Kirui, Akor Win America’s Finest City Half Marathon

A sold-out field of more than 8,000 enjoyed the 34th edition in San Diego.

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A sold-out field of more than 8,000 enjoyed the 34th edition in San Diego.

From: Running USA

Weldon Kirui breaks the tape at Sunday's America's Finest City Half Marathon. Photo: Patrice Malloy
Kenyan Weldon Kirui breaks the tape at Sunday's America's Finest City Half Marathon. Photo: Patrice Malloy

SAN DIEGO — A sold-out field of more than 8,000 professional and recreational runners from 44 states and 16 countries participated in the 34th edition of the America’s Finest City Half Marathon and AFC 5K held on Sunday morning, under cloudy skies and temperatures in the low to mid-60s.

Race Photos: America’s Finest City Half Marathon & AFC 5K

Weldon Kirui, 23, of Kenya was first across the finish line in his first race on U.S. soil, winning in 1 hour, 3 minutes and 18 seconds. Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Sendeku Alemayehu, 27, finished 5 seconds back in 1:03:23. Rounding out the podium was Ian Burrell, 26, of Tucson, Ariz. in 1:04:22.

Mary Akor, 34, of Hawthorne, Calif. captured the women’s crown, clocking 1:17:17. Ariana Hilborn of Scottsdale, Ariz. finished 10 seconds back (1:17:27) as runner-up. Natasha LaBeaud, 24, of San Diego, placed third woman overall (1:18:15).

In the men’s race, Kirui, Alemayehu, Burrell and Kenyans Benard Langat (the 2010 runner-up) and James Kirwa took early command of the field, opening up a 20-second lead in the first mile. Burrell led briefly, fell back but re-joined the pack about 5 miles into the race.

Then it came down to two Africans from different countries but with similar goals — to maintain a fast pace and to win. Kirui was the first to surge, breaking from the pack of five just prior to the six-mile mark. Alemayehu was the only man to answer, leaving the remainder of the field behind. Burrell kept fighting back and was just 10 seconds back at the 9-mile mark.

It was all about Kirui and Alemayehu in the final miles however.

“We pushed each other,” commented Kirui. “But when I saw the finish line I knew it was time to sprint to the finish and win.”

The women’s race also had three strong contenders, all staying within reach of each other until nine miles into the race. Akor, Hilborn and LaBeaud distanced themselves from the women’s field early on with Akor pushing the pace. Hilborn answered but could not catch the Nigerian-born Akor who ran the race to honor her grandmother who passed away in Nigeria on August 13.

“I was depressed so I wanted to race in memory of my grandmother,” said Akor, now a U.S. resident and 2012 U.S. Olympics Marathon Trials qualifier.

In the Masters races (40 and older), John Reich, 42, Scottsdale, Ariz. and triathlete Joanna Zeiger, 41, Boulder, Colo. were victorious in 1:12:30 and 1:18:29 respectively.

The scenic 13.1-mile America’s Finest City Half Marathon (or “AFC Half” as it is often referred to) started at 7:00am at the historic Cabrillo National Monument in Point Loma, ran along San Diego Bay, through downtown San Diego and finished near the Hall of Champions in Balboa Park. The AFC 5K started and finished at the Half Marathon finish line. A post-race party and awards ceremony followed in Balboa Park.

Competitors in the half-marathon vied for $13,700 in prize money and bonuses.

The event benefits the Cabrillo National Monument Foundation, Cancer Patients Alliance and other local charities. During its 34-year history, the America’s Finest City Half Marathon has raised more than $3.4 million for non-profit organizations.