As a student in Kenya, Elisha Barno made a three-mile run between home and school four times a day, counting a quick trip for lunch. He routinely ran nine miles roundtrip to participate in extracurricular sports.
Barno spent countless weekends hunting gazelles and rabbits with his dogs.
To him, running was like breathing.
So it was little surprise Sunday that the indefatigable Barno didn’t break stride in the 25th mile of the Los Angeles Marathon, despite getting sick along the way. He later explained his sports-drink concoction had him feeling queasy.
“It was a lot of pain, but I had to be patient,” said Barno, 30, who pulled ahead of countryman Daniel Limo in the final mile and glided down Ocean Boulevard in Santa Monica all alone, winning in 2 hours 11 minutes 51 seconds.
“I was making calculations in my head,” Barno said. “When I saw the ocean, I thought, ‘No way I’m not going to win this race. I’m not letting go.’”
The back-and-forth battle between Barno and Limo was so intense, they covered the 24th to 25th miles in 4:40, the fastest stretch of the race. Said Limo, who finished second in 2:12:13: “My legs were giving way, but I had to finish.”
Limo, who won the L.A. Marathon two years ago and finished third last year, is the first men’s competitor since 2002 to place in the top three in three consecutive years.
A few steps after breaking the tape, Barno was wrapped in a Kenyan flag. That scene took place again and again. Six of the top seven men’s finishers were from Kenya, the lone exception was Peru’s Willy Canchanya, who placed fifth.
Kenyans were atop the women’s division, too, with Hellen Jepkurgat crossing the finish line in 2:34:24, nearly two minutes ahead of second-place Jane Kibii (2:36:14).
While the men’s race was neck and neck, Jepkurgat pulled away at Mile 15 and cruised alone. The more intense competition was between Kibii and third-place Angela Orjuela of Colombia, separated by six seconds.
Purses of $100,000 were shared among the top five men’s and women’s finishers, with the winners receiving $23,000 each. Barno, who spent the past two months training in Santa Fe, N.M., is scheduled to fly back to Kenya on Monday. He plans to use his winnings on a house there.
Last year’s winner, Kenyan Weldon Kirui, bought two cows with his prize money. He finished fourth Sunday in 2:13:21.
Unlike the last two years, when the race was run in uncomfortably warm conditions, this cool and slightly foggy Sunday morning was ideal. With more than 24,000 runners and an estimated half a million spectators, the undulating, 26.2-mile course wound past City Hall and Disney Hall, down Sunset Strip and Rodeo Drive, and finished a few blocks from the Santa Monica Pier.
The field included clusters of elite men’s and women’s athletes, trailed by thousands of everyday competitors, including the occasional Elvis impersonator.
“The L.A. Marathon is a perfect example of why L.A. is the sports capital of the world,” said Mayor Eric Garcetti, who participated in the start, as dawn was breaking over Dodger Stadium, and helped hold the tape at the finish line. “It’s not just about the stars we have that train here, the Olympic athletes you see on the UCLA track or on the beach in the South Bay. It’s also about all the citizens who just love sports. Doesn’t matter your ability, your age, your background — we love sports.”
Among the men, the top U.S. finisher Sunday was John Pickhaver, (2:23:24), a former Villanova runner who now helps coach the Loyola Marymount cross-country team and is a writers’ production assistant on the ABC sitcom “The Goldbergs.”
“It was a nice surprise,” Pickhaver said of his 10th-place finish. “It was a few minutes faster last year, so I feel pretty lucky to be in that spot.”
The top U.S. finisher among the women was fourth-place Joanna Reyes (2:37:56), who ran cross-country in her hometown for San Jose State. Sunday’s performance beat her previous personal best by roughly 13 minutes. Not bad for someone trying to balance her running with pharmacy school, and final exams, which she just finished.
The experience, Reyes said, “feels like a dream.”
Follow Sam Farmer on Twitter @LATimesfarmer