FALMOUTH – Wude Ayalew Yimer was walking to the post-race awards ceremony with her backpack over her shoulder and her warmup suit zipped up to keep her tiny body warm against the cool ocean breeze blowing off Vineyard Sound.
Not one person she met face-to-face or who was standing on the sidewalk along Grand Avenue in Falmouth Heights had any inkling this woman of small stature had just stepped to the forefront of U.S. road racing by stunning heavily favored Lineth Chepkurui and winning the 38th edition of the Falmouth Road Race.
The diminutive Ethiopian, who has limited English-speaking skills, let her feet do the talking in yesterday’s idyllic race conditions and cruised home with the women’s win in 35:46, six-tenths of a second faster than Chepkurui to capture the first major road race of her career.
It was a classic duel between two talented runners, neither of whom was capable of shaking off the other’s pursuit over the seven-mile course.
Last week, in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, the two finished 1-2 in the Beach to Beacon 10K race with Chepkurui setting a course record and beating Yimer by eight seconds. For the 23-year-old Yimer, it was a learning experience.
A mere week later, on a course she had run in the past, Yimer – who is better known for her exploits in the 3,000- and 10,000-meter distances, taking the bronze in last year’s world championships in each event – had tucked away in the back of her mind how Chepkurui had beaten her in Maine.
She made sure that if she were in any position to win, it wouldn’t happen again.
“I remembered what she did to pull away at the end last week,” Yimer said through fellow countryman interpreter – and yesterday’s men’s champion – Gebre Gebremariam. “I was prepared for that move and I didn’t let her get away from me. I stayed with her and then I made a move on the last hill that got me ahead to stay.
“I am so excited by this win,” she said. “Falmouth is such a big race and to beat Lineth in only the second time we have run against each other is a surprise to me. I’m very happy with today. It means a lot to me.”
Chepkurui credited Yimer with running a smart, tactical race and with paying attention last week.
“She watched what happened last week and when I tried the same move, she was ready for it,” said Chepkurui, who was battling a cold that struck her early in the week. “I expected her to challenge me, but I thought I could get away at the end. I realized I was not as strong as last week.”
Edna Kiplagat of Kenya took third place in 36:31 – her third bronze finish at Falmouth and just a week after a third-place finish in the Beach to Beacon.
Another Kenyan, four-time Falmouth women’s champion Catherine Ndereba, was fourth in 38:06.
For the second consecutive year, Colleen De Reuck of Boulder, Colo., captured the No. 5 spot overall in 38:10. In addition, she was the top women’s Masters finisher and the first American female to cross the line.
After the race, the 46-year-old mother of two went for a six-mile run, as she is also training for the Chicago Marathon this fall.
Regarding the race, De Reuck was a bit surprised by the quick start by the top two finishers, saying, “They took off fast and there was no way to stay with them. I tried to keep a consistent pace of around 5:20 or 5:30 a mile.
“At one point, Catherine (Ndereba) and I were running next to each other and it brought me back about 10 years when we would be challenging each other to win the race. We were still close until the final hill and she pulled away. She got me on the hill.”
Amy Hastings of Monmouth Lakes, Calif., was the second American female finisher, coming home in seventh place, and Jeannette Seckinger of Somerville was the third American, taking ninth overall.
“I knew I was in the top 10 about three miles in,” Seckinger said. “Last year was the first time I had run here and I am generally a marathoner so I started out at marathon pace and everybody else was blowing out of there so I never got anywhere close to the top.
“I was more prepared this time and I started faster and then settled into a steady pace. I started to pick off runners and move up. And that’s why I did as well as I did.”
But, the day belonged to Yimer and after her performance at Falmouth, it is doubtful she will go unrecognized by the masses any longer.
By Geoff Converse, Capecod Online