Running through the streets of a still slumbering city, fighting off cramps, the chill October air and the dozens of runners around him, Stephen Muange once again tasted victory in Charm City, claiming his second consecutive
The Kenya native defended his 2011 title with a personal best time of 2:13:08, three seconds ahead of second-place finisher Tesfaye Alemayehu of
And that wasn't even the closest race of the day.
Elfneshe Yado, 25, of Ethiopia beat Malika Mejdoub literally by a nose to win the women's marathon. It was so close both women finished with a time of 2:38:46. Yado was determined the winner visually by judges, who determined she finished an inch ahead of Mejdoub.
"I'm very happy. … I'm very proud of myself and I'm happy that I won," Yado said through a translator. "I feel like a warrior."
In addition to it being Yado's first Baltimore Marathon, it is also her first time in the United States.
Muange captured the city's attention last year after winning despite never having raced in a marathon before and lacking the knowledge of how to pace a 26.2-mile distance. But despite his newly gained experience, the 31-year-old knew it would still be equally as challenging in 2012.
"This year there were many, many more runners [compared] to last year," said Muange. "So the race this year was more competitive than last year ... it was harder."
In its 12th year, the Baltimore Running Festival set a record with about 27,000 participants, breaking last year's mark by about 2,000. Muange outlasted a marathon field of 22 elite or professional runners — two more had scratched the day before.
The men's field remained a tight pack for the majority of the race, the first major separation coming from Abdelhadi El Mouaziz of Morocco in the 10th and 11th mile.
Around the 15th mile, Muange made his move and claimed the lead alongside fellow Kenyan Ernest Kebenei. The two built a huge lead with the help of two consecutive sub-five minute split times in the 17th and 18th miles.
Only Alemayehu and Julius Koskei could keep up with the pair, leaving only four in the running for the championship.
"I trained very well before the race, so I was not [afraid] of anything," Muange said.
Coming down the stretch in the final three miles, long after Kebenei and Koskei has dropped off, Alemayehu repeatedly tried to break away from Muange, but the defending champion would not allow it. As both runners entered
"I was not sure if I would win the race, but I thought if [Tesfaye] wins, it's OK and if I win it's [also] okay," he said.
But the Kenyan pulled out the magic once again, wowing the hundreds gathered at the finish line. When it was clear Muange had officially claimed his second title, which comes with a $25,000 prize, one spectator was caught up in the moment more than others.
"I was crying, crying tears of joy, like he was my child. We were just so proud of him," said Lisa Doherty, whose family was serving as hosts to Muange. Doherty and her husband, Joe, along with their two young boys embraced Muange after he emerged from the runners' tent.
"You took care of me, that's why I won," Muange said with a grin.
For next year, Yado and Muange said they plan to return to Baltimore to defend their titles. While it maybe hard to out-do the two closest races in the event's history, the chance is there, especially for Muange who will try for a three-peat.
"I don't know [if I can]," he said, "but I will come and try."