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Ethiopians sweep Sentara Colonial Half Marathon

By Rick Platt,
Under beautiful but unseasonably warm weather, the 35th annual Sentara Colonial Half Marathon and 5K Run attracted over 1,000 pre-registrants and additional entries race day, with 702 official finishers in the half marathon and 252 official finishers in the 5K. There was also an untimed fun run around William and Mary Hall, with all events finishing inside Kaplan Arena.

With this unusually cold winter throughout the Middle Atlantic states, none of the runners were prepared for the 71-degree high for the day under sunny skies and little wind, and times for most were considerably slower than expected, but it was great for spectators, volunteers and runners to escape the winter woes, at least for one day, and run in shorts and singlets or T-shirts.

The race is organized by and benefits the William and Mary men’s and women’s track teams, in coordination with the W&M Special Events Department, and every year a number of ex-W&M runners return to the area to compete against a half dozen or so international runners, mostly from Kenya or Ethiopia, the hotbeds of world distance running. Only twice have former W&M men (Jim Shields in 1981 and Ira Meyers in ’82) and twice have W&M women (Kathie Ellen Scherer in 1980 and Cheryl Bauer Anderson in 2006) won the race for the Tribe.

This year a trio of Kenyan runners couldn’t make it due to travel problems, so it was two Ethiopian men (Ayele Kassaye and Baisa Moleta, both age 25) and one Ethiopian woman (Tezeta Dengersa, 34), based out of the Washington, DC area, to compete against the W&M runners and other Americans for the $2,000 in prize money ($500-300-200 to the top three men and women). One ex-W&M runner, Richard “Skeeter” Morris, 26, of Burkeville almost pulled off the upset to join the winning Tribe runners at Colonial.

Morris competed for W&M from 2006-10 as a distance runner, with track bests of 8:32 (3,000 meters), 14:49 (5,000) and 30:34 (10,000). He was All-East in cross country and at the track 10,000. He started working with Ed Moran (a four-time All-American while at W&M, and a former W&M assistant track coach) last June, and the results were quick, with Morris having a lifetime best race at last October’s Marine Corps Marathon, where he placed third overall in 2:24:02. “Obviously his training plan works for me. He was the assistant coach for me while I ran at W&M, so he understands my strengths and weaknesses,” said Morris about Moran. Sunday’s Colonial Half was his best half marathon ever (he had placed fourth at Colonial in 2011 in 1:12:58). This spring Morris will do the Shamrock Half Marathon in March to prepare for the Pittsburgh Marathon in May.

The Ethiopians pulled away from Morris after one mile, but he caught back up by six miles, and put in a long surge around 7 ½ miles to try to avoid their kick, but the trio was still together at 10 miles, at which point Morris dropped Moleta, but Kassaye pulled away for the win, 1:10:37 to 1:11:03 over Morris. Moleta faded badly to a third-place 1:13:35, and was almost caught by a come-from-behind surge by Williamsburg’s Adam Otstot, 31, fourth in 1:13:43, after having passed 2012 Run for the Dream Half Marathon winner Greg Mariano (fifth in 1:14:26). “I think the heat caught everyone off guard,” said Morris. “We were all so accustomed to running in 20-30 degree temperatures this winter and then we were racing at 70 degrees.”

The women’s race was more routine, as Ethiopian race favorite Dengersa ran comfortably to win in 1:23:30, with unseeded runner Alison Nolan, 24, of Central, SC second in 1:24:48, and Morgan Denecke, 23, of Norfolk third in 1:26:31. Carolyn Shaw, 22, of Arlington (1:27:57) and W&M grad student Madeleine Gunter, 24, of Williamsburg (1:28:45) also got under the 1:30 barrier.

The Masters (ages 40-and-over) race for the women was exciting from a local aspect, as Laura Shannon, 51, of Williamsburg and Jennifer Quarles, 41, of Williamsburg duked it out with 2013 Masters winner Yoko England, 42, of Norfolk, and the trio finished sixth through eighth overall. Shannon, the Masters winner in 2010 (and second overall then with a PR 1:29:59), prevailed for the 40+ women on Sunday with a time of 1:31:43, with England second in 1:32:01 and Quarles third in 1:32:55. In December, Shannon was first and Quarles second at the Christmas Town Dash 8K at Busch Gardens. At Colonial this year, England slowed from her 1:28:17 in 2013, while Shannon and Quarles improved dramatically from their 1:35’s last year. Quarles was the 2012 Run for the Dream Half Marathon champion.

For the Masters men, pre-race favorite John Piggott had a bad race, with the top three 40+ men being Doug Fernandez, 53, of Richmond (1:20:02), Todd Bibb, 41, of Virginia Beach (1:21:07) and Tim Schuler, 50, of Chambersburg (1:21:10). Piggott had beaten Fernandez by just three seconds, 1:18:28 to 1:18:31, for the Masters title at Colonial in 2012, one of his five Masters titles, including his 1:19:24 last year.

Source :-Virginia Gazette

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