With 15 miles of pavement behind him, Yon Yilma saw the growing fatigue that wore on his challengers’ faces. Small in stature, Yilma went all in and made a fairly sizeable move. As Teshome Kekobe and Justin Englund fell back, the Edmonds native had no choice but to move forward.
The 24-year-old Yilma was ever so relentless in doing so and the rookie marathoner was crowned champion of his first career race, Saturday’s Rock ’n’ Roll Seattle Marathon. His winning time was 2 hours 29 minutes 53 seconds.
Nuta Olaru, 42, of Romania won her first women’s title.
Yilma, a former University of Alaska Anchorage cross-country standout held off for about 15 miles before making his move. Up until that point, his followers had matched him step for step.
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But Kekobe, the defending champion, was beginning to lose pace — a result of hamstring and back injuries that have hampered him since last year’s race.
Then Englund fell off. The ex-Washington State cross-country captain began to feel the effects of his first career marathon.
A few minutes before stepping onto Lacey V. Memorial Bridge, Yilma pulled away from the three-man pack. On his way back across the floating bridge, he passed Kekobe and Englund, each still completing their first length.
“I’ve raced with both of them in college, so I knew as soon as I break away I have to make a move and maintain that pace,” Yilma said.
Yilma had all but sealed the deal, nabbing the title from Kekobe, who could’ve been the first male Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon competitor to win back-to-back races.
“I made that move and somehow it kept going. I thought I was going to completely die,” said Yilma, who had questions about his fitness level before entering the race two weeks ago.
As Yilma received rounds of applause from half-marathoners he passed en route to the finish line, Kekobe and Englund had something special brewing in the chase for second. Englund, who was minutes ahead of the defending champion, hit a wall with a few miles left. Kekobe, pained by his injuries, exerted one final burst of energy and caught up with Englund before overtaking the Federal Way native to claim second place.
“This is my first race after last year,” Kekobe said. “After 14 miles I was planning to stride out, but my lower back and hamstring still had some pain so I tried to slow down.”
Though fatigue made its mark on Kekobe midway through the race, Englund got the worst of it in the closing stages.
“The last three miles, honestly, I was walk-jogging,” he said.
Kekobe, who calls Lynwood home, has three top-two finishes at the event and will seek another first-place finish in next year’s race. He came in at 2:36:33, while Englund finished in 2:37:24.
Olaru clocked in at 2:52:40. She finished second last year to Sheila Croft.
Olaru blew away the women’s field early on and finished almost seven minutes better than second-place finisher Lisa Renteria.
“Today was great, great weather and a great day,” Olaru said.
Theo Lawson: email@example.com