Chepses, Thorvilson win Little Rock Marathon

03/03/2014 - 16:25

Mark Chepses of Kenya won the Little Rock Marathon for the fourth-consecutive year on Sunday, while hometown favorite Leah Thorvilson broke the tape for the fifth time.

“It was very cold,” said Chepses, who won in 2:25:45.

“I’m so happy to be done,” said Thorvilson, delighted with a winning time of 2:42:41, her second-fastest here. “These are the ickiest conditions I’ve ever raced in.”

Both, however, were thrilled to don their “Epic Winner” super hero capes and take a victory lap, all smiles and high-fives of the crowd warming their hearts.

“The reception at the finish line was amazing,” said Thorvilson, who calls Little Rock her home.

While Thorvilson led the women’s race from the start, Chepses had some persistent company. After starting on the corner of President Clinton Boulevard and Sherman Street in a light drizzle with temperatures in the high 40s and dropping, the 37-year-old who lives in West Des Moines, IA, was running with American Bryan Morseman and Kenya’s George Kitonga at Mile 4.

Chepses and Kitonga went through 10K together in 32:48, with Morseman, of Bath, NY, 16 seconds behind. By the halfway mark, reached in 32:48, Chepses was a step ahead of Kitonga, but Morseman appeared to be out of contention, 1:02 in arrears. It was a different picture by 20 miles, with Kitonga off the radar screen but Morseman only 38 seconds back.

“At 21 he saw me,” said the 28-year-old Morseman, who finished second just last week in the Cowtown Marathon in Fort Worth, TX. “That’s where he turned it up. The last two or three miles I started to close, but I ran out of steam.”

Morseman would finish second, in 2:26:16, with Arturs Bareikis, 27, of Crestwood, IL, rounding out the podium in 2:28:39. Brad Poppele, 42, Colorado Springs, CO, won the masters division, finishing ninth overall in 2:44:59.

Thorvilson, meanwhile, had the road largely to herself, winning over runner-up Megan Zavorka Thomas of Omaha, NE, by over 12 minutes. Thomas finished in 2:55:14. Thorvilson’s time of 2:42:41 would have been good enough for eighth in the men’s division.

Taking third was Carrie Mack, 27, of Bloomington, IL, in 2:57:33. Winning the women’s masters division was Amy Landes, 42, of St. Louis, MO, in 3:09:55, in fifth place.

Coming off successful hamstring surgery last March, Thorvilson—who left Minnesota to compete for the University of Arkansas-Little Rock and stayed—thought back in December that she might be ready to improve her personal best of 2:37:26 in this race, but between winter illness and weather woes, she said “I kind of let go of that.” Then she heard the forecast for race day.

“I don’t know if I’m growing up, but I just had the sense of ‘it’s going to be what it’s going to be,” she said.

It was a rousing success, bringing her full circle from what she called the greatest race of her career here in her 2012, course-record (2:37:26) victory through her crushing disappointment in 2013 of having to divert to the half marathon midway through her planned 26.2-miler because of the hamstring pain.

“I knew there was a chance I would never get back to where I was,” she said of recovering from surgery so extensive that the name on her bib read “Frankenbooty.” “So if I can do this in these conditions, I think my fastest times are still coming.”

Threatening weather conditions forced race officials to cancel or reroute the marathon for some runners.

“Our primary focus is the safety of our participants,” Little Rock Marathon Race Director Gina Pharis said. “We have been on the course and have been working with the National Weather Service and city officials throughout the day assessing safety concerns. Severe thunderstorms in the area have become dangerous for participants, forcing the closing of our courses and the rerouting of the remainder of today’s running and walking events.”

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