As Simon Ndirangu reached the crest of the Ravenel Bridge on a cloudless Saturday morning, he couldn't help himself.
Bridge Run By the Numbers
38,744 -- People who registered for the race31,449 -- Runners and walkers who finished$10,000 -- Prize money given to male and female winners16 -- Wheelchair racers that finished
The 27-year-old turned around to see where the rest of the competition was in the 36th annual Cooper River Bridge Run.
The Kenyan found himself leading by more than 30 meters at the 3-mile mark. Ndirangu put his head down, pumped his arms, and almost effortlessly picked up his pace. As he descended the 13,000-foot span, he turned again and almost couldn't believe it. His lead had grown to more than 150 meters.
Ndirangu won Saturday's 10,000-meter race by more than 200 meters in a time of 28 minutes, 5 seconds. Ndirangu's time was the eighth-fastest in race history, but more than 20 seconds slower than the record time of 27:40 set by James Koskei in 2000. It was, however, more than 90 seconds faster than last year's winning time of 29:37.
Ndirangu took home the winning check of $10,000.
Ethiopia's Hiwot Ayalew won the women's division in a time of 32:17. It was Ayalew's first time running in Charleston. Ayalew beat runner-up Ogla Kimaiyo (32:20) of Kenya by just three seconds. Ayalew's time was the 13th-fastest in the women's division. Ayalew, who took home the $10,000 first-place prize, does not speak English and declined to talk with reporters following the race.
A total of 38,744 runners and walkers registered to take part in this year's race, which went off with only a few minor hiccups. A year ago, the start of the race was delayed nearly an hour as participants were still being shuttled to the starting line in Mount Pleasant from downtown Charleston. A total of 31,449 finished the race, which was 5,203 less than the record number that finished the event a year ago.
This was the second Cooper River Bridge Run title for Ndirangu, who won the event in 2010 and was the runner-up in 2011.
“The first mile was pretty slow and there were many of us in the lead group,” Ndirangu said. “When we got to the bridge and started to run uphill, I wanted to push the pace. I wanted to start to separate myself from the group.”
Ndirangu ran the fourth mile in 4:17 and ran his fastest mile split of 4:13 from the four-mile mark to the five-mile mark. Ndirangu said he knew it was his race to lose after getting to the top of the bridge.
“When I got up to the top of the bridge and no one was there with me, I knew this was going to be my day,” Ndirangu said.
“I felt very strong on the bridge. I've run this race enough to know how to run the bridge, which is very important. You don't want to push too hard, but you can't slow your pace too much either.”
Had Ndirangu been challenged over the final two miles, he felt confident that the course record might have fallen. The weather conditions were perfect with calm winds and temperatures hovering around 50 degrees at the 8 a.m. start time.
“If someone had been there to push me, especially when we got off the bridge, the record would have been broken,” Ndirangu said. “This is becoming one of my favorite races. It's one I look forward to every year.”
Chasing Ndirangu most of the race was Raleigh native Bobby Mack, who finished third at 38:40. Mack, a former All-America cross country and distance runner at North Carolina State, was in second most of the race.
“Most of the time, guys are content to stay in a group and run slower and wait until we get to the top of the bridge,” Mack said. “This year, (Ndirangu) went a little early as we were going up the hill. I decided to go with him. I don't mind running up the hills. I was with him for a while, but then he just put it into another gear and a pretty big gap started to form.”
Mack was just one second off finishing in second place. A strong kick by Kenya's Julius Kogo (28:49) edged Mack for second place.