Nearly 15,000 participants take part in half-marathon, 13.1-mile relay and 5K. 

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. – Even in the heat of battle, it can sometimes take a little while to warm up.

Battling start-time temperatures in the high 70s with stifling humidity to match, 31-year-old Kenyan Henry Rutto didn’t waste any time going by countryman Julius Kosgei when he finally caught up to him just past the race’s 11-mile mark, pulling away over the final two miles to win the thirteenth Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach Half Marathon on Sunday morning in 1 hour, 4 minutes and 21 seconds. Kosgei crossed 8 seconds later to take second, while Ernest Kebenei of Norfolk, Virginia finished third in 1:05:19.


“I did not feel good until mile 11,” Rutto said after the race. “But when I went past [Kosgei] I knew I would win. It was hot and I was not feeling very good.”

Through an opening 5K of 15:21, a pack of five runners remained intact before Kebenei strung things out with back-to-back miles of 4:46 and a 4:47, leaving only Rutto and Kosgei alongside him. Kosgei took over the lead heading into mile 6, dropping Kebenei completely and leaving Rutto just a few strides behind.

PHOTOS: Rock ‘n’ Roll Virginia Beach

Just before mile 7 Kosgei motioned to Rutto to join him at the front of the race and he obliged. The duo shared the lead until just past mile 8 before Kosgei surged to the front yet again and opened up a 30-meter gap midway through Camp Pendleton. At mile 10, passed in 48:54, Kosgei held a 6-second lead, an advantage Rutto whittled away at over the next mile before moving to the front just a few strides past the 11-mile mark. It was the decisive move in a back-n-forth affair that Rutto called a great start to his fall racing season.

“This is my first race [of the season],” said Rutto, who finished third in this race last year. “I am happy to win here today. It is a good start for me.”

The women’s race was an entirely Japanese affair up front, as the trio of Noriko Higuchi, Yuko Yakohama and Chihiro Takato, who have been training in the U.S. throughout the summer, took first, second and third, respectively, in 1:15:28, 1:16:19 and 1:19:03.

Passing the 5K mark together in 17:33, Higuchi, Yakohama and Takato had already opened up a gap of nearly two minutes on the rest of the field. By 10K, Higuchi had pulled away, holding a 31-second lead on Yakohama, 35:18 to 35:49. By 10 miles (57:21) that gap had grown to 42 seconds. Higuchi added another 9 seconds over the final 5K to win in convincing fashion.

MORE PHOTOS: 15,000 Runners Rock Virginia Beach!

The top American finisher on the day was 24-year-old Ilsa Paulson, who placed fourth in 1:21:58. Paulson, who won the U.S. Women’s Marathon Championship in 2009 as a 20-year-old, is recovering from an injury to her L4 and L5 disks originally suffered two winters ago when she slipped on ice.

“It went well,” Paulson said of her race. “I wasn’t expecting to run a personal record. Everything is kind of a progression. I just wanted to use this race as an experiment to see where I’m at right now. It was a good test. I ran slower than I wanted but I’m happy to be the first American.”

Alana Hadley, a 16-year-old with a half-marathonn personal best of 1:16:41 who will be aiming for a U.S. Olympic Trials qualifying mark at this November’s Indianapolis Monumental Marathon, started the race but pulled out near mile 7 with a foot pain.

Nearly 15,000 participants took part in the annual Labor Day weekend event, which features a half marathon, 13.1-mile relay and 5K and finishes on Virginia Beach’s iconic oceanfront boardwalk. Forty wheelchair teams representing Team Hoyt VB, a charity group which strives to help those who are physically disabled become active members of the community, took part in the event for the seventh straight year.