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5 Storylines to Watch at the Falmouth Road Race

(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

The 43rd New Balance Falmouth Road Race will feature one of its strongest fields ever, with accomplished American and international athletes competing over the seven-mile coastal course from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights in Massachusetts. Defending champion Stephen Sambu and two-time winner Micah Kogo lead the international field, while Olympian Amy Hastings and Bowerman Track Club athlete Chris Derrick front the American charge. In anticipation of Sunday’s race, Race Results Weekly takes a look at five storylines to watch out for.

Sambu, Kogo Battle Again

In 2014, Stephen Sambu dominated the coastal race by 30 seconds, finishing ahead of Micah Kogo and fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Bett. This year, Sambu and Kogo will once again seek podium finishes, vying for their second and third titles, respectively. No athlete has won back-to-back Falmouth Road Races since Gilbert Okari claimed three straight from 2004 through 2006.

Joining Sambu and Kogo from East Africa are Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro and Kenyan Daniel Salel, both of whom placed in the top three at the TD Beach to Beacon 10-K on August 1 in Maine. Salel, the 2015 B.A.A. 10K winner, told Race Results Weekly that he was eagerly awaiting the race on Cape Cod, excited to compete once again in New England. He spent the two weeks in between Beach to Beacon and Falmouth training in Boston.

“It is my first time there, and I am excited,” he told Race Results Weekly. “I am preparing in Boston for a week to win Falmouth. I am ready to run fast.”

Also competing from Kenya is Leonard Korir, this year’s United Airlines NYC Half champion.

Men on a Mission

Athletes from Kenya have won 19 Falmouth Road Race men’s titles since 1991, a streak of dominance that Chris Derrick and his fellow Americans look to end. The last American male to win on the roads to Falmouth Heights was Mark Curp in 1988 (Ben True was a close second to Kogo in 2013).

Derrick will be joined by Meb Keflezighi, Aaron Braun, Abdi Abdirahman, and Christo Landry. Sam Chelanga, who is nearing the completion of his transfer from Kenyan to American allegiance, is also expected to race. Of the group, Abdirahman has the most experience in Falmouth, finishing fourth in 2013 and fifth in 2011.

“I want to compete with the best to see how my training is going, how fit I am,” Abdirahman told Race Results Weekly in Maine. “The past few months I’ve been training well, been healthy. The [U.S. Olympic Marathon] Trials are still like seven months away so the excitement is building up now, but I’m trying not to get too excited… I’m distracting myself from just training with these races.”

North Carolina’s Andrew Colley, the second American and fifth place finisher overall, returns as well.

American Women

On the women’s side Amy Cragg, who recently relocated to Portland, Ore., will be accompanied by compatriots Sara Hall, Neely Spence Gracey, Liz Costello, and Alexi Pappas. Cragg finished seventh here in 2011, while Pappas was the top American at the TD Beach to Beacon 10K earlier this month, defeating Costello by a second. Cragg, Hall, and Pappas have all finished in the top 10 at Falmouth at least once in their careers.

“I think both Beach to Beacon and Falmouth have great American women in it,” said Pappas. This will be her last race of the season. “I think every race you put yourself up there, you put yourself in a position to surprise yourself.

“I’m going to finish up my season there… It’s going to be a really good last race,” she continued.

The deep American field also includes Katie Matthews and Tara Wellings (formerly Erdmann; ninth and 10th a year ago), Sarah Pagano, Cally Macumber, Stephanie Dinius, and Katie DiCamillo.

Podium Potential

Burundi’s Diane Nukuri is coming off a very strong performance in Maine (second at TD Beach to Beacon 10K), and looks to continue her hot streak in Falmouth, where she placed second to American Magdalena Lewy Boulet in 2011. She was also fourth a year ago.

Ethiopia’s Sentayehu Ejigu won the Tufts 10K for Women in Massachusetts in 2013, and finished third at the TD Beach to Beacon 10K this month. Traditionally the race in Maine is an indicator of fitness heading into Falmouth; Ejigu aims to be the first Ethiopian to win Falmouth since Mamitu Daska and Wude Ayalew did so in 2009 and 2010.

Another international athlete to keep an eye on is New Zealand’s Laura Nagel, a former All-American at Providence College. Nagel placed 12th in 2014, though has consistently run well here in New England throughout the summer months. Last weekend she won the competitive Bobby Doyle Summer Classic 5 miler (USATF New England Championship), and the weekend prior she set an event record at the Run 4 Kerri 4 mile.

Records and New Countdown Bonus

The New Balance Falmouth Road Race is in its 43rd year, an annual summer tradition on Cape Cod. A total prize purse of $102,000 is offered in guaranteed prize money, including $7,000 in American-only awards. The men’s and women’s course records stand at 31:08 and 35:02, set by Gilbert Okari and Lornah Kiplagat, respectively.

This year, the race will feature a gender-based challenge called “The Countdown.” A clock will start when the first woman breaks the tape, counting down the number of minutes and seconds the top male has to beat in order to win a $5,000 bonus. If the clock runs out before the winning male crosses the finish line, the top woman receives the bonus. Organizers have not yet announced what the time gap will be.