Perhaps it's appropriate that as Utah celebrates Pioneer Day — when the Mormon pioneers entered the Salt Lake Valley for the first time — that the winner of Tuesday's 19th annual Deseret News/Granite Furniture men's 10K race was also making his first visit here.
In fact, it's becoming a tradition for this race.
Wilson Karanyang, a 24-year-old native of Kenya now training in California, broke from a pack of five racers about a third of the way down the course and ran to victory in a time of 27 minutes, 55 seconds. He beat defending champion Simon Sawe by more than half a minute on a morning with cooler-than-normal temperatures and perfect racing conditions.
Karanyang becomes the third runner in the last four years to win this race the first time he's ever run it. And he's the fourth straight Kenyan to capture the title. Tuesday's victory was worth $2,500 to Karanyang, who set foot on Utah ground just two days ago for the first time.
It didn't take long for him to find the state to his liking. Despite stories he'd heard of the course's difficulty, he found this morning's race surprisingly easy.
"I was told this was a very hard course, that the turns were sharp and some of the hills were steep, but I really liked it," he said afterward. "I never expected the crowds to cheer me on the way they did. It was a great race."
Karanyang broke his own personal record for the 10K by 15 seconds, motivated by the spectators who line the course each year in anticipation of the Days of '47 parade that follows. But he wasn't pushed much by his competition.
Early on, he was in a pack of five runners that included Sawe, fellow Kenyan James Kiprop, South African Seef Le Roux and New Zealander Mike Aish. By the time the runners had reached the two-mile marker, only Karanyang, Sawe and Kiprop were at the front. From there, the eventual champion made his move.
Once they reached South Temple, he was in front by 80 meters. His lead slowly grew from there. As he made the turn onto 900 East and headed for Liberty Park, he finally glanced over his shoulder, surprised that second-place Sawe was so far back.
"I didn't realize that no one had stayed near me," he related. "So I just tried to maintain my own pace. I didn't expect to break my personal record on this course, but it all worked out very well."
Last year it was Sawe who came to Salt Lake City for the first time and won the race. Two years before that, John Kariuki did the same thing, setting the current course record of 27:32 when winning in 1998.
Despite finishing as the runner-up this year, Sawe wasn't disappointed.
"No, I felt good about how I finished," he said. "I paid attention to my leg this year, especially going downhill, because I injured it a bit last year. So I kind of held back a bit. Wilson just ran a great race."
In addition to offering prize money for elite racers, as it has done in the past, this year the Deseret News also paid money to top Utah finishers. The first-place prize of $350 for the men's 10K would have gone to Curtis Moore, the former Bingham High star who finished eighth overall with a time of 29:10. But just as he had to do when winning the Salt Lake Classic earlier this summer, Moore will probably refuse the prize, as he has one more year of eligibility for track at Southern Utah University.
Third place went to Kiprop, while Aish took fourth and Ruben McRae, one of two twin brothers from New Zealand entered in the race, placed fifth.
More than 2,600 runners entered the men's and women's 10K races this year, according to race director Lauren Jacobsen.