Sammy Rotich and Kelsey Bruce were both entered to run the Ascension Seton Austin Half Marathon on Sunday. But both Rotich and Bruce decided to switch to the full 26.2-mile distance at the last minute.
Turned out to be a fortuitous call on their part.
Rotich, a half-marathon specialist who has won the Lincoln Half-marathon seven times ran a smart race, waiting until the halfway mark to take the lead. Coming up a long hill on Guadalupe he was shoulder to shoulder with Will Nation, who ran a 2:13:24 at the California International Marathon in December. The pair passed the half-way mark in 1:08:18.
But as the pair continued on Guadalupe toward 14 miles, Rotich, who trains in the mountains above his hometown of Eldoret in Kenya, began to pull ahead and continued to widen the gap as the miles rolled by.
With a mile to go, Rotich had a good half mile on Nation and broke the tape on Congress Avenue in 2:14:23. It was his first-ever marathon win, and the fastest time since Joseph Mutinda’s 2:14:17 back in 2014.
“It’s my fastest marathon and my first marathon win. I’m so happy,” said Rotich, who plans to run Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn. in June.
Nation cruised home in second, punching his ticket for the 2024 Olympic Marathon trials in 2:17:14.
Bruce, the Head Cross Country & Track Coach at Midwestern State University in Wichita Falls, Texas, ran a smart, conservative race. Kenyan Damaris Areba led for much of the early miles, passing the 5K mark in 18:000 and the 10K in 34:53. Meanwhile Bruce bided her time about, letting Areba build a one-minute lead at the halfway mark, 1:15:54 to 1:17:03. But by 15 miles, she’d pulled even with the Areba.
“My longest run was only 19 miles going into the race,” said Bruce. “But I felt pretty good.”
Bruce continued to edge ahead, with Areba still in striking distance. But with only a mile left, Bruce had a 30-sewcoind lead and was able to hold off a closing Areba 2:35:16 to 2:35:34. Like Nation, Bruce nailed down a 2024 Olympic Marathon trials qualifier.
About 4,300 competed in the full marathon, with another 10,000 or so running the half.