By Dylan Fine
Despite breezing to a decisive victory in the Shelter Island 10K on Saturday, the most impressive and shocking part about Eliud Ngetich’s performance was not revealed until after he crossed the blue tape.
“I actually won a 5K earlier today in Queens, hopped in a car, drove here, and then ran this race,” he said in an interview after his run.
A 25-year-old professional runner from Kenya, Ngetich’s passion for the sport mirrors that of the Shelter Island community, which has hosted the race now for 40 years.
The Shelter Island Run once again lived up to its billing as one of the most popular sporting events in the region as more than 1,600 people competed in the 5K and 10K races. The annual run was filled with locals and visitors alike, including an elite field and a few former Olympians.
Gusty conditions set the stage for a strategic contest between the top finishers as two Kenyans claimed first place in both the men’s and women’s 10Ks.
Ngetich, who lives in New York City and was the 2015 10K champion, won the race in 29:49.19, while Catherine Mwanzau, 19, of Lansing, Michigan, won the women’s division in 33:03.24, placing eighth overall.
The two pulled away from their competitors in the second half of the race to win by comfortable margins.
Samuel Gotts, 26, of New York City, and Rose Hayes, 15, of East Moriches and a student at Westhampton Beach High School, won their 5K runs in 17:58.96 and 21:23.68, respectively. Peter Hawkins, 61, of Malverne once again won the 10K wheelchair race in 37:30.71, beating out friend William Lehr, 61, of Shelter Island by nearly four minutes.
The men’s 6.2-mile event was predominately a three-person race. Tariku Demelash Abera, 24, of Ethiopia and New York City, took the race out for the first two miles at a 4:35 pace, with Ngetich and Urgesa Kedir Figa, 23, another Ethiopian native, latching onto the leader until making their move at 2 1/2 miles. The windy stretch near the 5-mile mark was where Ngetich separated himself from the group, eventually winning the race by 10 seconds. He held a mile pace of 4:48 throughout.
Competing as part of the elite field, Ngetich said he was pleased with his performance and that he felt relaxed and composed throughout, despite the quick start by his competitors. Ngetich credited the experience he gained in his two previous runnings of the race as one of the keys to his victory. His strategy was to wait for the fourth mile to separate himself from the pack because he said he “knew that there were a few big hills coming up after four miles.”
Mwanzau, 19, and second-place finisher Feyne Gudeto Gemeda, 26, distanced themselves from the other competitors through the 5K, with Mwanzau pulling away by 37 seconds in the end. The Kenyan runner, who trains in Michigan, was competing in the Shelter Island 10K for the first time. Mwanzau said she enjoyed the challenging course complete with its “ups and downs, many corners and windy paths.” In particular, she loved the atmosphere of the race, noting that “many people cheered me.”
While Ngetich and Mwanzau now have their sights set on the Boston BAA 10K this Sunday, both victors praised the enthusiasm for their sport from the supporters at the Shelter Island Run.
The two professionals were not the only ones with impressive outings on Saturday afternoon. Many locals achieved high-placed finishes, including East Hampton High School graduate and current UMass Boston runner Erik Engstrom, who finished 11th overall in 33:55.51.
A rising senior from East Hampton, Engstrom, 21, has raced the Shelter Island 10K for the past six years and was satisfied with his effort, especially since he “didn’t decide to race until I got let off work early and figured I’d still have time to make it to Shelter Island if I hurried.”
Engstrom, who has won races on Long Island such as Ellen’s Run in Southampton and the Joe Koziarz Memorial 5K in Westhampton Beach, will be running as much as 65 miles a week this summer as he prepares for the upcoming cross-country season.
Competing alongside the elites and locals were several former Olympians and national champions, invited by race directors Dr. Frank and Mary Ellen Adipietro. The “circle of legends” included Boston Marathon winner Amby Burfoot; Boston and New York City winner Bill Rodgers; founder of the New York City Marathon George Hirsch; Olympic Marathon champion Joan Benoit Samuelson; USA National Cross Country and 10,000 meter champion Jon Sinclair; Twin Cities Marathon winner Kim Jones, and Olympic marathoners Benji Durden, Keith Brantly and Kyle Heffner.
Heffner, 64, and Durden, 67, who both qualified for the 1980 U.S. Olympic Team, ran the 10K course for the first time and enjoyed taking in the cheers from spectators throughout the race. After his impressive 43:14.28 performance, Heffner proudly stated that the Shelter Island Run was “a great event with such a wonderful sense of community.” The Texas native still runs about 50 miles a week and competes in long distance races throughout the country.
Durden recently rekindled his passion for running after a long battle with prostate cancer in the early 2000s. He and his wife, Amie, both train together and time races in Boulder, Colorado. The two occasionally take part in what Benji calls “mileage week,” where they just run, eat and sleep for a full seven days.
Benji has logged up to 190 miles during one of these weeks and said he loves the competitive fervor that running still brings to the table for him. Durden credits the simplicity of running as one of the reasons that he continues to compete. “It’s a sport with no excuses where you know what you need to do to get better,” he said.
Definitely one of the more inspirational stories of this historic, annual event has been the constant presence of William Lehr. The Shelter Island local, 61, has competed in the wheelchair 10K for 19 straight years, 23 overall. Lehr posted a time of 41:06.07, placing second in the event. Along with what Lehr describes as a “tremendous and beautiful course,” the Nassau County native credits the support that he has received through the years from the race directors to take part in this event.
“I was here when I was younger in the first couple of years of the race, and people like Cliff Clark and the other race directors were just so encouraging to me to go out there and compete in this race and I’ve done it ever since,” he said.
The combination of a festive, local environment combined with a very competitive run that includes professionals is what race director Mary Ellen Adipietro said distinguishes this event. In addition, Adipietro, who has organized the Shelter Island Run since 2000, implemented the Joseph J. Theinert mile section. Theinert, a Shelter Island native who is affectionately known by his community and family as Joey, was a Bronze Star and Purple Heart recipient for his heroism in the United States military. He died in June 2010 while serving his country. Over 6,000 flags are placed on both sides of the road every year during the race’s final mile to honor and remember Joey and those who made the ultimate sacrifice in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The earnings from the Shelter Island Run are distributed among the winners and to both local and Long Island charities including but not limited to East End Hospice, Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch and the Shelter Island 10K Community Fund.
For a complete list of the results, visit elitefeats.com.
Dylan Fine is a freelance reporter for the Press News Group. This story is published with permission of the Press News Group.