Davenport, IA. – As race director extraordinaire Ed Froelich quipped, “even when it’s an American championship, Kenyans win.”
True enough, the 43rd Quad City Times Bix 7 Road Race hosted the USATF 7 Mile Road Championship yesterday for the fifth time, and two Kenyan-born Americans took home top honors, Sam Chelanga for the men, and Aliphine Tuliamuck for the women. And none of the competitors in the two pro fields could have been more thankful or gracious in victory.
Tuliamuck won her fourth USARC title of the year, and seventh since becoming an American citizen in April 2016. The personable 28 year-old showcased a dominating performance, putting 1:04 on 2016 Olympian Marielle Hall of New Jersey over the final four miles, with California’s all-arounder Sara Hall finishing third :19 later after arriving from Ethiopia on Thursday.
What made Aliphine’s win so meaningful was her feeling for the Hawkeye State, and her previous attempt at the Bix 7.
“I love Iowa,” she told me at the VIP luncheon on Friday. “It will always be like home. It was the first place I came from Kenya (to attend Iowa State in Ames). Even now when I am in Santa Fe, I think of Iowa as my home.”
Though 28-year-old Tuliamuck transferred to Wichita State for its nursing program after a year and a half in Ames, and graduated as a Shocker in 2013, she still contemplates moving back to Iowa when her running career is finished. That might be a ways away, though.
Aliphine ran the Bix in 2015, and took the lead coming down the steep Brady Street hill in the final mile, breaking away from a pack of five. But she misjudged the last 600 meters along 2nd Street to the finish, and got passed by all four of the women she had previously dropped. She didn’t wait for that circumstance in 2017, making a major move between miles four and five on the return up Kirkwood Blvd. to open a lengthening lead to the line.
It was the first trip to the Quad Cities for ex-Liberty University star Sam Chelanga. Though he had taken wins at the prestigious World’s Best 10k in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and the NYRR’S Healthy Kidney 10k, Sam had yet to notch a victory on the USA Running Circuit in 2017, though he had taken podium positions three times.
After training stints in New Hampshire and Flagstaff, Arizona following his graduation from Liberty University, Sam finally found a comfortable training base in Colorado Springs with his wife and two sons Mika, 4, and Noah, 5 months.
“New Hampshire was great,” Sam said reflecting on his time training with Ben True. “Mark Coogan was a very good coach for me, but he got a job with New Balance, and my sponsor was Nike, so…
“Arizona was more of a transition. Colorado Springs reminds me more of the area around Liberty U. in Virginia, running trails and mountains.”
Though he isn’t in the U.S. Army, Sam trains with the WCAP team, including 2013 & 2015 Bix 7 champion Leonard Korir, who is heading to London to represent the USA at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships next week.
“He told me to be prepared to run fast downhill,” said Sam of Leonard’s Bix advice.
And that he did. After the big uphill first mile passed in 5:11, led out by BIB # 206 Wade Meddles of Gardnerville, Nevada, the second mile down tree-lined Kirkwood Blvd evaporated in 4:13. Driven by the large throngs lining the course, WCAP’s Haron Lagat, a noted steeplechase pacer on the IAAF Diamond League track circuit, fronted the pack of eight through the turnaround at 3 1/2 miles.
By five miles on the return up Kirkwood, the pack had splintered to four with Chelanga waiting behind Boulder Track Club’s Jonathan Grey, Manhattan, Kansas native Reid Buchanan, and Hoka Northern Arizona Elite’s Scott Fauble, who made a name finishing fourth at last summer’s Olympic Trials in the 10,000 meters
Chelanga came into the Bix as odds-on favorite, and he finally stamped his presence with a major drive uphill between miles 5 and 6 that sealed the win (32:53). Northern Arizona Elite’s Scott Fauble (33:01) took second with Matt McClintock (33:10), 2016 Purdue grad now with Zap Fitness in North Carolina, finished third. Fauble and McClintock led a number of young up-and-coming pros trying on the challenging Bix course.
A perfect morning greeted the 12,600 starters with temps in the low 60s, a gentle breeze to cool the throbbing brows, and low humidity to boot. Local high school star Joy Ripslinger of Davenport Assumption was chosen as the local candidate in the unique “Beat The Elite” challenge that pits a local runner against the pro field in a handicap race.
It was the 14th year for the Beat the Elite competition, and only four times have the local challengers failed to finish ahead of the top guns. This year Ripslinger was gifted with a 2.2 mile head start.
Considering that the University of Arkansas bound student-athlete was coming off an unprecedented four state tiles at the Iowa state & field championships, winning the 400, 800, mile, and 3000, the pressure of world-class men breathing down her neck proved no problem. She easily crossed first, then donated her $2500 prize to charity. Razorback Coach Lance Harter will have a real blue chipper in young Ms. Ripslinger. Even her name sounds fast.
All in all, with the 17th Brady Street Sprints on Thursday evening, the 20th Jr. Bix on Friday, and then the big 7-Miler on Saturday, it was another superb weekend at the QC Times Bix 7, a true American Classic.
Up next is Joan Benoit Samuelson’s TD Beach to Beacon 10k in lovely Cape Elizabeth, Maine next weekend, this year celebrating its 20th running
BTW, Joanie won her 15th master’s title at the Bix 7 at age 60(!), to go along with her three open division wins in 1985, ’86, and 1988. #Ageless, #Relentless.