After coming up a little short in his bid to become the first person to win five New Balance Falmouth Road Race titles after claiming four in a row from 2014 to 2017, Kenyan Stephen Sambu aims to make history once again on Sunday, August 18, in the 47th running of the Falmouth Road Race.
Sambu fell shy of the feat when Canadian Ben Flanagan shocked the field last year to become the first North American to win the race in 30 years. Sambu faded to a fourth place finish in the 2018 race.
With Flanagan out of action with an injury, Sambu is considered the favorite, along with his friend Leonard Korir, of the United States, to take the crown. Sambu and Korir battled in one of the most memorable finishes in race history in 2017, with Sambu edging his buddy down the final hill in the Falmouth Heights to take the crown.
Americans Sara Hall and Des Linden will return for the 47th running of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race to highlight the women’s field.
Sambu won the New Balance Falmouth Road Race every year from 2014-2017, becoming the first four-time winner of the men’s open division in race history. The runner-up in two of those victories was Korir, a 2016 Olympian at 10,000 meters, who will represent the US this fall at the IAAF World Championships. In 2017, Korir nearly denied Sambu his place in the history books in a fight to the finish that saw both athletes awarded the same time.
Hot on the heels of the Falmouth veterans is one of the most exciting newcomers to the race in history, fondly known in running circles as “King Ches.” Ed Cheserek, who immigrated from Kenya to New Jersey in 2010 to run high school track in the United States, is one of the most decorated NCAA champions of all time. At the University of Oregon he earned 17 national championships, including three NCAA cross country championships.
The professional, who is attempting to earn his US citizenship, is a versatile runner who would have been the favorite in the mile race if he had chosen to run that. He has run a personal best of 28 minutes, 30.18 seconds in the 10,000 meters. His mile PR is 3:49.44 and his two-mile best is 8:31.43. He recently took first place at the Carlsbad 5K Road Race with a time of 13:29. This will be the longest road race of his professional career to date.
A tough international field also includes Thomas Ayeko of Uganda, who finished seventh in the 2019 IAAF World Cross Country Championships; David Bett of Kenya, who won the B.A.A. 10K in June; and Silas Kipruto of Kenya, winner of the 2019 Cooper River Bridge Run.
Massachusetts native Colin Bennie, who was the top American at the AJC Peachtree Road Race on July 4, and Scott Fauble, a top contender to make Team USA at the 2020 Olympic Marathon Trials in February and the Falmouth runner-up last year, should be in the hunt.
Flanagan will return to Falmouth to speak on a Past Champions panel at the Health & Fitness Expo, hand out gift bags at bib pickup and run with a group of local youth.
In the women’s open division, Hall–who finished second here in 2015–comes in as the reigning USA 10K champion, and in her long career has won US titles at distances ranging from the mile to the marathon. Linden, a two-time Olympian and the 2018 Boston Marathon champion, will make her Falmouth competitive debut after running with the pack last year in celebration of her Boston victory.
“It’s beautiful,” Linden said of the course after her 2018 run. “It helps you forget it’s really hard. Some really impressive things have been done on this course. It’s cool to cover it, and it would be really fun to race it.”
They will face a deep women’s field, highlighted by a trio of Kenyans: 2012 New Balance Falmouth Road Race Champion Margaret Wangari, 2018 NCAA 10,000-meter champion Sharon Lokedi, and Iveen Chepkemoi, who recently finished second in the Boilermaker 15K in Utica, New York. Also challenging will be two athletes from Great Britain: Lily Partridge, the 2018 national marathon champion, and Tish Jones, who will compete in the marathon at the 2019 World Championships. Allie Kieffer, who finished fifth in the 2015 TCS New York City Marathon; Melissa Dock, the top American woman here last year who competed for Team USA at the 2019 Bolder Boulder; Molly Seidel, the 2015 NCAA 10,000-meter champion; and Nell Rojas, winner of the 2019 Grandma’s Marathon and daughter of Ric Rojas, who competed for Harvard and at one time held the 15K world record, round out a solid American lineup.
Three-time winner Caroline Chepkoech of Kenya will not return to defend her title.
First prize in the men’s and women’s open division is $10,000, part of a total $126,000 prize purse for Race Week events, which include the Aetna Falmouth Elite Mile the evening before the 7-miler. In addition, the men’s and women’s winners will seek to prevail in “The Countdown.” A beat-the-clock handicap race, “The Countdown” features a finish-line clock that starts when the first woman breaks the tape, counting down the number of minutes and seconds the winning man has to beat, according to a predetermined formula. If the clock runs out before he crosses the line, the victorious woman wins a $5,000 bonus; if it doesn’t, the winning man takes home the money. The time to beat this year is 3 minutes and 35 seconds.