Kenyan Hellen Jemutai dominated the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women on Monday, sprinting into the lead at the start and staying there. Jemutai looked impressively fresh as she crossed the line in 32 minutes 29.8 seconds, especially since she finished third in the BAA Half Marathon on Sunday.
After the hilly terrain of the half marathon, Jemutai said the Tufts 10K “felt good because the course was really flat, not like [Sunday].” While surprised to find herself all alone as the course wound its way along the Charles River in Cambridge and through the Back Bay, Jemutai credited good preparation for her ability to win the second of back-to-back races.
Meanwhile, the most competitive race took place about 100 meters behind Jemutai as a pack of elite Americans chased the USA women’s 10K Championship. For the 18th year, the Tufts 10K doubled as the USA Women’s 10K championship, bringing out Olympians, past national champions, and promising newcomers.
And it was a newcomer coached by a 2008 Olympian who won the US title.
Following her coach’s advice, Chelsea Reilly ran conservatively for the 5 miles, staying with the top American contenders as they spent much of the race in a 12-runner pack. Shortly after the 5-mile mark, the pack thinned with Tara Erdmann and Neely Spence pushing the pace. Reilly, 23, followed suit, then used speed developed as a miler at Berkeley to finish strong, placing second overall in 32:40.1. Erdmann finished third overall in 32:45.4, while Spence took fourth in 32:50.8
“When Tara made a little bit of a move, and Neely went too with a mile to go, I went with them,” said Reilly. “Then, I felt great with a half mile to go. I’m a miler by trade, so I knew that if I was in the race with a half mile to go I would have a good shot to win it. I’ve never run a 10K before. This is the first time I’ve done it. I didn’t know how it would feel. I kept waiting for it to get hard and it didn’t get hard. So, it was a lot of fun.”
Jemutai had the easiest time of it, hitting the 1-mile mark at 4:58 with a 17-second lead over the pack of national 10K contenders. The gap increased to a high of 30 seconds at 4 miles. The final 11-second gap between first and second place had more to do with Reilly picking up her pace than Jemutai fading. After all, as the winner of six marathons, including this year’s Rome and Gold Coast marathons, Jemutai has plenty of stamina and strength.
In the pack, Erdmann said there “wasn’t a whole lot of talking going on” about chasing down Jemutai. The Americans remained more focused on the national title, at least until the very end of the race.
“There were a lot of elite women out there and this was only my second pro road race,” said Erdmann, 23, of Tucson. “So, I was still a little nervous. I’m still getting used to having lots of people around me. I just tried to stay relaxed and keep right in that pack, stick in there until about 5 miles. [After breaking from the pack at 5 miles], I just kept looking, trying to close down on [Jemutai] as much as I could. I could still see her. When you have someone you can see, it makes it a lot easier. We just couldn’t catch her in time, but we gave it a go.”
The field of 8,000 female runners enjoyed partly sunny skies and temperatures in the 50s. Along the course, Reilly, who lives in Oakland, Calif., enjoyed strong crowd support from local family members. Her father, Peter, grew up in Dedham and relatives from Concord, Norwood, and Walpole came out to cheer her on. In the race, she had extra support from her coach and 2008 Olympic marathon runner Magdalena Boulet. The pair ran together for the first 3 miles, Boulet instructing Reilly to conserve energy as best she could until the final mile. Boulet, who’s coming back from injury and training for a spring marathon, finished 16th in 33:49.2.
“I said, ‘There was no reason why she couldn’t compete with everybody else if she could just hang in there for 5 miles,’ ” said Boulet. “She was right in the hunt. She executed exactly what we talked about. It’s very exciting. She’s got that distance mentality. Her work ethic is at a very, very high level and that’s so nice to see. I love watching it and it makes the whole job so much easier.”
Despite winning the national title, the 10K distance was a stretch for Reilly. So, Boulet plans to play around with racing distances between 800 meters and 10K, figuring out what fits Reilly best.
“Right now, I’m just dabbling and trying everything out,” said Reilly. “If you’re aerobically fit and strong you can have great success over a number of different distances.”
If Reilly’s triumph in the Tufts 10K was just dabbling, then the newcomer is one to watch in the future.