(Richmond) — Dadi Beyene arrived very late and finished very early in his first visit to the Anthem Richmond Marathon.
Beyene, a 28-year-old from Ethiopia, won Saturday’s 39th rendition of Richmond’s signature autumn road race in swift and stirring fashion.
He pulled away from his only remaining challenger, Kenyan Peter Limo, during a winner-take-all sprint down the Fifth Street hill. His time, 2:19:36, was five seconds faster than Limo’s and nearly 30 seconds faster than that posted by third-place finisher Kennedy Kemei.
“He showed me no weaknesses — none,” said race observer Tim Covington, who accompanied the winner on a bicycle. “He was strong and consistent the whole way. When he needed to pick up the pace, he was able to do it without seeming to struggle. As hard as he was working, he still looked relaxed.”
Beyene doesn’t speak English. He didn’t need to on a chilly and breezy Saturday morning. His feet said all that was necessary.
Beyene and Limo, 32, matched strides and strategy for all but the last 400 yards. The two ran at or near the lead from start to finish. Others, Covington said, “were pretty obviously struggling with the pace the leaders were setting.”
Count Kemei among them. Kemei, 38, set a course record (2:13:45) while winning the Richmond race in 2011. But Saturday he faltered under the relentless pressure applied by Beyene and Limo. He dropped a hundred meters off the pace, Covington said, with about 3 miles remaining.
Beyene, who three weeks ago won the Atlantic City (N.J.) Marathon, wore a four-digit bib number (1138) while cruising the streets of Richmond. Elite athletes who register in advance typically are issued single-digit numbers.
Race organizers said a cluster of Ethiopian runners, including Beyene and women’s winner Bizuwork Getahun, arrived unannounced and unexpected Friday night at the prerace Expo.
Conditions were largely ideal for long-distance racing. Largely, but not entirely. Wind was an conspicuous exception. It blew constantly and at times vigorously during the homeward half of the race. This was a winter wind, laced with biting cold.
“I tried not to focus on it,” said sixth-place finisher Greg Mariano of Alexandria. “I tried not to worry about it too much. But man — it was brutal.” For a stretch of four to five miles, beginning at the south end of the Lee Bridge, he said, “it was pretty much constant. I wasn’t expecting that.”
Covington said the wind “really wasn’t noticeable” until the lead pack, at the time 6-7 strong, reached the bridge. “Then all of a sudden it became noticeable,” he said.
Instinctively, the leaders adjusted by pulling into a tighter formation. Said Covington, a three-time winner of the Richmond race: “It might have slowed their pace, but not by a lot.”
The race fractured in peculiar fashion. While Beyene and Limo has company throughout, Mariano, the top American-born finisher, did not. Mariano (2:27:44) said he “passed three guys at about the halfway point and never saw anyone else again — not even in the distance. I was out there in no-man’s land for quite a while.”
Beyene’s tenacity and late kick were nicely rewarded. He received the $2,500 winner’s paycheck. Limo won $1,500. Kemei received $750.