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It was an interesting and somewhat strange negotiation.
Mark Rode, who has been recruiting elite athletes to test their skills in the Mill Race Marathon and Half Marathon, was trying to persuade Silas Kipchirchir Soy to compete.
The Kenyan, who has yet to commit to the Sept. 28 event, has run a 1:05.19 half-marathon in Spain.
“His half-marathon times would blow anyone away in the U.S.,” Rode said.
Men: Patrick Makau, Kenya, 2:03.38 at Berlin Marathon, Sept. 25, 2011
Women: Paula Radcliffe, United Kingdom, 2:15.25 at London Marathon, April 13, 2003
Men: Zersenay Tadese, Eritrea, 58.23 at Lisbon (Portugal) Marathon, March 21, 2010
Women: Mary Keitany, Kenya, 1:05.50 at Ras al-Khaimah (United Arab Emirates) Marathon, Feb. 18, 2011
Mill Run Marathon prize money
Marathon Male and Female place winners
First place: $1,500
Second place: $1,000
Third place: $750
Fourth place: $500
Fifth place: $500
Half Marathon male and female place winners
First place: $750
Second place: $500
Third place: $500
Fourth place: $200
Fifth place: $200
Bonus dollars (Marathon only, men)
2:09 or faster: $1,500
2:09.1 to 2:10: $1,000
2:10.1 to 2:11: $750
Bonus dollars (Marathon only, women
2:29 or faster: $1,500
2:29.1 to 2:30: $1,000
2:30.1 to 2:31: $750
First place in the half-marathon pays $750. The marathon winner earns $1,500. Only five places in both the local marathon and half-marathon will pay out in men’s and women’s divisions.
Compare that to $150,000 the winner gets at the Boston Marathon or $130,000 that the New York Marathon winner takes home.
Most of the elite runners who plan to run in Columbus are not considered top-tier marathoners in their home countries, but they dominate when they compete on American soil.
Soy wanted some extra incentives, such as free hotel accommodations.
“You have to remember that we are not paying for anyone,” said Rode, an elite runner himself over the years who in 1998 led Franklin Central to the state cross-country championship. “We only comp their entry fee and a shirt.
“There is, however, a ‘beat the clock’ bonus, where they can receive more money if they put up a certain time.”
Appeal of elites
The question for a new race, such as the one in Columbus, is why elite runners are needed?
“It brings the race up to a higher level,” Mill Race Marathon Director Ken Long said. “If they have a fast time, people will know it’s a fast course. Then the big boys will want to come and participate.”
Long said top runners want the competition elite runners provide.
“I remember Gary Romesser, who won the Indy (500 Festival) Mini five times in a row. He came to me and said, ‘Ken, I am tired of this. You need to bring in good runners. I’d rather finish 11th and run a good time.”
That might be somewhat true, but runners do take notice of personal best times of others in the race.
Jesse Davis, who grew up in Bloomington and now lives in Indianapolis, said he might switch to the half-marathon because of some of the elite marathon entrants.
“For me, this race is more about gearing up,” said Davis, who ran a 2:18 in placing fifth at the 2011 Houston Marathon. “Of course you want to run fast, but this is kind of a training run for me. I am always paying attention because for a lot of runners, knowing who is in the race affects strategy.
“I know that if you try to run 2:17, and you don’t do it, it can take a lot out of you.”
Scare off others?
If it is obvious the Kenyans or Ethiopians are going to dominate the paying places, Davis said it may scare away other competitors.
That said, the 31-year-old Davis isn’t intimidated.
“I’ve run against a lot of Kenyans and have done well,” he said. “I don’t mind race organizers trying to get quality runners. I just don’t know why they would come this far.”
Kenyan Peter Kemboi, who has run a 2:09.21 marathon, trains in Hebron, Ky., for the LM Elite Running Club, which means he doesn’t have that far to travel.
Other elite athletes who do travel from Africa are compensated by their countries to travel to smaller marathons in order to train.
Rode, who was hired by Long to recruit elite runners for races he organized, makes sure the elite runners have local transportation and other amenities when they arrive.
“My job is caring for the elite athletes and to make sure everything goes smoothly,” said Rode, a former Indiana State track and cross-country athlete.
It gets a bit more complicated if Rode finds a runner from Ethiopia wants to compete.
“I had to write recommendations to the U.S. Embassy, and I also had to write to the Ethiopian Athletic Federation,” he said. “Why they are coming, that’s hard for me to answer.
“I don’t want ringers, but I am not going to turn them down.”
Rode said it would be nice to have 15 to 20 elite marathoners, but it is unlikely. However, he will continue to recruit until about a week before the race.
The men’s marathon already is assured some quality at the top.
“I think the winner will, hands down, be a Kenyan or an Ethiopian,” Rode said. “You are talking some sub-2:10 marathoners.”
Local runner Danny Fisher, a personal fitness and endurance coach at Tipton Lakes Athletic Club, ran a 2:31 at the Illinois Marathon in 2011. He is aiming to break 2:30 at the Mill Race Marathon.
But he knows if he accomplishes his goal, it probably won’t be good enough for a top-five finish with Kenyans and Ethiopians in the field.
“I do like to run against people who are faster than me,” Fisher said. “I would love to win, but I find it easier to run faster when you have people to catch. You aren’t playing all those mind games with yourself. I know they will push me.”
Fisher said, as a fan, he likes to see elite runners and thinks recruiting elite runners to Columbus is a good strategy that will make the race more exciting.
Patrick Pierz, who has taught a beginner’s training course this summer aimed at the event, said he agrees with Fisher.
“For the majority of us, 99.9 percent, we’re not intending to win this thing,” Pierz said. “I’m a mid-pack runner, and I think recruiting elite runners only adds prestige for the race. I think it is a great idea.”
Rode has had a difficult time attracting elite women for the race, however.
“The Indianapolis Women’s Half Marathon is only a month apart from the Mill Race Marathon,” Rode said. “That’s tough on the legs. We are missing out on some elite women’s runners.”
He agrees with Long that getting elite runners this year will help the event grow in future years.
“I think you are going to see the next race bring in 6,000 to 7,000 runners and more elites,” Rode said. “Right now it is a new race, and people don’t know Columbus.”
Meet the elite
Here is a list of elite runners expected to compete in the Mill Race Marathon or Half Marathon, and their personal record marathon and/or half-marathon times
Boniface Biwott, 27, Kenya
Jesse Davis, 31, Indianapolis
Peter Kemboi, 33, Kenya
Ashebir Kiros, 25, Ethiopia
Addisu Setargie, 23, Ethiopia
Moges Taye, 30, Kenya
Sarah Overpeck, 30, Indianapolis
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