Jose Luis Chuela figured he had something on the lead runners during the last three miles of Sunday’s America’s Finest City HomeFed Half Marathon, even though the two leaders picked up their pace and sped by Chuela just past the 10th-mile marker.
What he had was experience.
In 1988, Chuela finished second to Carlos Retiz in the race. He could have finished first, he thinks, if he hadn’t gone all out to stay with Retiz on the flat part of the course along Harbor Drive. That caused him to lose his wind on the uphill grade along Sixth Avenue that leads to the finish line in Balboa Park.
This time, Chuela remembered that grade while he was striding along Harbor Drive, and when Fredson Mayiek of Kenya and Alfredo Vigueros of New Mexico left him behind as they ran by the Star of India, Chuela let them go.
The strategy worked. On Sixth Avenue Mayiek and Vigueros, like Chuela in 1988, could not maintain. Chuela first caught Mayiek, then Vigueros, before winning in 1 hour 4 minutes 38 seconds.
Vigueros was second in 1:04:49 and Mayiek third in 1:05:07.
Laura La Mena of Tempe, Ariz., won the women’s race in 1:13:00, 52 seconds ahead of Kim Jones of Spokane, Wash.
It wasn’t that Chuela, from Michoacan, Mexico, actually caught Mayiek and Vigueros. It was more that Mayiek and Vigueros came back to him.
“He saw the other runners slow down a lot,” said Enrique Martinez, who interpreted for Chuela. “And when he saw (Mayiek) coming back, he knew it was time to make his move.”
Chuela’s first-place time was slow for the course, which begins at the Cabrillo Monument atop the Point Loma Peninsula and ends at Plaza de Panama in Balboa Park. It was 42 seconds off Alejandro Cruz’s 1989 first-place time of 1:03:56 and represented the 10th fastest in the 13-year-old race.
Yet Chuela considers it a good time, considering he is just getting back into running after taking a year off to recover from a back injury. He has been training for only two months.
La Mena used a strategy opposite that of Chuela in winning the women’s race. After finishing sixth last year, La Mena decided she could do much better this time around if she started out fast.
“I started slow last year and just had too much ground to make up,” she said.
To win, La Mena had to out run the No. 1-rated woman marathoner in the United States, Jones. Yet La Mena was not afraid of losing her lead. “Coming up the hill, I was picking off men,” she said. “So I knew that if was picking off men, I could win the thing.”
Jones, who suffers from asthma, got a slow start because the humidity made breathing difficult at the beginning.
“Laura was running real steady,” Jones said. “So it was very difficult to gain ground on her.”
Chuela and La Mena each earned $1,310 for their victories. Second-place finishers Vigueros and Jones won $750 and third-place finishers Mayiek and Lynn Deninno (1:14:09) of St. Louis earned $500.