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A record-setting Boilermaker Road Race win

Ben Birnell
Sports writer
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Posted 7/10/22

Jemal Yimer Mekonnen changed his plan. Not enough, though, that it kept him from a record at the 45th Boilermaker Road Race. 

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A record-setting Boilermaker Road Race win


UTICA — Jemal Yimer Mekonnen changed his plan.

Not enough, though, that it kept him from a record at the 45th Boilermaker Road Race. 

The 25-year-old Ethiopian emerged from an extended back-and-forth challenge by 29-year-old friend Edwin Kimutai, of Kenya, to win a classic in a tight finish in the 15K in a record 42 minutes and 38 seconds. 

Mekonnen’s result surpasses the previous event mark of 42:40, which was set by Joseph Kimani in 1996. The course was adjusted in 1997 to accommodate additional runners. The course record was 42:46 by Lelisa Desisa in 2010. 

Kimutai, who had a brief lead by a few lengths early in the race before falling into a battle with Mekonnen, finished second in 42:40. 

“My plan was to break away with two kilometers (about a mile) to go,” Mekonnen said through a translator.

Mekonnen – wearing blaze orange and yellow shoes – changed his mind as he battled with Kimutai for ground after the pair separated from the rest of the field following the turn from Valley View Golf Course onto the Memorial Parkway. The pair pulled away from the rest of the elite field as they battled for the top two spots over the last four miles. 

“I thought I should wait until 600 meters to go. I used the downhill (on Whitesboro Street) for my kick,” said Mekonnen, who earned $7,000 for his victory. “It was fantastic the last 400 meters. I was just enjoying the crowd and the weather.” 

The day seemed to be made for a record. The challenge between the two was one factor in helping set the record pace. Another factor: sunny with a temperature in the low-60s at the start of the race – with little humidity. 

“That guy is strong. He made me run with him,” said Kimutai, who won the 2021 Cherry Blossom race in Washington, D.C.. “I just wanted to run a good time.” 

Sam Chelanga, a late addition to the race, was third in 43:09. The 37-year-old, who lives in Colorado, was the top American and earned $3,000.

“Those guys are very talented,” Chelanga said. “I did my best to try and chase them. But, I’m happy overall to be the top American.”

The 9.3-mile race through Utica’s streets marked a return to the Boilermaker’s traditional second Sunday in July after an altered event in 2020 and one moved to last fall due to challenges with the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of spectators lined the course to cheer on the more than 5,800 people who finished the 15K.

“I am very speechless about the crowd. They motivate me to push hard and win the race,” Mekonnen said. "I’m very grateful to be here.” 

The women's winner was Rosemary Wanjiru, who jumped out to the lead about a half-mile after the start line and never really faced any trouble along the way to finish in 48:53. The Boilermaker record for women is 47:57.

She claimed $7,000 for her Boilermaker win. And, because she was the Bloomsday race winner in 2019, she also claimed a $10,000 Super Bonus as part of the Professional Road Racing Organization (PRRO) circuit’s 25th championship.

“I was thinking about that (bonus) the whole race,” Wanjiru said with a smile. “I didn’t want anyone else to have it.” 

Veronicah Nyaru Wanjiru was second on the women’s side in 49:14. Mary Munanu was third (49:30). 

Isaac Macharia Wanjohi, 43, of Kenya, ran 49:33 to win the men’s master’s title. Mary Lebrun Schultz, 40, of Buffalo, ran 1:02.35 for the female masters title. Both earned $2,000.

Veteran masters runner Roger Robinson, 83, one of the top chroniclers of the running sports with several books published, finished the race in  1:24:50. It is believed to be the best time by a runner 80 or older in race history.

Carrie Verdon, a 28-year-old who trains in Colorado, was the top American woman in 49:37 and finished fifth overall. She earned $3,000.

“I wanted to be in the top group, but once the race started, I knew that wasn’t in the cards for the day,” said Verdon, who was in a group of Americans with Susanna Sullivan (49:38) and Erika Kemp (50:36). “It was my first Boilermaker. It was a great crowd and a great course. I thought the hills would be tough and they were tough.”

Last year’s men’s winner Stephen Rathbun, a Syracuse native, finished in 47:15 and was 23rd overall. Savannah Boucher, a Remsen native and New Hartford grad who lives in Texas, was 14th among women in 54:38.

“Honestly, it felt awesome,” Boucher said. “I felt really good. I raced a little bit smarter this year. I was a minute faster than last year. I thought it went really, really well.” 


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