Kenyan speedster wins Strawberry Shortcut 10K in Glenwood Springs
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colorado – As one spectator aptly put it, Sam Chelanga looked as if he were on skates.
The Kenyan, in Colorado for the summer to train for the upcoming college cross-country and track and field season, blitzed a mostly local field at the 31st annual Strawberry Shortcut 10-kilometer foot race in downtown Glenwood Springs Sunday morning.
“He was just playing with us,” said Bernie Boettcher, whose time of 35 minutes, 9.24 seconds garnered a silver finish. “The first mile he was just looking over his shoulder. After a mile and a quarter, he stopped at an aid station to get a drink and dropped back and then, all of a sudden, he came up behind us and just goes whoosh. He picked up more than 50 yards in a quarter mile on us.”
“He really took off,” added third-place finishing Marco Salmen, who, like Boettcher, is a staple of the local running scene.
And that proved to be the race as Chelanga, who will compete for Liberty University (Va.) as a sophomore starting in the fall, coasted through to finish in a time of 34:45.14, well off his personal-best 10K time of 29:16.41.
You read that right.
“That’s amazing,” Boettcher, who’s won his fair share of races locally, said. “That’s Olympic quality.”
And, to the entire field’s credit, Sunday’s course was about 12/100th of a mile longer than it should have been due to a routing mishap.
That didn’t slow anyone too much, especially Chelanga, who is renting a place in Leadville with a couple of Liberty teammates for a summer of high-altitude training. They’ve been in town for three days and are finding the altitude challenging.
“It’s painful,” said a soft-spoken but confident Chelanga, who scoured the Internet for high-altitude training spots before settling on the Rocky Mountains. “I’m still adjusting to breathing.”
Chelanga is a native of Nairobi, Kenya, and spent the 2006-07 school year competing in track and cross country for Farleigh Dickinson University (N.J.), where he won the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional and Northeast Conference cross country titles and locked down two All-America honors.
His brother, Joshua, is a world-class marathoner.
So far, Sam is finding Colorado to his liking – particularly his mid-June trip to Glenwood Springs.
“I really liked running the race, training and pushing those guys,” he said. “They’ve probably never seen people as fast as us.”
Winning Sunday’s overall 5K crown, for the third straight year, was Jason Graham, who beat out Carbondale’s Alex Tiernan. The senior-to-be at Western State College, where he participates in track and cross country, recorded a time of 15:59.94 to narrowly clip Tiernan’s mark of 16:15.58.
Graham, from Thornton, has been coming to the Shortcut with his family ever since he can remember.
“I think I was pushed in a stroller here when I was little,” he said with a laugh.
That said, Graham takes the Shortcut seriously.
“There’s a little pride,” he said. “I get a little nervous every time, even more than I do for collegiate races. I have something to lose here.”
Glenwood Springs’ Sarah Shepard, a former collegiate runner at the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, cruised to a sweep of the back-to-back 10K and 5K women’s races.
“I was nervous trying to run both,” said Shepard, who opened the morning with a 38:16.42 10K run and followed it up by clocking a time of 18:08.39 in the 5K. “I actually felt really great in the 5K. I actually felt a little better in the 5K.”
It wasn’t the first Shortcut victory for Shepard, who last won the 5K crown in 2006.
Basalt High School runner Chiara Del Piccolo tailed Shepard to second in the 10K (41:21.57), while Lynda Andros-Clay notched a silver finish in the 5K (18:48.55).
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