Headed into the 32nd running of the Ascension Seton Austin Marathon, Joe Whelan looked like he might have a lock on a third victory. But Whelan, who won the race in 2018 and 2019, was not aware that Kenyan runner George Onyancha was entered and had run a 2:09:24 marathon last October.
Still, Whelan was game for the chase and gave Onyancha a run for his money, nearly catching him by race’s end.
Onyancha, 29, took the pace out fast from the start on the Ann Richards Congress Avenue Bridge and passed 5K in 15:58 on South Congress with an 18-second lead on Whelan. Carlos Jamieson trailed nearly a quarter mile behind in third.
Heading north on a downhill section of South First Street, Onyancha passed the 10K mark on South First Street (31:02) leading Whelan by a full minute. But Whelan, knows the course well and by the time they hit the half-way mark in 1:08:10, they were stride for stride.
The pair ran together with Onyancha surging ahead every time Whelan drew even.
“I kept pulling up on Onyancha’s shoulder to see what he’d do and each time he’d surge a little bit. I figured I’d keep doing that and maybe he’d tire,” said Whelan.
Onyancha broke the tape on Congress and Ninth Street in 2:16:32 with Whelan a scant nine seconds back in 2:16:41. Jamieson, out of Denver, CO held on for third in 2:27:26, ahead of Spencer Nousain’s 2:28:15.
But Whelan, who got down on one knee and proposed to his girlfriend Monica Bhattacharjee at the finish line, had no complaints. “I may have come in second, but I truly won,” he said of his fiancé.
Onyancha, who was coming off a win at the Life Time Miami Marathon just three weeks ago spends most of the year training at altitude in the mountains above Kenya’s Rift Valley. “The hills I train on in Kenya helped me to run the hills on this course,” he said.
Kenyan runner Damaris Areba, 27, also coming off a win at the Life Time Miami Marathon, led from the start in the women’s race. Second here in 2022, Areba opened up a big lead passing 5K in 18:24, with fellow Kenyan Winny Jepkorir 200 meters back in 18:51. Allison Macsas, who won the race in 2017 and 2018, was a minute back in third, ahead of 2020 Austin Marathon champ Sarah Jackson.
Running at a 5:38 minute per mile clip, Areba seized control, and it was clear that no one was going to catch her. At the halfway point in 1:17:22 on Guadalupe Street, she had a two-minute lead on a faltering Jepkorir. Jackson passed Macsas and caught Jepkorir at 18 miles on Dean Keaton Street to move into second place.
Areba crossed the finish on Congress in 2:36:48 with Jackson taking second in 2:44:16. Jepkorir held on for third in 2:47:19 ahead of Macsas in 2:50:35.
The combined 5K, half-marathon and full marathons events totaled close to 18,000 runners. Approximately 4,700 runners ran the full marathon and about 10,000 ran the half.
Upcoming Races: Saturday, March 4 at 8:00 a.m., the Negley 5K at Negley Elementary, Kyle. Saturday, March 4 at 8:30 a.m. the Run the Ranch 5K at 12550 Country Trails Ln. Austin. Sunday, March 19 at 8:00 a.m., Time to Paddy 5K/10K and Lucky 13.1 Half Marathon at Brushy Creek Sports Park in Cedar Park.