NEW ORLEANS — Conditions were just about perfect for the start of the 35th annual Allstate Sugar Bowl Crescent City Classic, and Isaiah Koech took full advantage.
The 19-year-old Kenyan jumped out in front of the pack around the four-mile mark and kept his winning pace to cross the finish line in 27 minutes, 32 seconds to win the race. The time would’ve been the world’s second-fastest 10K in 2012.
“I am a front-runner,” he said. “So when I cut into the front, I am comfortable in that place.”
Not bad for someone running his first road race.
“This is also my first time in New Orleans,” Koech said. “And I’m happy and so excited because I won the race today.”
He did it in impressive fashion, but maybe he could’ve run it faster. The event’s elite athlete coordinator, Andrew Lilly, said the lead pack’s pace was affected early in the race by a runner sprinting to a 4:15 first mile. That caused some runners to lose their rhythm, but Koech didn’t look fazed.
“This kid went out there his first time … and took over,” Lilly said. “Until about four miles, there was absolutely no strain on this guy. He did three miles in 13 (minutes) flat, and he was jogging.”
Koech actually turned in what would’ve been a world record in the 8K, but the course’s 8K mark was not certified as record legal.
“It would be a mark with an asterisk next to it,” Lilly said.
Koech wasn’t the only one to have a good day. Each of the top four men’s finishers came in faster than the winning time in last year’s race, and the same held true with the top three women’s finishers.
Among the men, Lani Rutto and Allan Kiprono flip-flopped their finishes from last year, when Kiprono was runner-up and Rutto third. This time, Rutto crossed the finish line in 27:44, two seconds ahead of Kiprono. Linus Chumba rounded out a group that finished better than last year’s winning time, coming in third at 28:09. The top 11 finishers hailed from Kenya.
Kenya also claimed the top female finisher in Alice Kimutai, who crossed the line in 31:51 — nearly 15 seconds ahead of Ethiopian runner-up Hiwot Ayalew.
Lafayette native Kevin Castille was two seconds shy of setting the American Masters record pace, crossing the finish line in 29:39 for 12th place.
“I bet if we run that race again next weekend, he breaks the record,” Lilly said.
Lake Charles resident David Rooney clocked the fastest time for a Louisiana resident, crossing the line in 31:36 for 23rd place. Former LSU track athlete Cullen Doody was the top finisher from the New Orleans metro area, finishing in 32:38 for 28th.
With all the moving parts trying to come together, not everything went smoothly. The 8 a.m. start time was pushed back 15 minutes to make time for what appeared to be a few thousand runners trying to take a shuttle from the finish line to the starting spot. The corral system — put in place to make for a smoother transition from the starting line to the course — was overrun.
Race director Eric Stuart said five buses broke down during the shuttling efforts and encouraged racers to show up a little earlier next year if they planned on taking the shuttle. The corral system might be revamped with hard barriers next year.
But the hiccups were a small part of what was a successful race. The starting line had a smooth stream of runners going over it until the last one crossed more than 30 minutes after the race started.
“We had great flow, didn’t get things jammed up. We had so many people at the start and the finish line that we can do some tweaking to the design, but it’s all fine-tuning,” Stuart said.
“I’m not going to sleep tonight because of all the stuff I want to do next year.”