Considering the locale, it's no surprise that the Bay to Breakers is often won or lost on a hill. And Sunday's 85th running of the cross-San Francisco race was no exception.
Kenyan Thomas Osano, with a little help from his nephew, Lazarus Nyakeraka, and South African Elana Meyer used notorious Hayes Street Hill to good advantage to win their respective divisions. Osano, a two-time Breakers champ (1991 and '92), finished the 12-kilometer (7.46-mile) race in 34 minutes, 35 seconds, just two seconds in front of Nyakeraka, while Meyer, a Breakers rookie, ran most of the second half of the race without any female companionship to clock 38:56."Elana ran very well and I wanted to stay with her and give her some competition," said Anne Marie Lauck, who finished second, 29 seconds behind Meyer. "But that hill killed me."
Lauck, an Olympic marathon team member from Marietta, Ga., wasn't the only one devastated by Hayes Steet Hill.
The men's race started off tightly contested among a half-dozen runners, with folks like Chris Fox, Mark Coogan, Dan Held and Patrick Carroll battling the two Kenyans for the lead through the first two miles. Then came the Hayes Hill, which rises 200 feet over a four-block distance a little more than 21/2 miles into the race. Nyakeraka took a slight lead entering the incline, gradually increasing the advantage as the hill steepened.
About halfway up the slope he made a "come-forward" motion with his left hand. Osano responded and soon joined his nephew near the top of the hill.
"I wanted someone to join me," Nyakeraka said of his gesture. "Nobody can run this race alone."
Nyakeraka, who finished fourth in his Breakers debut last year, soon had more company than he bargained for. Coogan, the second-place finisher in the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials earlier this year, also bridged the gap, and the three men headed west along the Golden Gate Park Panhandle stride for stride.
" `Oh man,' I thought, `here we go again,' " Coogan said of Nyakeraka's surge up Hayes Street. "But then he started waving. Not knowing whether it was meant for Thomas or not, I thought I would come up and get back in it."
But Coogan, of Boulder, Colo., wasn't in it for too long. Somewhere between the five- and six-mile mark, the two Kenyans upped the pace, and Coogan, concentrating more on his marathon training, didn't have the wherewithal to keep up, dropping well out of contention with less than a mile to go.
"I haven't done the quality speed work I needed to keep up with them," he said.
By this point speed was of the essence for Osano and Nyakeraka. They made the sweeping left-hand turn out of Golden Gate Park onto the Great Highway looking at the final 300-yard sprint. For two-thirds of that distance, neither runner seemed to want to press the issue, content with striding side-by-side. But with about 100 yards to go, Osano suddenly went into his kick, leaving the startled Nyakeraka 20 yards in his wake.
"It was fun to be running together, and I thought were going to kick together and finish together," Osano said. "He's a good runner, but he doesn't kick as well as I do."
Responded Nyakeraka, who lost to Osano by six seconds last week in a 10k race in Indiana: "Thomas ran a smart race today. I appreciated the way he outkicked me."
Meyer, meanwhile, didn't have to worry about outkicking anyone. After shedding the women's field on the Hayes Hill, Meyer simply enjoyed her stroll through Golden Gate Park on a beautiful spring morning.
"It wasn't that bad," she said. "A couple of bumps (the hills), then you're on top of it."
Meyer had such an easy time of it that she spent most of the race enjoying the scenery.