Posted on Mon, Apr. 29, 2002
By ED VYEDA
Kenyan Runner Ndambuki Builds Big Lead and Never Looks Back
The only thing that was going to keep Jonathan Ndambuki
from winning Sunday’s 17th annual Big Sur International Marathon
was loneliness. Once the 27-year-old Kenyan broke loose
from a four-man lead pack in the third mile, his only competition
left was Brad Hawthorne, figuratively speaking.
“I was trying to see if I could break the course record,”
said Ndambuki (pronounced “nam-BOO-kee”), whose winning time
of 2 hours, 18 minutes and 5 seconds was not enough to eclipse
Hawthorne’s 1987 championship time of 2:16.39.
Ndambuki, whose road racing career supports his wife, parents
and family - he is one of eight children - still picked up a
check for $2,500 for the victory in his Big Sur debut, with
Poland’s Krystof Baldyga, who lives in Albuquerque, N.M., earning
$1,000 for second place in 2:25:37, and Urii Usachev of Russia
getting $500 for placing third in 2:25:59.
Cool, relatively calm - for Big Sur, anyway - weather was
conducive for fast times, and although Ndambuki did not get
Hawthorne’s 15-year-old record, he still posted the second-fastest
time in Big Sur history. Based on Baldgya’s pace-per-mile of
5:33, Ndambuki was a winner by more than a mile. “At two
miles, Jonathan began to push, and push, and he was just too
good a runner,” said defending champion Arsenio Ortiz of Mexico,
who won $250 for finishing fourth in 2:27:17, nearly two minutes
off his 2001 winning effort. “It was a good race, the
weather was good.”
Krystof, Usachev and Ortiz stayed together, keeping Ndambuki
within range through six miles, hitting the 10-kilometer mark
at 32 minutes. But none of them had enough to stay at that pace,
except Ndambuki, who hit the half-marathon mark in 1:09.
“I can’t say much about him,” Usachev said, shaking his
head. “I only saw him for 10 kilometers.”
Ndambuki’s solitary sojourn made it more difficult to chase
history, he said.
“I felt alone,” he said. “I was still trying, but when you
are by yourself, you are slowing down without knowing it. When
you are in a group, you push each other. You run better if there
is better competition. The competition was not there.”
With a personal best of 2:10:58 and one previous marathon
victory, Ndambuki believed 2:16 was within his reach Sunday.
And despite seeing the Big Sur coastline for the first time,
Ndambuki didn’t lose focus. “I did not have any time to take
in the view of the ocean,” he said. Instead, he kept his
eye on the participants in the 21-mile power walk, who didn’t
leave him much room to run at a few points on the course.
“They were kind of blocking the way,” he said. But that hardly
slowed him down. Since vehicles are driven on the left side
of the road in Kenya, Ndambuki was comfortable running the wrong
way up Highway 1, which was closed to traffic during the event.
Hugging the double-yellow line as he passed the walkers,
Ndambuki ran comfortably, he said. “I knew I was in good shape.”
What he didn’t know was how to attack the hills that challenge
runners all the way from Pfeiffer State Park to the finish in
Carmel. Ndambuki was uneasy about attacking them, so limited
himself to a steady climbing pace. “It was a tough course,”
said Ndambuki, who trains on hills in Farmington, N.M., where
he lives during the racing season. “But I did not know how to
plan for the hills, or not to plan.”
Sort of how Ndambuki didn’t plan for a pro career in distance
running in the first place. At 16, he was forced to run cross
country in high school. “There were no excuses,” he said
of school policy at his home in Makueni, in eastern Kenya. “It
was a must.”
It also was a perfect match between Ndambuki and the sport
that Kenya dominates worldwide, the way Ndambuki did Sunday’s
Big Sur race. As he cranked out mile after mile by himself,
Ndambuki kept peeking over his shoulder to see if anyone was
Nobody was in sight.
Still, he kept looking, just in case, until he was within
view of the finish line.
“You don’t know, until you have won,” Ndambuki said.
Apparently, he was the last one to know Sunday, because by the
third mile, everyone else knew it was Ndambuki’s race. Unless
he got too lonely to run by himself.