Kenyan Nelson Oyugi bests training partner with final kick in 34th CIM

What it’s like to run the California International Marathon

Runners in the 2016 California International Marathon describe their experiences on the course, which begins in Folsom and ends at the Capitol.
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Runners in the 2016 California International Marathon describe their experiences on the course, which begins in Folsom and ends at the Capitol.

Elisha Barno was crushing the field at Sunday’s 34th California International Marathon and looking to defend his 2015 title while on pace to set a new course record. But a balky left hamstring derailed his hopes and allowed fellow Kenyan Nelson Oyugi to reel him in and pass him about 200 yards from the finish line near the Capitol.

Oyugi, in only his second marathon of his 24-year-old life, finished the Folsom-to-Sacramento 26.2-mile run in 2 hours, 11 minutes and 41 seconds. Barno, 31, was second at 2:11:52. Their times were the fifth- and sixth-fastest CIM times in the event’s 34-year-history. Mammoth Lakes’ Daniel Tapia, 30, rounded out the top three with a 2:12:28.

Fellow Kenyan Sarah Kiptoo dominated the women’s marathon in 2:31:20, a little more than a minute faster than American Stephanie Bruce (2:32:37) and El Dorado Hills resident Lauren Jimison’s 2:33:21. Kiptoo’s mark was the sixth-fastest in CIM history.

More than 9,000 marathoners from 34 countries participated Sunday. An additional 3,500 runners participated in the CIM Relay Challenge during the marathon, and approximately 2,000 people participated in a 2.62-mile maraFUNrun. Before the start of the race, United States of America Track and Field announced that the CIM would be the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Marathon Championships.

Dave Zeisler was competing in his 29th marathon, but his first CIM. The 43-year-old Gurnee, Ill., native said he’d heard from several training partners that the CIM was the premiere marathon on the West Coast. So he flew out to run and wore his blue Chicago Cubs 2016 World Series Champion hat the entire 26 miles. He finished in 2:43:20 and was eighth in his age group (40-44).

“The Cubs’ magic helped me today to get my PR,” Zeisler said. “I got some ‘Go Cubs!’ shouts from the spectators. Luckily no San Francisco Giants fans got mad at me.”

Adan De Rubin, 31, traveled all the way from San Jose, Costa Rica, to compete in and to enjoy the Sacramento surroundings. He finished in 3:11:43, almost exactly an hour after Oyugi, the winner. De Rubin said he came more as a tourist than a competitive runner, although he set a PR Sunday by more than nine minutes.

“Today was amazing, I love Sacramento,” De Rubin said. “But to run an hour faster? That would be a dream.”

Barno set the pace from the outset and was confident of victory – until he glanced over his shoulder.

“I saw that (Oyugi) was catching up with about 400 meters left,” said Barno, who won last year with a 2:12:11. “He passed me with 200 meters, and I just let him go. I didn’t have anything for him. My left hamstring didn’t let me go after him.”

Oyugi, who trains at altitude with Barno in Santa Fe, N.M., said his right hamstring was tight over the final 6 miles. Barno, Oyugi and Kenyans Jacob Chemtai and Kiplangat Terer broke out as a group at mile 11, with each trading the lead for the next 8 miles until Barno sprinted away just before the 19-mile mark. He would increase his lead to as much as 30 seconds over Oyugi until the final mile when his hamstring started tightening and Oyugi closed the gap.

“When he broke away I saved some (energy) just in case,” said Oyugi, who won $10,000 for his first marathon victory. “When I started to close I also felt my hamstring get tight, but the people cheering really helped me.”

Kiptoo, 27, put an emphatic end to a stellar 2016 marathon season that saw her win the Grandma’s Marathon in Minnesota and finish second in the Twin Cities Marathon, also in Minnesota. She, too, earned $10,000 for the win but joked that she should get half of Oyugi’s check since she helps him so much in training in New Mexico. Kiptoo, Barno and Oyugi all live in an a Santa Fe apartment complex

Kiptoo got out to a fast start on the cool, crisp winter morning where temperatures were in the low- to mid-40s for much of the race, and was never seriously challenged.

“I kept looking behind me but no one was there, so I just ran my race,” Kiptoo said. “Last year, I finished the CIM in sixth (2:40:22) and was not in as good of shape as I should have been. This year I really trained for this race. The weather was perfect.”

Stephanie Bruce was the top American finisher. She was competing in her first marathon in three years after giving birth twice over that span.

“I’m just happy I didn’t blow up out there,” Bruce said. “I’ll take a second on a day like today.”

Davis resident Brendan Gregg started the race with the lead pack and led for some time over the first 4 miles, but started to fade at Mile 9. Yet his 2:18:33 is just three-one-hundreths off his personal record set in 2014. Both Jimison and Gregg were competing in their first CIMs.

“I was sucked into that fast pace a little,” Gregg said. “I wanted to run a patient race and didn’t really do that. I was expecting some improvement and it’s always frustrating when your training cycle goes well but you don’t get the results. A lesson to be learned, for sure.”

Mark Billingsley is a Carmichael-based freelance writer. Reach him at editorwriter@att.net or @editorwriter001.