Julius Koskei admits he’s not a good finisher, doesn’t like cold weather and twice has dropped out of Grandma’s Marathons.
Not a great recipe for success.
So when he had the opportunity to put some distance between himself and the rest of the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon field Saturday, the 32-year-old Kenyan took advantage and pulled away to victory.
Koskei, who twice in the previous three years had quit running the 26.2-mile Grandma’s Marathon, crossed the Canal Park finish line for the 13.1-mile race in 1 hour, 3 minutes, 36 seconds. Koskei, who trains out of Hebron, Ky., finished hundreds of yards ahead of runner-up Tim Young of Fredericksburg, Va.
“I’m not good in marathons, so I came for the half-marathon,” said Koskei, who dropped out around the 16- and 13-mile marks in his two previous attempts at Grandma’s.
Koskei pulled away from a small pack at the 6-mile mark and stretched his lead to at least a full city block once downtown.
“I thought I was going very smoothly,” said Koskei, who never stopped for any water breaks to avoid any chance at cramping up. “I was moving but I was moving with caution. I moved at a good pace, not too fast. I didn’t push.”
Young soon realized his run was for second place.
“The winner made a move and it was too early for me to want to go after it,” said Young, who placed fifth at the 2014 USA 10-mile Championships and was timed in 1:04:09 in his first Duluth race. “I probably let him get away too soon, but I don’t think I could have closed anyway since I was running hard over the last four, five miles and wasn’t gaining any ground. He executed a good game plan. I’ll take second place to a faster guy.”
Still, Koskei occasionally looked over his shoulder to check on the progress of his competitors.
“I was worried because sometimes I feel like my body is not going to go today,” he said. “It was tough for me to push through these small hills.”
Koskei took first place in the Cleveland Marathon 10K and the Get in Gear 10K in Minneapolis earlier this year and won half-marathons in Columbus, Ohio, in 2013 and Pittsburgh in 2012. He earned $3,000 for winning the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon.
Despite his earlier troubles at longer distances, Koskei hopes to run a marathon by the end of this year, perhaps in Honolulu or Sacramento, Calif., and eventually turn his focus to that distance.
Fernando Cabada of Fresno, Calif., a veteran of previous Garry Bjorklunds, was third in 1:04:22.
r Cynthia Limo was a late addition to the women’s Garry Bjorklund elite field, not entering until about two weeks ago, but the 24-year-old Kenyan made the most of coming to Duluth by capturing the title in a relaxed 1:09:50.
That time was just 10 seconds slower than her winning pace in the Madrid Half Marathon earlier this year and 4:43 slower than her second-place finish at the 2013 Paris Half Marathon, but was a solid 1:13 ahead of countrywoman Caroline Rotich.
Limo, who lives in Lansing, Mich., and won a 6-kilometer race last weekend in Peoria, Ill., took the lead around the 6½-mile mark and never gave it back.
Despite the 45-degree starting temperatures and pre-race rain, Limo was glad to have made her first trip to Duluth.
“It was a good course, a flat course. One problem was a lot of rain,” she said. “I’ll come back. It’s a good place. It was very cold, but it’s a good race and I enjoyed it.”
Rotich, who lives in Santa Fe, N.M., finished in 1:11:03, while Dot McMahan of Oakland Township, Mich., was third in 1:12:57.