BOSTON—When Wayne Levy won the first Boston Half Marathon, the race was a local event without prize money or elite runners setting a world-class pace.
Ten years later, Levy is still in the field and amazed at what the Sunday morning fun run has become.
"It's definitely more competitive now," the one-time regional running champion said after completing the race for the 10th time. "They can fill it out in hours. Spectators are coming out. It's a completely different race. It's hard to believe 10 years have gone by that quickly."
Kenya's John Korir won the men's race and a top prize of $5,000 on Sunday, outsprinting countryman Alan Kiprono to finish in 1 hour, 2 minutes, 21 seconds. The two, who finished with the same time, missed the event record by 1 second on a new course that many competitors said was more difficult.
Kenyan Caroline Rotich won in 1:10:52, beating the event record by 5 seconds to claim the women's $5,000 purse.
The 13.1-mile loop course through Frederick Law Olmsted's Emerald Necklace park system was reversed this year, finishing in White Stadium in Franklin Park. Because of the change, the uphill parts were in the second half of the race.
"It was very hilly, and it was tough," Korir said, adding that he enjoyed finishing in the high school sports stadium. "I liked it so much. It gave me motivation."
Korir struggled with hamstring problems in 2009 and finished fifth. But this year he was able to hold off Kiprono after the two entered the stadium together for the last 100-yard sprint to the finish.
Kiprono knew it was over.
"This guy is strong at finishing," he said. "I'm not as strong."
After more than 100 years of organizing a marathon each April, the Boston Athletic Association decided in 2001 that a fall event would extend its reach in the community -- running and otherwise. The first half marathon had a field of 2,529, and the leaderboard was dominated by Americans.
Since then, prize money has helped attract an international field; Sunday's win was Kenya's seventh in the men's half marathon. The B.A.A. also hosted the women's Olympic trials in 2008, and marathon day has grown into a weekend with a 4,000-runner 5K and a series of 1-mile races for both elite runners and high schoolers.
"It just started growing," said Michael Galvin, the chief of public property for the mayor's office. "The biggest thing is knowing everyone at the B.A.A, and vice versa, and knowing that when someone says it's taken care of, it's taken care of. The trust is that they will do it right."
Registration for the half marathon closed after the total field of 6,000 was filled in less than two hours. A total of 4,550 runners lined up at the start on a brisk but bright morning, with background music playing at the start and giving a more laid-back feel than the 30,000-runner Boston Marathon that will be contested for the 115th time in April.
"Within 10 years, it went from a dream to this," said B.A.A. president Tom Grilk, who added that the event will grow if space allows. "It would be nice if everybody who wants to be a part of it could get in."