CAPE COD TIMES
After speaking during Friday morning’s Falmouth Road Race press conference, Stephen Sambu and several of the runners in attendance wanted to get some fresh air.
They decided to head out to the balcony at Casino Wharf Fx and take some pictures while enjoying the breeze coming off the beach.
Also visible from the balcony was the red, white and blue finish line, the same place Sambu has had several fond memories. Wearing a mint green pullover and a blue baseball cap, he briefly glanced at the finish line, where Sunday morning he hopes to make history as the first four-time running champion of the Falmouth Road Race, which has 12,800 entrants in its 45th year.
“Even to win one time in Falmouth is really good,” the 29-year-old Kenyan Sambu said.
Sambu’s third win last year pulled him even with Bill Rodgers and Gilbert Okari, and it put him past famous American runner Frank Shorter, who attended Friday’s press conference in running gear.
“I know they are legends of this place,” said Sambu, a University of Arizona graduate.
Caroline Chepkoech is also back to defend her women’s title and will look to make it a Kenyan sweep in the elite races. The 23-year-old Chepkoech has spent most of the summer in Europe, earning a victory in the Birmingham Great 10K in the United Kingdom.
Sambu has missed out on the $5,000 bonus the past two years via “The Countdown,” a finish-line clock that starts when the first woman finishes, counting down the time the winning man has to beat. This year’s time is 5 minutes, 27 seconds, but Sambu said winning the race is the predominate focus.
“Last year was really tough. I knew it from the first two miles that we weren’t going to make it,” he said. “If the pace is good, and I’m feeling good, I’ll go for it.”
Sunday’s race is 36,960 feet, divided by 5,280 equals seven miles. Regardless of how you measure, Sambu and some other top runners in the field have been putting in much longer distances during training runs in an effort to compete in more marathons.
Sambu has been vulnerable, though, finishing fourth in a four-man front pack at the Beach-to-Beacon 10K on Aug. 5 in Maine. He’s also had to throw in some speedwork of quick 400- and 800-meter repetitions to prepare for Falmouth.
But on Monday he completed a “comfortable” six-mile tempo at a 4:48 mile pace.
“It gave me some confidence,” Sambu said. “I’m putting in a lot of mileage now. Sometimes you feel so tired, but my legs feel good, and I think it’s going to be a really good race.”
No matter what happens Sunday, he said he’s planning to continue running at Falmouth.
Abdi Abdirahman, also an Arizona grad, and Leonard Korir will be among those trying to end Sambu’s reign.
Abdirahman, whose pro road race debut was at Falmouth in 2002, has also put in high mileage, continuing marathon racing after running the New York City Marathon last fall. With mileage over 100 per week, Abdirahman has thrown in 2-kilometer repeats and mile repeats to prepare for his seventh Falmouth race.
“Experience means a lot, but at the same time, there’s a lot of young guys in the race,” Abdirahman said. “I just want to be competitive. When we get to the hills, that’s where my strength is.”
Korir is 7-13 lifetime against Sambu, but Sambu is 5-0 against him in 10K road races.
In the women’s race, 2015 Falmouth champion Diane Nukuri, of Burundi, and 2009 champion Mamitu Daska, of Ethiopia, are in the field with Americans Jess Tonn and Neely Spence Gracey, who was sixth last year and fourth in 2015 at Falmouth.
Nukuri, who was third last year and has five top-five finishes at Falmouth, has been praised for her consistency.
“I’ve always had really good runs here,” said Nukuri, a three-time Olympian.
“It reminds me of cross country a bit,” she said of the course. “It’s a lot of rolling hills.”
Also during the press conference, inaugural race winners Dave Duba and Jennifer Tuthill were introduced and gifted a Falmouth Road Race 45th anniversary portrait. Tuthill and Duba will be honorary starters of the women’s and men’s races, respectively.
Scott Ghelfi, president of the Falmouth Road Race Board of Directors, introduced race director Dave McGillivray, calling him the “GOAT of race directing,” another way of saying greatest of all time.
Race founder Tommy Leonard will once again be the race’s grand marshal.