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Bayelign Teshager and Margaret Muriuki win 2020 L.A. Marathon

He stayed with the lead pack and then, by the point the hilly, unforgiving terrain was coldly claiming its victims, he instead somehow felt better.

Bayelign Teshager rode that sensation to victory Sunday in the 35th Los Angeles Marathon. Maybe he didn’t know any better; this was his debut at the distance.

“As the race progressed, I became more energized,” the Ethiopian said through an interpreter. “After the 35-kilometer mark [roughly 22 miles], I was sure I was going to win. So that gave me even more energy.”

He won by pulling away from Kenya’s John Langat over the final mile and a half, turning a two-man shootout into a solo flight to the finish.

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Bayelign Teshager, 20, of Ethiopia completes the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday in Santa Monica.
Bayelign Teshager of Ethiopia completes the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday in Santa Monica.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

Teshager posted a time of two hours, eight minutes and 26 seconds. Langat came in 17 seconds behind him.

Margaret Muriuki of Kenya handily won the women’s race, finishing in 2:29:27. Ethiopia’s Almaz Negede was runner-up three minutes back.

Starting at Dodger Stadium and ending near the Santa Monica Pier, the race wound throughout Los Angeles and attracted more than 26,000 entrants. The weather was sunny and runner friendly.

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The favorable conditions certainly played a part in an early ambitious pace that Teshager and a small group of other elite male runners managed to maintain for the majority of the race.

Over the opening miles, the leaders were on track to challenge the course record of 2:06:35 set by Markos Geneti in 2011.

“I don’t think anyone in the field was expecting that,” said New Zealand’s Zane Robertson, one of the pre-race favorites. “The mind set was there for the day. This is not going to be an even-paced race.”

Here is a breakdown of some of the Los Angeles Marathon’s ups and downs, essential reading for both first-time marathoners, aspiring record-breakers and vicarious runners.

Teshager, 20, entered with a personal best of 1:00:31 in the half marathon, which he ran in Spain a year ago. His longest race before Sunday was a 25-kilometer event in December in India.

“I’m very happy,” he said. “This is one of the days I’m going to remember the rest of my life.”

This distance has a history of immediate success. Just last month, Molly Seidel earned a spot on the U.S. Olympic team by finishing second at the trials in her marathon debut. Geneti set the L.A. course record in his first marathon.

The men’s lead pack Sunday was six strong — led mostly by Kenya’s Lani Rutto — until roughly the 22-mile mark when Teshager and Langat broke away.

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That set up a possible head-to-head sprint to the finish before Teshager proved too strong.

“I thought about my training,” he said. “I was confident in the conditions. I felt like I could push, so I was pretty much in control.”

He finished fast despite dealing with some late discomfort caused by one of his shoes.

“My excitement to win kind of overtook the pain,” Teshager explained.

Muriuki, 33, had no such issues in dominating the women’s field. She led from the start and was running with Negede until putting on a kick at about mile 19. She was on her own after that.

Margaret Muriuki, 34, of Kenya, completes the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday in Santa Monica.
Margaret Muriuki of Kenya completes the 2020 Los Angeles Marathon on Sunday in Santa Monica.
(Jason Armond / Los Angeles Times)

This was Muriuki’s second marathon — and second marathon victory. A cross-country and 1,500-meter runner early in her career, she also won in Honolulu in December.

“It was not much different than in Honolulu,” she said. “I just tried to push my best.”

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Robertson said he arrived in Southern California with the sole intent of winning Sunday. But the early pace and the punishing hills took a toll that his legs were unable to overcome.

In ramping up for this race, his training was affected when he was involved in a car accident in Ethiopia, where he lives.

“Unfortunately for me, the past two months haven’t been great,” Robertson, 30, said. “I found myself struggling around [18 miles]. I just had to jog it in to finish it up.”

Twelve deep as late as halfway through the race, the men’s leaders gradually thinned out to reveal only the strongest contenders.

“People think downhill makes it easier,” Robertson said. “Downhill is the worst. Downhill just… you know, in the marathon it’s always the impact that gets the body… It just makes it that much more painful when you get to the late stages.”

Through all the ups and downs, from an iconic baseball park to the postcard California coast, a rookie turned his debut into a dream.

Teshager became just the third non-Kenyan to win in Los Angeles since 1998.

“Running a 2:08 on a course like that is amazing,” Robertson said. “I think the guy can be a great marathoner. He raced like a championship runner.”


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