Just as Nelson Oyugi did after setting a course record a year ago, he kneeled past the finish line and raised his arms in celebration.
It was not to relish another record, but rather to rejoice in a repeat victory under warmer and more humid conditions on Sunday in the 37th annual America’s Finest City Half Marathon. He used a closing surge to prevail on a 13.1-mile course that started at the Cabrillo National Monument and finished in Balboa Park.
“I just give thanks,” the Kenyan said. “I feel good. The heat was tough, so I knew that a record was not coming.’’
Oyugi prevailed in the fifth slowest time ever (1 hour, 5 minutes, 17 seconds), far off the record (1:01:59) that he set while two other runners also broke the old mark.
Past the 12th mile and midway up Sixth Avenue, Oyugi pulled away from 2012 champion Tesfaye Alemayehu to win by 23 seconds. From the outset, he led while his Ethiopian rival kept a step behind him most of the way with an occasional move to pull even.
“Myself, I don’t like to be behind,” said Oyugi, 22, who received a first-place prize of $1,500 plus a $550 bonus as a repeat winner. “My experience helped. I knew the course, and the place to race toward the end.”
Oyugi won last year in just his second American race and first half marathon. He then followed with victories in Indianapolis and Santa Fe, N.M., also his training headquarters.
Fellow Kenyan Chris Kipyego not only placed third overall (1:05:40), but also finished just 30 seconds off the 32-year-old masters record despite the tough conditions. Through the 10th mile, he kept within striking distance of the lead.
“I was going for the record,” said Kipyego, who turned 40 this year to qualify for masters status. “I train with very strong guys, and that helps. The weather here had an effect, but I enjoyed it all.”
Kipyego came off a second-place showing at the Grandma Marathon (2:11:57) in Duluth, Minn., three years after winning that event.
“I want to continue running because I’m still good,” said Kipyego, who hails from the same Santa Fe running club.
In the women’s race, Lindsey Scherf, of Chapel Hill, N.C., moved ahead of early leader Sarah Kiptoo in the seventh mile and held firm to prevail by 13 seconds (1:14:33) ahead of Brianne Nelson, of Golden, Colo.
“I’m used to the warm conditions, being from North Carolina,” said Scherf, 27, who competed in college at Harvard and the University of Oregon. “So, if I just ran within myself, that was the best tactic for me.”
Kiptoo, 25, of Kenya, ended up third (1:15:11) with a two-minute improvement from last year when she placed seventh (1:17:20).
“This is better, so maybe I win next year,” said Kiptoo, also from Santa Fe. “I’m best in downhill, so that’s why I was leading early. When I got to the uphill, I felt the heat most. I’m pleased with this result.”
San Diego’s Natasha LaBeaud Anzures placed fourth (1:15:58), off from second (1:14:54) a year ago.
There were more than 7,000 entries, shy of last year’s sellout of 8,000.