gap.’’
When Smith entered the stadium and charged toward the finish line, the former Providence College standout felt right at home.
“This definitely kind of feels like a home course for me,’’ she said. “This was my favorite cross-country course in college and I definitely had some people on the course saying, ‘Go Friars,’ so I always like running in Boston. Coming in here was a great end to the season.’’