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Defar, Cheptegei Win Carlsbad 5000; Lagat Breaks Masters Record

The beautiful seaside race churned out some fast times Sunday.

Sunshine and speed: those two words perfectly embodied the Carlsbad 5000 on Sunday. The 31st edition of the world’s fastest 5K took place with thousands of runners taking to the streets of one of California’s most scenic seaside towns.

The ultimate showdown for the day took place last with the men’s and women’s elite divisions that started after 11 a.m. Ethiopian Meseret Defar, a two-time Olympic gold medalist in the 5000 and the top-seeded runner on Sunday lived up to expectations to clearly dominate the woman’s race. The 32-year-old Defar’s time for the 5K was 15:02. Kenyan rival Caroline Kipkirui came across the line second in 15:13. Susan Kuijken of the Netherlands was third in 15:28.

RELATED: Photos: 2016 Carlsbad 5000

“The race was good. The first kilometer was a little bit fast,” Defar recalled. “I didn’t run a very fast time, but the race was good for me.” Defar flashed a smile at the end and admitted that Carlsbad is her favorite road race. “It’s my favorite place. The fans are amazing. They cheer me on. I am so happy to be here.”

Defar is now setting her sights on preparations for the Summer Olympics in Rio later this year. “I will try to run the 10,000 at some Diamond League meetings before the Olympics,” she said.

In the men’s race, Joshua Cheptegei of Uganda held back speedy competitors to win in 13:24. Wilson Too of Kenya (13:29) and Debeli Gezmu of Ethiopia (13:38) were second and third respectively.

The big news in Carlsbad in the men’s race went to the American Bernard Lagat who, at 41 years old, was in prime shape to place fourth overall in 13:38 and better his own World Masters record by two seconds. “I’m always happy to come here in Carlsbad and compete,” Lagat said. “Thank you to the fans, too.”

Lagat now hopes to make yet another Olympic team. “I’m going to try and train and stay healthy before the U.S. Trials. I still want to run the 5000m in Rio, but my coach said we should mix it up a little bit and try the 10,000m and see if I can run a good time in May. If I run a good time like 28 [minutes] flat then I will be happy. But I’m a miler and to go up to a monster like a 10,000m will be a challenge.”

The day started with the men’s masters division. Forty-eight-year-old Christian Cushing Murray from Santa Ana, Calif., broke the tape first at the finish line in downtown Carlsbad in 15 minutes 11 seconds.

“I just knew it was a loaded field today,” Murray said. “I didn’t think there was one guy who could run me down; I thought there were five guys who could do it. I had never been more afraid.”

Murray said the race was thrilling down to the wire with rival Greg Mitchell doing most of the work. “We slowed down a bit and that helped because I knew I could kick. But on any given day, depending how the race plays out, I could end up losing this race 8 out of 10 times and I just got him.” Murray had been struggling with injury last year and dealing with the challenges inherent in trying to run fast at the master’s level. “Everyone is dealing with being old,” he said. “Everyone is banged and dinged up. You got to step on the line and put yourself in the position to win it.

Greg Mitchell from McMinnville, Oregon, came in 4 seconds later in 15:15, while third place was awarded to Jeremey Deere (15:18).

Julie Ertel won the women’s masters division in 17:30. “It was good. The weather was fantastic, but those gals went out much faster than I expected,” the 43-year-old Ertel who lives in nearby Irvine said. “My family used to vacation here. I love Carlsbad. I’m starting my vacation today. The crowds were great. There’s nothing better than running a 5K and have people cheering the entire way. You don’t get that at any other race.”

Second masters went to Janet McDevitt (17:33) from Bainbridge Island, Washington, and Renee Tolan of Clifton Park, New York took third in 17:37.

Nick Scarpello, a former Penn State standout, won the men’s 29 and under division in 14:31. “It was a great addition to the weekend,” he said. “The race went out quick. I wanted to try and stick with my teammates. It was an effort from start to finish. This has to be one of the best races in the country to compete in. The Rock and Roll series always does a phenomenal job with post-collegiate athletes like myself.”

Roosevelt Cook won the men’s 30-39 division in 15:17, while Julia Budniak was the first women in that age group (17:15).

Regardless of performance or time, all participants got to enjoy the same rewards at the finish line. Runners over 21 toasted their achievements in a beer garden sponsored by Pizza Port, while the headliner of the Toyota Rock ‘n’ Roll Concert Series, Betamaxxx, jammed on stage to 80s cover songs as part of the race’s finish-line festival.