The past two days encapsulate the globe-trotting life of Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa. On Friday, the 21-year old runner arrived in South Carolina, via Frankfurt, Germany, from his country’s capital, Addis Ababa, where he lives and trains. On Saturday morning in Charleston, S.C., Desisa won the Cooper River Bridge 10K run in 28 minutes and 59 seconds — a time he insists was slow because he was saving himself for Sunday.
Immediately following that race, Desisa hopped on another plane to the District, where his winning ways and energy-saving strategy came through. On a brisk Sunday morning, he tore through the 39th Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run, claiming first place in 45:36, breaking a 16-year race record by two seconds.
Two race wins, 8,200 miles by plane and nearly 16 miles by foot in three days.
“I want to compete all the time,” said Desisa through an interpreter. “When there is a chance to run, I’m going to run.”
Desisa held back a little to start. But by Mile Five of a course that weaved through the monuments, along the Potomac River and through cherry blossom-lined streets, Desisa and Kenyan Allan Kiprono, 21, surged toward the front of the field of 16,000.
Both runners then pushed the tempo, widening their lead over third-place finisher Ridouane Harroufi by as much as 50 yards. They covered the seventh mile in 4:23. It wasn’t until the final mile that Desisa used a final burst of energy to charge past Kiprono, who finished in 45:41.
“He is a good runner,” said Desisa, who won $8,250. “I was just testing to see how he would go. I saw he was good so we kept on trading the lead.”
The victory, in essence, was redemption for Desisa, who finished second in last year’s race to Stephen Tum of Kenya. The finish was so close — and hotly contested — that Desisa’s manager filed a protest and officials had to review the video footage.
The same feeling of atonement carried over to the women’s division. Julliah Tinega, 25, who finished second by three seconds last year, claimed first place in a tighter race with a time of 54:02. Tinega overtook fellow Kenyan, 22-year old Risper Gesabwa, in the final stages of the run, beating her by one second to win $7,500. Tgist Tufa, 30, of Ethiopia, finished third in 54:13. “I tried to kick for the win,” Tinega said.
The race’s competition suffered some last-minute blows. Kenyan Lineth Chepkurui, who would have been seeking her record-tying fourth straight title crown, pulled out days before mainly because of injury. Tum also couldn’t defend his title.
Lucas Meyer, 27, of Ridgefield, Conn., was the first American to finish in the men’s 10-mile division, placing 13th and running 48:26 — just ahead of 25-year-old District resident David Nightingale (48:39).
Kelly Jaske, 34, of Portland, Ore., was again the first American woman to finish, running a sixth-place 57:06. Michelle Miller, 30, of Damascus, finished seventh in 59:20.
Following his race, Desisa received a much-need massage for his tired muscles. Being an elite international runner means as much time traveling on a plane as on the road training.
“It’s a little difficult,” he said. “It’s not too bad.”