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The Winner by a Mile

 

 
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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 behind him.

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.


How it all started...

2000 Wild Wild West Trail Marathon
2001 Wild Wild West Trail Marathon
2002 Big Sur International Marathon
2002 Wild Wild West Trail Marathon
2002 Bishop 50-mile Ultra-Marathon

Email -- jdgrose115@polyglut.net
Web -- http://members.tripod.com/~jdgrose115/

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