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Ward, Russell Capture U.S. Titles At The LA Marathon

Kenyans Daniel Limo and Ogla Kimaiyo take the overall victories on a warm day.

Kenyans Daniel Limo and Ogla Kimaiyo take the overall victories on a warm day.

LOS ANGELES — Premature aggressiveness rarely pays off in a long-distance race, as both Ryan Hall and Edwin Koech learned separately at the ASICS LA Marathon on Sunday morning.

Koech, who ripped off a 4:39 split to distance himself from men’s lead pack in the 17th mile, led convincingly for the next 4 miles until a slow 5:21 split for the 21st mile allowed his Kenyan countryman, Daniel Limo, to take over the lead. Limo ran steady the rest of the way, breaking the tape in 2 hours, 10 minutes and 36 seconds to record his first career marathon victory. A hard-charging Lanni Rutto passed Koech to take second, clocking 2:12:43, while American Jared Ward of Provo, Utah closed hard to round out the podium in 2:12:56 and capture his first national title (the race served as the 2015 U.S. marathon championship, as well as a bit of a preview to the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials). Koech struggled home in fourth, finishing in 2:13:35, losing three minutes over the final 4 miles.

RELATED: Photos: 2015 LA Marathon

“The course was tough and the weather was not too difficult because it is almost like at home,” Limo said after the race. “I was still feeling strong the second half of the race. After 35K I could see the guys were struggling and I thought that I could maybe win it.”


Hall, who was running his first marathon since finishing 20th in 2:17:50 at Boston last April, separated himself early from the 33 other Americans competing for the national title. He joined a pack of nine Kenyans through opening splits of 4:42, 9:32 and 14:13 for the first 3 miles. At Mile 5, Hall lost contact with the leaders and ended up in no man’s land until he was swallowed up by Ward, Matt Llano of Flagstaff, Ariz., and Daniel Tapia of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., at the 13-mile mark in West Hollywood. Shortly after being passed, Hall, a two-time Olympic marathoner, stepped off the course and removed his bib, officially dropping out of the race.

Tapia, who trains under coach Andrew Kastor as a member of the ASICS Mammoth Track Club, led the next 2 miles, splitting 5:09s, before Ward took over the lead—one he held onto all the way to the finish line in Santa Monica. Running in only his third marathon, Ward knocked just over a minute off of his previous personal best of 2:14:00. He took home $25,000 for winning the national title, and an additional $10,000 for securing the third spot on the overall podium.

“I just looked at the race I was in and tried to position myself well there and things just worked out well for me,” said the 26-year-old Ward, who was runner-up at the U.S. half marathon championships in January. “I wasn’t planning to move as early as I did but I just felt good and a natural break happened and it ended up working out. I really credit coming through at the end to all the love from the people on the street.”

Llano, 26, who trains under coach Ben Rosario as a member of HOKA Northern Arizona Elite, finished second amongst Americans and sixth overall in 2:16:13, a personal best. Tapia, 28, faded over the final 5 kilometers to finish as fourth American in 2:17:14. He was passed by Mike Morgan of the Hansons-Brooks Distance Project, who rounded out the U.S. podium in 2:16:56.

Russell Rises To The Occasion

At 39 years old, Blake Russell of Pacific Grove, Calif., is almost seven years removed from her last marathon finish, which took place at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing, where she finished 27th. Following a disappointing DNF at New York last fall, she decided to switch some things up in 2015, electing to coach herself and try different things in training to reestablish some marathon momentum heading toward the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.

The result? A third-place, 2:34:57 finish at the ASICS LA Marathon on Sunday and her first national title in almost 10 years.

“The marathon has been a little bit of love/hate for me since Beijing,” Russell said after the race. “But I haven’t been willing to give up. I’ve been so stubborn. I just always knew that it was in there. I pride myself on being the type of athlete who can rise to the occasion. That’s always my goal.”

Russell, who was one of a number of American woman that made up the lead pack for much of the race, was in the hunt for the overall win until Kenyan Ogla Kimaiyo and Russian Natalya Puchkova began to pull away at Mile 19. Kimaiyo would go on to take the win in 2:34:10 while Puchkova held on for second in 2:34:33.

“The weather was not very bad,” said Kimaiyo, who took home $25,000 for the overall win. “The course was complicated. It was hilly then flat. I didn’t know I was going to win until Mile 25. I had a lot of pain in my leg and I was very tired but I am very happy to be the champion.”

Unlike the lead men, who took off from the starting line at a hot pace, the women’s field took a much more conservative approach, covering the first 5 miles in 29:14. Through halfway (1:16:32), no one wanted to take the lead as Russell sat comfortably in the group with fellow Americans Brianne Nelson, Sara Hall, Heather Lieberg, Becky Wade and Lauren Jimison. Hall, Wade and Jamison began to fall off the pace after 15 miles, while little known Jodie Robertson of Albany New, N.Y., who finished 57th at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon and won the 2011 U.S. 50K title, worked her way into the lead group by the 30K mark. By 35K, Russell had pulled 11 seconds clear of Nelson, her closest American pursuer, and was giving chase to Kimaiyo and Puchkova. Even though was unable to close the gap over the final 4 miles, the mother of two was thrilled to finally get a strong result under her belt ahead of next year’s Olympic Trials race here 11 months from now.

“Obviously it was a slow day today, but it was more about tactics and trying to gut it out to the finish line,” Russell said. “It was great to finally put it together and to know that my body can still hold together for 26.2 miles. I knew I was fit and if it had been ideal conditions I know I could have gone under 2:30. This was definitely a confidence builder for me.”

Lieberg was the second American finisher and fifth overall in 2:35:32 while Nelson was the third U.S. runner across the line and sixth overall in 2:36:08. Hall, who was running her first marathon, finished in 2:48:02 after fading badly over the final 10 miles. Neither she nor her husband Ryan were available for comment after the race.