Speed work pays off for Mbelenzi
Fast times were the order of the day in the Ray Swan Flat 8K thanks to perfect running conditions that included a westerly tailwind, and strong front-running by winners Dennis Mbelenzi and Gayle Lindsay.
It was Mbelenzi, 36, and Tim Price who made the early running, stretching away as the runners passed from Pembroke to Devonshire on the way to the finish at Shelly Bay park in Hamilton Parish.
The two men had experienced very different schedules in the prior seven days. Price had completed a sub three-hour marathon in Los Angeles, while Mbelenzi, aware of the race route's potential for fast times, had targeted treadmill speed work in his training.
In addition, Mbelenzi knew that Price would likely be feeling the after-effects of his California marathon and was confident he could push the pace to get ahead of his rival. So it proved as he edged ahead after 4K.
“I went through 5K in a personal best of 17min 30sec. I knew I was on for a good time,” Mbelenzi said.
Once in the lead he dared not look back to check the gap between himself and Price, until a sweeping bend at Flatts where he glanced over his shoulder.
“I did not see him, so that's when I knew I did not need to panic. I knew I could hold on and have a good race.”
Mbelenzi, who won in 28min 43sec, did not think he would have beaten Price if his rival had not run a marathon the previous week. All the same, he was delighted with his win, and said he took inspiration from the great distance runners of Kenya, his homeland.
“I watch videos of them and study their form,” he said. He started running just under three years ago and has seen his weight fall from 220 pounds to 155. He was fourteenth in the Bermuda Day Half Marathon Derby last year and hopes to improve on that this year.
Price, 28, said he was happy with his performance in the LA Marathon, although it had left him with a tight calf muscle. In yesterday's 8K, where he was second in 29:29, he tried to stick with Mbelenzi's pace, but “he picked it up and I couldn't. It was a great race. Dennis did well”.
Third man was Omari Hart, first in the masters' division, in 29:37.
In the women's race Lindsay had looked for a time of 32min, and came close as she crossed the finish line ninth overall in 32:17. Deon Breary made a welcome return to local road races to finish second in 34:01, and first in the women's masters' division. Laura Wright was third in the women's race in 34:23.
The 8K honours Ray Swan, one of Bermuda's greatest long-distance runners. He competed in the marathon at the 1976 Olympic Games in Montreal, and at the 1978 Commonwealth Games in Edmonton. He set the Bermuda national marathon record of 2:26:37 in 1981.
Swan was greeted by runners at the start line and travelled in the lead car to the finish. He is 80 this year and plans to compete in the Bermuda Day Half Marathon Derby, which he won in 1978 and 1981.
“I run every Saturday and Sunday on Horseshoe [Beach]. I'll be doing May 24. It's coming out of Somerset this year and I'll be seeing all my friends up there,” he said. Swan started running competitively when he was 35, he said: “My grandma used to do a lot of walking and she encouraged me.”
Among the competitors was American Jimmy Green, 85, who finished third in the Boston Marathon in 1960. Green is a friend of Swan, and has made many visits to the island since the mid-1970s.
Yesterday he was third in the over-70 division in 63:14. He said he was caught between trying to achieve two objectives with his current training; he knew he would need some speed for the 8K, but he also needs endurance training ahead of next month's Boston Marathon.
“I ran ten miles a few days ago, but I should have done some speed work.”
Regarding his friendship with Swan, he said: “I've run with Ray a few times and we've kept in contact because we are lifelong runners. When I first met Ray and came to Bermuda I thought ‘this is paradise' and I even looked around for a teaching job.”
In the 8K walk, Kata Kertesz was first in 56:35, followed by L. Shinah Simons in 57:08, and Gilda Cann in 61:50.
The Ray Swan Flat 8K was the second in the Swan's Running Club Legends four-race series.
Other age division winners among the men were: Calvin Steede (senior master) in 38:43; Frederick Steede (over-60) in 34:58; Mike Whalley (over-70) in 45:16; and among the women the age division winners were Victoria Fiddick (senior master) in 34:54; and Mayberline Black (over-60) in 46:26.