Simon Sawe arrived in Salt Lake City from Albuquerque at about 9 p.m. Sunday. He'd never seen the Deseret News/Granite Furniture 10K course before Monday's race, and he hopes he'll never see it in quite the same way again.
That's not to say that Sawe, who captured the $2,500 first prize by beating a field of elite runners in the 17th annual Pioneer Day event this morning, won't be back to defend his title next year. He's already planning to return. It's just that he hopes next time, he'll only have to cover 10,000 meters.
Not long after the race began, Sawe, along with a pack of four other lead runners, took a wrong turn on the hillsides near the starting line at University Park when the lead racing vehicle did the same. The five runners were directed quickly back onto the course, but the detour added about 100 meters to their races. Despite that, Sawe, a 26-year-old Kenyan living in New Mexico, held off the challenge of two-time defending champ John Kariuki and three other runners to capture this year's race in a time of 28:45. That time was nine seconds slower than his personal best for a 10K, and he likely missed a chance to set a new personal record due to the course error.
Even though he wasn't familiar with the course, not long after the runners took the wrong turn, Sawe felt like something was wrong.
"I'd been running side by side with John since the start because I knew he was the man to beat," the articulate Sawe said. "When we came to that turn, I saw two police officers go one way and the race vehicle the other, and then I looked to the side and John was turning and heading in another direction. I kind of panicked at first."
Sawe quickly made the correction as well and pointed out that fortunately, the error occurred on a downhill portion of the course. He caught up with the other leaders and eventually regained his position in front of the pack. Still, changing directions in a 10K can take its toll on any runner.
"It does take away your legs when you kind of have to stop and turn," he said. "But runners have to train for about anything, from rain and mud to who knows what. I think it might have hurt John more than the rest of us because of his injury."
Kariuki, the course record holder who hoped to win his third straight DesNews 10K, was hampered from the start by a muscle strain he suffered during a race in St. Louis on July 2. He knew coming back to Salt Lake City that it might be a problem, but he hadn't complained.
"I already had my airline ticket in hand, and everyone has always treated me so well here in Utah that I knew I had to keep the obligation," Kariuki said. "I didn't think the wrong turn was particularly a problem, but the leg was as the race went on."
Unlike the past five DesNews 10K races, where the winners have pretty much dominated the fields from the start, this year's event was highly contested. Kariuck, Sawe and three other runners remained in a close pack most of the race, particularly after the course error in the beginning helped bunch them together. Nicholas Kioko and Andrew Musuva, both running out of Farmington, N.M., and Japanese runner Toshihioe Kato, now living in Boulder, Colo., kept things interesting until Sawe pulled away as the race reached downtown Salt Lake City.
Kioko finished 12 seconds behind Sawe at 28:57.
The top local finisher was Travis Hildebrand of Salt Lake City, who took 10th place in a time of 30:21.