Reta’s record run leads Ethiopian sweep in 10K race

SHELTER ISLAND — The 2007 champion, Alene Reta of Ethiopia, broke his own record to win Saturday’s Shelter Island 10K Run.

Just 28 minutes 40 seconds after the starting gun went off, Reta snapped the finish tape, beating the previous course record he set in 2007 by one second and solidifying his place in the record books. Reta completed the 6.2-mile course at a blazing pace of 4:37 per mile and blew away the second-place finisher and fellow Ethiopian, Kumsa Adunga, by 1:04.

Reta got out ahead from the start, and was leading the pack of the next three closest runners — Ethiopians Adunga, last year’s winner, Ketema Nigusse, and Demesse Tefera — by about 30 seconds at the 3.1-mile marker. He pulled even farther away in the last half of the race, and was the only runner in sight when he charged down Bateman Road for the last 200 meters of the road course.

Another runner was near those leaders, Ethiopian Dereji Tadesse, but he dropped out of the race near the 4.5 mile-marker, complaining of back pain, and received medical attention.

The 28-year-old Reta was encouraged by cheering spectators as he continued on to Fiske Field for the final homestretch, crossing the finish line to comfortably beat Adunga, but just barely break his old record.

In all, 1,750 runners participated in the 31st running of the annual race.

Reta said that despite his lead, the new record was hard-fought. “I tried my best, and I broke my course record,” he said. “The course is nice, but it has a lot of curves. The problem was the wind at the beach,” he said, referring to the stretches of Shore and Winthrop roads that run along Dering Harbor.

Though Reta thought the wind was an obstacle, many saw the cool breeze as a welcome respite from the heat of the day, including legendary marathon runner Bill Rodgers. “It was warm out there,” he said. “That’s summer racing, though. That’s the way it is.”

The next three spots behind Reta were much more closely contested, with Adunga finishing in 29:44, Nigusse in 29:46, and Tefera in 29:49. Just as they have in recent years, Ethiopian runners dominated the top spots, this time securing the top six finishes.

The top female was Emebet Bacha Lencho, a 19-year-old Ethiopian who finished in 34:26, ninth overall. “It feels great,” she said with the help of a translator. “The course has a lot of zig-zags, but it’s a nice course and I love this race.”

Shortly behind her was 41-year-old Anzhelika Averoka of the Ukraine, finishing in 34:49 and followed two seconds later by 30-year-old Ethiopian Irene Limika.

“Sometimes, in these races, you run well; other times, not really,” Limika said. “I know I can run faster than that,” she added, cracking a smile.

Both Limika and Averoka were considered among the favorites to win this year.

A new prize competition for women 50 and older called the Golden Girls Gallop was incorporated into the race this year. The winner was Carmen Ayala-Troncoso of Austin, Texas, who took the first-place prize of $900 with a finishing time of 37:38, followed shortly behind by former Olympic gold medalist Joan Benoit Samuelson’s 37:44.

According to Samuelson, the two were neck-and-neck for most of the race. At the five-mile mark, Samuelson made a move to get ahead. It turned out to be a crucial mistake. That kick left her without enough steam at the end.

Samuelson donated her $500 in prize money back to the Shelter Island 10K Run for coordinators to distribute to charities at their discretion.

In the male masters (over 40) division, Joseph Ekuom took the top spot at 33:01, followed by Chris Webber at 36:46 and Kieran Gibbons at 37:59. The female masters winner was Barbara Gubbins at 40:48, with Laura Brown behind her at 41:13 and Diane Kenna third at 41:50.

Peter Hawkins of Malverne won the wheelchair division in 34:53, followed by the other wheelchair competitor, Shelter Islander William Lehr, who finished in 39:01.

One of the highlights of Saturday’s race was the top-10 finish of Chris Koegel of Malverne, the cousin of Lt. Joseph Theinert, who died heroically in Afghanistan just two weeks before the race. The top-10 finish “was definitely a goal of mine coming in,” Koegel said, “especially this year with running for Joey.”

The race was dedicated to Theinert. Staff members wore “Remember Joey” T-shirts in honor of the Shelter Island High School graduate and avid cross-country runner.

Before the race, the formal dedication was made at the starting line on Route 114 in front of the school where Theinert graduated in 2004. “He’s a hero to us all,” said the announcer, Dr. Frank Adipietro. “This is a happy day” on account of the race, he said, “but an extremely sad one as well.”

Twenty-four youngsters stood beside the starting line, each holding a balloon and representing the 24 years of Theinert’s life. The dedication was followed by a moment of silence and the singing of the national anthem by Sara Mundy.

According to race organizers Cliff Clark and Jackie Tuttle, the number of runners registered for this race (1,743 including both the 10K and 5K fun walk) was among the top-five highest ever. The final tally of how much money was raised for its beneficiaries wasn’t immediately available, but the race coordinator, Mary Ellen Adipietro, expected it will be much higher than in recent years.

Over its 31-year-history, the race has raised over $500,000 for local charities, including Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch, the 10K Community Fund and East End Hospice.

While the impressive fundraising is a special part of the race, there are other aspects of the race that make it stand out. At the awards ceremony, Rodgers told the crowd: “It’s such a wonderful event. What a beautiful place Shelter Island is. Congratulations to all the champions, and to Cliff [Clark] and all the other volunteers. What a brainstorm this race is.”

Rodgers later told the Shelter Island Reporter: “I love the whole feeling to this event. … In a way, this is the best of road racing. The big races like the New York City Marathon are cool in a certain way. But this here is where people begin to explore the sport and really test themselves. … It’s where it all happens.”

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