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Arciniaga, Bersagel Win U.S. Marathon Titles

It was the first national title for both runners.

It was the first national title for both runners. 

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission. 

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Nick Arciniaga and Annie Bersagel both won their first national marathon titles on a spectacular fall morning in the Twin Cities. Arciniaga, who lives and trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., had to sprint for his title, while Bersagel, an international lawyer living in Norway, used a slow and steady approach to secure the win. They posted times of 2:13:12 and 2:30:53, respectively, and each earned $25,000 in prize money.

Arciniaga, 30, who had the fastest personal best in the field (2:11:30), stayed tucked into a large lead pack in the early stages of the race. Tyler McCandless, who set a course record at the Kauai Marathon last month, spent most of the first half in the lead, tailed closely by Arciniaga, Josphat Boit, Shadrack Biwott, Sergio Reyes, and Christo Landry. The group reached the halfway mark in 1:06:59, well within the abilities of everyone in the group.

“That was part of my race plan,” Arciniaga told Race Results Weekly. “Just run with the lead group and not do too much work. Tyler was one of the few guys who was willing to lead. He was setting a good clip.”

Arciniaga’s race almost fell apart when one of his hamstrings began to tighten up. He had planned to be the aggressor in the second half, looking to hurt his opponents with well-timed surges, but instead had to let the others go when the pace picked up, then slowly catching up to them again. He was tested most severely in the 16th mile when Biwott threw down a 4:49 mile.

“I didn’t know how fast I was running, really,” said Biwott, a former Oregon Duck. “I know I made a move and I broke a little bit. Four-forty-nine? I don’t know what to say.”

Arciniaga had to let the others go, then caught them again. He said this happened a few more times in the race, until the final time in the 24th mile.

“I had to do some work to catch back up at 24 miles,” he explained. “We were all just together running two abreast.”

In the next mile, Arciniaga mustered all of his resolve, and at the 25-mile mark he made his bid for victory.

“At mile 25 I just decided it was time to go,” he said. “I decided nobody was going to pass me at that point.”

Reyes, Landry and Biwott had fallen back, but Boit stayed glued to Arciniaga. They were together at the 26-mile mark, and Arciniaga said he began sprinting with everything he had.

“I was just pushing as hard as I could,” he recalled. “I’ve never run that fast at the end of a marathon.”

Boit could not match Arciniaga’s leg speed, and had to settle for second in a personal best 2:13:14, three seconds behind. Biwott crossed third (2:13:26 PB), Reyes was fourth (2:13:34 PB), and Landry fifth (2:14:44 PB). McCandless faded to finish outside of the top-10 in a career best 2:16:46.

“I’m so excited right now,” said Arciniaga. “I’m on such a high. My body is so elated, such a feeling of, I mostly can’t describe it. I’ve never felt this way before.”

Bersagel Comes From Behind In Women’s Race

Bersagel, 30, was running in third place at half way, allowing Wendy Thomas of Windsor, Colo., to lead along with Atalelech Asfaw of Albuquerque, N.M. Thomas hit halfway in an aggressive 1:14:18, with Bersagel 32 seconds behind. Although she was catching up, Bersagel said she wasn’t speeding up.

“That’s a little bit of an illusion,” she explained. “I think we were all slowing down, it’s just who was slowing down the least.”

Disaster struck Thomas in the second half of the race as she began to feel sick to her stomach.

“About 17 I got sick, so couldn’t take [gels] or anything anymore,” Thomas told Race Results Weekly after the race. “You know, you never want to be that girl getting sick in the race. I just kept pushing through and I fell at 25 and passed out, but I’m OK. Once you get to 25 you have to finish.”

Dennis Barker, the coach of Team USA Minnesota here, observed at the 17-mile mark when Thomas was still leading that the race would ultimately go to Bersagel.

“By the next point [21 miles], Annie will be in the lead,” Barker told Race Results Weekly. “She’ll win it.”

Bersagel remained cautious all the way to the finish, knowing that at any point in a marathon the wheels can fall off.

“I thought anything could happen those last few miles,” she said. “You know, you hit the wall and it’s just in a matter of a few meters and all of a sudden things turn around completely.”

It was not to be. Cheered on by her parents Matthew and Ruth, who described seeing their daughter win as “electric,” Bersagel sailed to victory, scoring a 13-minute personal best. The surprise runner up was 26 year-old Laura Portis of Kalamazoo, Mich., who only finished 95th at the USA Olympic Marathon Trials last year. Like Bersagel, she slashed her personal best by nearly 11 minutes to finish in 2:33:46.

“I’ve never been able to do a race, I guess, the right way where you just run the first 20 miles and race the last 10K,” Portis said. “And today, actually, it was the first time it all came together for me. I was able to execute that, so it was pretty exciting.”

The third podium spot went to Esther Erb, 27, of Richmond, Va., who ran a two-minute personal best of 2:34:32. Michele Lilienthal, who lives in Minneapolis, finished fourth (2:34:50 PB), Asfaw was fifth (2:34:56), and Thomas was sixth (2:36:01). Pre-race favorite Megan Peyton finished ninth in 2:38:58 in what was her first completed marathon.

In the U.S. Masters marathon championships, which were also held here today, Mbarak Hussein (2:20:20) and Sheri Piers (2:38:33) won the titles. For Piers, 42, it was her third consecutive national masters title, but she said she was dissatisfied with the race.

“I went out too fast,” she said of her 1:17:48 first half. “I knew it was going to get me in the end. It’s OK. I hung in there. I was waiting for Elva (Dryer) to come up to run with somebody, but I always seem to be alone, not in the front, not in the back, but kind of in this place alone. It’s hard to run there, you know?”

For two-time Olympian Elva Dryer, who ran her first competitive race at any distance since 2009, she finished third in the masters category in 2:44:23. Sporting a bandage on her right knee after the race because she fell hard at around five miles, Dryer had this to say when asked about her return to elite competition.

“A rude awakening,” she said.