As Simon Ndirgangu neared the halfway mark of Saturday's 37th Cooper River Bridge Run, he stole a glance at his wristwatch.
What he saw there was not good news.
"It was not a good time," said Ndirganu, a 28-year-old Kenyan who was trying to become the first man to win Charleston's famed 10-kilometer race for a third time. "Going up the bridge, I felt the wind was too strong for me, and I ended up dropping back a little bit."
On a warm and humid morning, youth was served at the Bridge Run.
Birhan Nebebew, a 19-year-old from Ethiopia, won the men's race in 28 minutes and 39 seconds. His countrywoman, 21-year-old Azmera Gebru, claimed the women's title in 32:14.
Neither winner speaks much English, but their joy in winning was apparent. Each claimed a winner's check for $10,000.
"He ran a good race," Kenyan Julius Kogo, who finished third in 28:47, said of Nebebew. "He's just a young guy."
Nebebew finished fifth at the 10,000-meter Steve Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., last year in 27:14, but was not able to approach that time on Saturday. His time of 28:39 ranked just 25th in Bridge Run history, well off the record of 27:40 set by Kenya's James Kosekei in 2000.
"It was a bit tough, but the competition was very good," said Kogo, who finished second last year. "It was nice at the start, but on the bridge it was somewhat windy. The weather was perfect for running, but I don't know what happened. They didn't run a very good time."
The elite female runners, on the other hand, turned in one of the better performances in Bridge Run history. Gebru's time of 32:14 is the 13th-best since the Bridge Run started in 1978.
"The conditions weren't bad, but it was slightly windy," said Allison Grace Morgan of Lexington, Ky., who was the top American female finisher in 34:31, good for eighth place overall.
"I feel like it might have been hotter than it has been in recent years, but I don't think that affected me too much."
Charleston's Michael Banks was the top male American finisher and also won the Marcus Newberry Award as the top local runner with a time of 30:19. Caitlin Judd, also from Charleston, won the Newberry Award for females in 38:10.
Jeff Nolan of Summerville won the Terry Hamlin Mobility Impaired Award in 43:48. He lost his left leg after a 2003 accident in which a 3,000-pound piece of machinery fell on his legs.
Alexandre Dupont of Clarenceville, Canada, won the men's wheelchair division for the third straight year and Cassie Mitchell of Atlanta was the female winner.
An unofficial total of 31,809 runners and walkers finished the race, a slight bump up from last year's 31,449 but well off the record of 36,652 finishers in 2012.
With increased security measures in place this year, the start of the race on Coleman Boulevard in Mount Pleasant went off smoothly at 8 a.m. By the time the elite runners reached the Shem Creek Bridge, a lead group of about 12 had separated itself, led by Kenyan Cleophas Ngetich, who wound up seventh in 29:14.
Ndirganu, who won the Bridge Run in 2010 and 2013, took the lead as the elite runners started up the Ravenel Bridge, the 13,000-foot span over the Cooper River, and the top runners hit the 5-K mark in about 14:55.
Nebebew and Mourad Marofit, a 32-year-old from Morocco, took over the lead as the runners descended from the bridge and made the turn on to Meeting Street in downtown Charleston, and it was a two-man race from there. Nebebew sprinted away at the finish, with Marofit in second in 28:42, three seconds off the pace.
Gebru led an Ethiopian sweep of the top three places among females, with 23-year-old Etalemhu Habtewold in second and Makida Abdela, 24, in third. Caitlin Bullock, 28 and from Charlotte, was second among American women in 34:47, good for 10th overall.
Among state runners, 50-year-old Irv Batten of Summerville won the male grand masters division in 35:17, just ahead of Larry Brock of Anderson and Marc Embler of Charleston. Eric Ashton of Columbia was third in the male masters race in 33:11, and Susie Smith of Greenville was third among female masters in 43:37, with Dian Ford of Piedmont fifth.
Mimi Sturgell, a 63-year-old from Kiawah Island, won the female senior grand masters division in 49:12.
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