As far as comebacks go, Mary Keitany couldn’t have enjoyed a better return as she won the Lowertown Brewery Ottawa 10k, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, in a course record of 31:22 on Saturday (25).
The 32-year-old Kenyan star gave birth to her daughter, Samantha, 13 months ago and chose the Canadian race to test herself against a strong field in her first race since the London 2012 Olympic Games.
Keitany seized control of the race by the halfway point, reached in 15:47, and quickly put distance between her and the eventual second-place finisher Ruti Aga of Ethiopia, who finished in 32:21 on a warm and muggy evening.
Kenya’s Caroline Kilel, the 2011 Boston Marathon winner, took third place in 32:31.
Ottawa is unique in that the elite women are given a head start of 4:10 – the difference in time between the men's and women's course records – and the first to cross the line, male or female, earns a $4000 bonus to go with the $6000 first-place prize. Keitany was successful on both counts, and the course record earned her an additional $2000.
As she crossed the line, however, she did not know her time. When a local reporter informed her, she smiled broadly.
“I never knew I had broken the course record,” she said, laughing.
“Now I am happy, because of today’s race because it was my first time to come to Canada and I have tried my level best to win Ottawa. I was not running for more than a year since the 2012 Olympics because of the birth of my second child.
“I left the ladies after 5km, I thought maybe the men might catch me after something like 9km and when I looked back I didn’t see anybody. So I tried my best to finish before the men got me. So I am happy.”
Surrounded by admirers, including diplomats from the Kenyan embassy, she was asked if she had been nervous before the race.
“Yes, I was nervous because when you are going for your first race, you don’t know what you are going to actually run,” she said.
“This was a test of my body. Winning this race means a lot to me. It means that I am training well and will do well in the future. I don’t know yet where I will race again. I was given Ottawa by my manager. Maybe now he will get me a half marathon or two before I run before I go to a marathon.”
It took some time for Aga to recover enough to speak to reporters and it wasn’t only the effort which had taken its toll.
“I had typhoid five weeks ago so that made me very tired, otherwise it was difficult to run,” she said. “I made it and so I am happy. But it was very hard work.”
The men’s race saw a group of six runners reach 5km in 13:57, at which time Wilson Kiprop increased the pace.
However, it was only in the last kilometre that his compatriots David Kogei and Geoffrey Mutai began to lose contact.
With a final effort, and with the finish line in sight, Kiprop tried to finish faster than 28 minutes but crossed the line in 28:01.
The battle for second place came down to a sprint but Mutai could not keep pace with Kogei, who claimed second in 28:07, two seconds in front of his compatriot.
“I am very happy first of all to have run and competed and I won the race,” Kiprop said while draped in a Kenyan flag. “The challenge was very tough the line up was so strong but I managed to win.
“I was worried because my aim was to run under 28 because I have never run under 28 on the roads. I was concerned because I was trying to control the race. I was ready for the challenge if they came up on me. I was just preparing myself, I had planned to save energy to kick at the end. In fact I was planning to go with 500 metres to go.”
Mutai was also pleased with his performance because he has not done any speed work in preparation for the race but focused on recovery from his sixth-place finish at the London Marathon last month.
“First of all, I am thankful I finished in the top three,” he said. “I have recovered from the London Marathon but not enough to resume full training. So this was part of training and it was a competition actually. I am happy with the result because I wasn’t expecting to run so fast.
“With one kilometre to go, I felt very tired because of my legs I still have some way to go with my weight. My weight is not my (racing) weight. It was tough to go with Wilson. My body is OK but I have some training to do. The time was good for this race. The race to come is going to be good. I have regained myself and next time you will see.”
Paul Gains for the IAAF