By Gavin Menu
The buzz around the 35th annual Shelter Island 10k on Saturday swirled primarily around Meb Keflezighi, the event’s honored guest who in April became the first American male to win the Boston Marathon in 31 years.
Marathon runners like Keflezighi are used to a long and steady run, however, while the 10K is generally a sprint to the finish, at least for the world’s most elite runners.
So in the end it was another “Meb”—Yonas Mebrahtu—a 26-year-old native of the east African country of Eritrea who won the race in 29 minutes and 6 seconds, equating to an impressive mile pace of 4:26.
Mebrahtu, who lives in Flagstaff, Arizona, pulled away along with two other runners, second-place Isaac Kitur (29:10) and third-place Diriba Yigezu (29:32), in the last third of the race to finish well ahead of Keflezighi, who finished fourth in 30:24, with a mile pace of 4:54.
“It was kind of hard, but I liked it,” said Mebrahtu, who decided to run the race only after learning that Keflezighi, a fellow native of Eritrea who moved to California as a young boy, would also participate. “Meb is a very strong runner, but the speed is the hard part.”
Simply arriving on Shelter Island was a challenge for Mebrahtu, whose journey to the starting line at the Shelter Island High School included a marathon day of travel.
“I left Flagstaff at 2 a.m. on Friday on a flight to Boston,” said Mebrahtu, who originally was only planning to run the Stratton Faxon Half Marathon in Connecticut on Sunday, which he did, finishing fourth overall with a time of 1:06:13. “At 8 p.m., I took a bus to New York, then at 4 a.m. I left for Shelter Island. I didn’t sleep for 24 hours.”
Despite the fatigue, Mebrahtu had enough left in his tank for a sprint to the finish line, which he crossed four seconds ahead of Kitur, a native of Ethiopia who lives in East Northport.
“I knew I had more speed left for the finish,” Mebrahtu said.
Running his first competitive race since winning the Boston Marathon, Keflezighi, who also won the New York Marathon in 2009, said the 14- minute pace over the first three miles was extremely fast. He also admitted to not being in top form after taking time off following his win in Boston.
“I’ve been celebrating,” Keflezighi said, laughing as he caught his breath during the moments after the race. “I was there with them, but it was a very fast pace. It’s a very beautiful course, well designed, the community is nice, the people are nice, they were cheering out their front door.”
Keflezighi gave a talk on Friday to local runners and high school athletes about his experience growing up in San Diego, telling them he never realized during his youth that he could make a career at being a runner.
“I thought I would be a soccer player,” he said. “I never knew running was a sport. I didn’t know what the Olympics were. My junior year at UCLA was the first time it crossed by mind that I could do this as a living. I won four NCAA titles that year.”
Frances Koons, 28, a former champion runner at Villanova, was the top overall female finisher, posting a time of 34:2 to finish 10th overall. Katie Dicamillo, 27, finished second among women in 35:32 and Tara Wilson, 37, finished third in 38:05.
Nearly 2,000 runners registered for the weekend’s races on Shelter Island, which also included a 5K. Organizers of the race, which benefits East End Hospice, Timothy Hill Children’s Ranch and the Shelter Island Community Fund, celebrated on Saturday, saying it was the largest turnout in years.
“This has been one of the best kept secrets, one of the best races in the country,” said Cliff Clark, the event’s founder, who praised race coordinator Mary Ellen Adipietro for her efforts. “Mary Ellen came in and really brought an energy to keep it alive. She came to Shelter Island because of the 10K. The 10K is like her child.”
It was Adipietro, a member of the New York Athletic Club, who enticed fellow NYAC member Keflezighi to compete over the winter, several months before he won the Boston Marathon.
“The elite runners get the press, then the field comes as a result,” Clark said. “Meb was one of the hottest tickets in the world after the Boston Marathon and he kept his promise to Shelter Island.”
Complete results for both the 10K and 5K are available online at nycruns.com.