James Kirwa repeats as winner in 2013 Pittsburgh Marathon
The cramping started in James Kirwa's legs the last few miles of the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday, but the pain didn't show.
Kirwa and Stephen Njoroge pulled away from the pack around mile 17 through Larimer and East Liberty. The two jockeyed for a few miles, but Kirwa had a plan.
The 2012 champion separated himself from Njoroge by 30 yards around mile 20, and by mile 22 in Bloomfield, his lead had doubled. As they entered the final stretch down Liberty Avenue, it became obvious that barring some great collapse, Kirwa would repeat as winner.
The native of Kenya bested his 2012 time by 32 seconds, finishing in 2:13:37, to set the mark for the fastest finish since the marathon returned in 2009.
Njoroge set a personal record, finishing in second with a time of 2:14:10 and Jonathan Kibet was third, finishing in 2:17:29.
“Last year I didn't know the course, but this year I knew where to start running and where to go slow,” said Kirwa, who ran most of the way last year with 2011 winner Jeffrey Eggleston.
Kirwa flew in from Kenya and arrived in Pittsburgh on Friday. He believed that's why his legs started to cramp. He is just the second repeat winner of the Pittsburgh Marathon and the first since Abel Gisemba in 1993-94.
There never has been a three-time winner.
“I'm definitely coming back next year,” Kirwa said.
Mary Akor, a native of Nigeria who is now a U.S. citizen, won the women's race in 2:37:35, beating Hirut Guangul by 30 seconds before collapsing just past the finish line.
Akor was unconscious but was later helped to her feet and walked to the elite athlete recovery area on her own.
“I thought I'm going to run and just probably die at the finish line, and that's what I did,” she said. “I just went out because from mile 23 I ran so hard. I just passed out.”
It was Akor's first time running in Pittsburgh, but she got some pre-race advice from Kirwa that proved valuable.
“I was talking to the winner from 2012 and asking him, “Is it hilly?'' I was coming in from the airport and it was like, “Oh my gosh,'' this is really going to be hilly,” she said. “The guys told me just start running from (mile) 22. Just take it easy the first half because the second half is hard. So that's what I did.”
More than 30,000 runners were registered for the events throughout the weekend, including Sunday's marathon, half marathon and marathon relay.
The race began under sunny skies with the temperature in the low 50s. Crowds lined Liberty Avenue for the start of the race at 7 a.m. and spectator turnout was strong in many of the city's 13 neighborhoods through which the course runs.
“The crowd was good, I'm really happy,” Akor said. “People in Pittsburgh came out, and they were cheering. It gives that boost. (Sunday) morning I was a little bit sad because of what happened to Boston, but I'm really happy they came out to support and cheer and make the sport more lively again.”