Falmouth, MA. – Tomorrow’s 47th New Balance Falmouth Road Race men’s competition will have a throwback look to it as the top three seeds are all Kenyan-born, but American schooled athletes. Since Joe Nzau of the University of Wyoming became the first Kenyan champion at Falmouth in 1983, that’s how we became acquainted with the first generation of great Kenyan runners who emerged in the late 1970s and early ‘80s.
Four-time Falmouth champion Stephen Sambu (2013–2017) was a nine-time All-American at the University of Arizona. Twice runner up to Sambu in Falmouth and also twice third, including last year, Leonard Korir was a two-time NCAA champion at Iona in 2011. And Falmouth debutante Edward Cheserek was a record-breaking 17-time NCAA titleist at the University of Oregon.
Defending champion Ben Flanagan of Canada out of the University of Michigan is back in town this year but injured so we won’t be running just doing personal appearances at the expo.
Just got word that Clayton Young, BYU’s NCAA 10,000 meter champ in Austin this June has been added to the start list. That’s the same position Ben Flanagan held coming into Falmouth 2018 out of Ann Arbor.
So far in 2019 Sambu has not been the athlete he has been in the past. Rather than winning, he’s been taking thirds (BAA10 K), fourths (Bix 7), and sevenths (Peachtree). But at age 31, he’s transitioning to the marathon heading toward the New York City Marathon in November. That transition is often attended by a slowing in speed as distance in training piles up.
Leonard Korir has been racing less frequently in 2019. A U.S. citizen since Dec 31, 2015, Korir won his sixth US national title at the USATF Half Marathon Championship in Pittsburgh, and was third in the USATF nationals at 10,000 meters in Des Moines in June. One would think he might be a little bit fresher than Sambu. Plus, she’s got something of a score to settle as he and Stephen went shoulder to shoulder to the line in Falmouth two years ago with Sambu eking out a split second win.
Late entrant Edward Cheserek was a high school star at Newark’s St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey, then an absolute stud at the University of Oregon where he won a record 17 NCAA titles from 2013 to 2017. July 20th he notched a personal best 13:04 for 5000 meters in Heusden, Belgium, and originally had plans to run tonight’s Aetna Mile at Falmouth High School.
“But 10 days ago I pulled a hamstring and I didn’t know if I could run or not,“ he told me at yesterday‘s press conference at Soprano‘s Casino by the Sea on Falmouth Heights. “But my coach (Stephen Hass) had me do a long run on Sunday at tempo and it felt good so I said, ‘OK let’s try’, but in the seven-miler where there won’t be as much strain out on the muscle.”
King Chez, as he’s called, was supposed to run last year here in Falmouth, but he got a little nicked up then, too. It might be a pattern the 25 year-old has begun to address.
“I’m training about 95 to 100 miles a week this year,“ he said. “Last year I was doing 110 to 115. But when I did I’d get injured. It was the left side last year the right side this year.”
With a mile best of 3:49.44 run in Boston in early 2018 at the David Hemery Valentine Invitational during the indoor season, Edward is probably the only guy capable of winning the Atnea Mile on Saturday and then the Falmouth Road Race seven miler on Sunday morning. But he doesn’t know the course and he’s up against two real veterans in Sambu and Korir.
“I’ll just hang in there with them and use their experience, but I won’t let them go,“ he said.
Another couple of Kenyans, David Bett and Silas Rutto, will challenge, too. Bett is coming in off a victory at the BAA 10K in June where he beat Sambu. Kipruto is a 6’4” string bean who has been a monster road racer throughout his career, but at age 34 is beginning to show signs of erosion. He only finished fifth in his last race July 29th in Capitola, California at the Wharf to Wharf 6 Miler.
The men’s field is not nearly as deep as the ones in the golden era of the race when a win at Falmouth usually identified the year’s best road racer. But the 2019 class should be very competitive nonetheless. Of course, it’s also the first year the race will be without its founding father Tommy Leonard who passed away in January at age 85.
Tommy’s spirit will infuse every step taken this weekend, most notably at this mornings SBLI Falmouth Walk taking place down at the Quarterdeck on Main Street. This afternoon it’s the Tommy Cochary High School Miles, then the Aetna Pro Miles followed by tomorrow’s 47th New Balance Falmouth Road Race where we are likely to see a 24th Kenyan born men’s champion.