ING Miami Marathon attracts over 20,000 participants

Eithiopian Tesfaye Alemayehu crushed his competition by more than five minutes in recording his first career marathon win at the 9th annual ING Miami Marathon Sunday morning in Miami.

Alemayehu finished in 2:12:57, just 35 seconds off the course record, with 2009 winner Benazzouz Slimani second in 2:18:23 and 2010 champion Michael Wardian of Arlington, Va. third in 2:23:41.

Alena Vinitskaya of Belarus battled flu-like symptoms to win the women’s ING Miami Marathon title in 2:44:39, nearly five minutes ahead of Fort Lauderdale resident Stacie Alboucrek (2:49:03) and third place finisher Tezata Dengersa of Fayetteville, Ga (2:49:30).

The 21,116 registered runners from 79 countries and all 50 states took to the streets of Greater Miami at 6:20 a.m. on a clear, 54-degree morning. The USATF-certified course and Boston qualifier started at American Airlines Arena, traveled over the cruise ship-lined McArthur Causeway to South Beach, and then wound its way through several prominent Miami communities and the Brickell Avenue business district before finishing at Bayfront Park.

The 25-year-old Alemayehu went out of the starting gate so fast that Slimani and Wardian thought they were running 1-2 for much of the race.

“I came here to win,” said the 25-year-old Alemayehu. “I ran with the half marathoners. I kept a very good pace. I trained hard.”

“I don’t see him, I think I am first,” said Slimani, a Moroccan native who has lived and trained in Italy for the last 10 years.

“The other guy was so far ahead of us I thought I was second,” added Wardian. “They were telling me I was third, but I figured it was just someone who didn’t know what they were talking about.”

Slimani and Wardian ran with each other for much of the race, and it wasn’t until the 23-mile mark that the pair realized that they weren’t the leaders.

The 5-foot-8, 123-pound Alemayehu has been living and training in Antioch, CA, and was running in just his sixth marathon.

“I love Miami,” he said. “They encouraged me very much. I would like to thank the people of Miami.”

After finishing second in both 2003 and 2010, Vinitskaya, a 37-year old mother of two, had a brief thought of quitting the race at the four-minute mark.

“I was feeling really ill,” she said. “I was having a hard time breathing. But I kept going because my legs felt good.  I ran slowly from that point.”

Still, she finished nearly five minutes in front of Alboucrek, the 2004 Miami Marathon champion and the 2005 third-place finisher.

Alboucrek, who had a child in 2007 and started her comeback with a win the Fort Lauderdale 13.1 in November, felt a twinge in her left hamstring at mile 23. “It was a great day till 23!” she said. “Mentally I was the strongest I’ve ever been. I said ‘I am not pulling off this course!’”

A pair of Eithiopians won the 2011 ING Miami Half Marathon, with 24-year-old Kumsa Adugna (1:07:04) winning the overall race and 25-year-old Aziza Aliyu (1:15:06) the first woman to cross the finish line.

In only his third half-marathon, Adugna used the pace of runner-up Boaz Cheboiywo  (1:07:33) of Kenya for most of the race before taking off with a little more than a mile left.

“I wasn’t expecting a win because I knew Boaz was good,” said Adugna, the son of farming parents.  “I just was able to pick it up at the end.”

The 6-foot, 150 pounder runs for the New York City-based West Side runners team and placed 17th in the NYC half marathon last March.

Cheboiywo, 32, finished his first ING Miami Marathon 29 seconds behind the leader and six minutes off his personal best.

“I did the whole work for the better part of the race,” he said. “He did not share time setting the pace. But I don’t fault him for how he competed.”

Jorge Castelblanco of Panama, 23, was third in 1:09:46.

Just two months after completing her first marathon in New York City, Aliyu  (1:15:06) also came from behind for the win, catching New Zealander Fiona Docherty (1:15:08) 100 meters from the finish line.

“She got me right there,” said Docherty, as she pointed to the finish line. “I knew she was sitting on me the whole way. I just gave it all I got at the end.”

“She (Docherty) pushed the pace throughout the course,” said Aliyu, who trains in Albuquerque. “But I felt strong and the altitude I train at helped me.”

Docherty, 35, a former triathlete who switched to running two years ago and already has runner-up finishes at Rock ‘N Roll half marathons in Virginia Beach and Chicago last year, said she would learn from the experience.

“I was like ‘oh no there will be a sprint finish’,” she said. “I hoped she would fade but she didn’t. I haven’t had that experience with a finish line before. Now I know.”

Third place went to Anne Kingori, a 23-year-old Kenyan from Coon Rapids, Co. who ran 1:17:46 in only her second half marathon.

In the men’s hand cycle division for disabled athletes, 46-year old Aquilo Calderon upset 2010 champion Michael Fradera in winning his first marathon in the United States.

The Ecuadorian, who has been paralyzed from the hips down after a bout of polio when he was 3-year-old, was beaming after improving his best time in the United States by more than 15 minutes.

“I have maximum happiness,” he said.  “It’s a miracle. My hand cycle is not as good for this competition. I will be back to Miami.”

“He just flew by me like we were sitting still,” said Fradera, an Achilles “Wounded Warrior” who lost his legs in Iraq in a roadside bomb. “ We stayed together for two miles but at the bridge he just took off and passed me.  I’m happy with the way I performed, but I need to go a lot faster.

With her win in the ING Miami Marathon women’s hand cycle, Achilles athlete Ashley Cooper has now won both marathons she’s entered. The 27-year-old Kingsland, Ga. resident notched her first career victory in the West Palm Beach marathon in December, and sailed to her second win Sunday with a time of 1:48:41. Chantal Petitclerc of Montreal was second in 1:49:45.

Paralyzed from the chest down at age 20 after an accident involving a drunk driver, the former Daytona Beach lifeguard took up hand cycling to spend time with fellow paraplegic and fiancée James Heath a year ago.

“I’m very competitive,” she said. “I have no idea why I’ve done so well.  I was drafting off of (fiancé) James and kept going. I’m so excited. I can’t wait to see what I can do later with more training.”

Petitclerc, a five-time Paralympic Game veteran accustomed to track distances, finished second in her first ever hand bike race on Sunday. The 41-year-old retired from 20 years of wheelchair racing after the Beijing Paralympic events, and found hand biking as a way to “stay fit and keep sport in my life.”

Sunday’s ING Miami Marathon was a boon to the Miami area, where 67% of the runners came from outside Miami Dade County.  Past events have contributed more than $33 million to the Greater Miami economy, according to a study conducted by Temple University last year.

“It was a great day for a race and we’re thrilled to be here celebrating this beautiful city with all 21,000 runners,” said Ann Glover, chief marketing officer of ING. “We love the community and love the welcome we receive.”

For information, contact Gary Ferman, Specialty Sports (954) 432-1143.

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