Marathon: Men's winner
Hillary Kipchirchir Kimaiyo has made a name and a home for himself as a distance runner in Mexico City.
The Kenya native clearly felt right at home, too, Saturday on the streets of Champaign-Urbana.
In his debut in the Christie Clinic Illinois Marathon, Kimaiyo set a course record of 2 hours, 20 minutes, 34.52 seconds to win the sixth annual event.
“I was very happy because I just came to run,” said Kimaiyo, who flashed a beaming smile as he crossed the finish line. “This today was like training.”
Kimaiyo finished more than three minutes in front of runner-up and fellow Kenyan Jason Lokwatom, who set the previous course mark of 2:22:46 in 2012.
The victory — which netted Kimaiyo $2,700 in prize money plus a $500 bonus for breaking the men’s course record — came four days before he turns 33.
“It’s a gift of my birthday,” he said.
Kimaiyo also has lived in Michigan and Arizona before settling in Mexico. In 2008, he created a major splash in running circles by running the first sub-2:10 marathon in Latin America at Monterrey, Mexico. Three years later, Kimaiyo set a Latin America all-comers record of 2:08.17 while winning the LALA International Marathon at Torreon, Mexico.
“I’m like the King of the Road in Mexico because I won a national record,” he said. “I love Mexico.”
Kimaiyo is so fond of the country, in fact, that he has applied for citizenship.
His native land is known for producing some of the most legendary runners in distance racing,
“Kenya has very strong athletes,” said Kimaiyo, who earlier this year won the Trinidad and Tobago International Marathon. “We train very hard there.”
What Mexico offers, he says, is the challenge of training in thin air. Torreon, where Kimaiyo also won the LALA International in 2008, stands at 3,280 feet altitude. The north central Mexican area is where John Wayne filmed a number of his movies and owned a desert ranch.
“I race in Mexico because of Mexico’s elevation,” Kimaiyo said.
It’s little wonder, then, that he appeared to be breathing as if at rest Saturday as he crossed the finish line at Memorial Stadium in Champaign — elevation 738 feet.
Of course, Kimaiyo has shown he’s capable of running faster. Much faster.
“It’s OK,” he said of his Illinois Marathon time. “The pace was very easy. On Sunday, I’m going to run.”