Nthiwa Has It Figured Out

Courant Staff Writer

Twelve days ago, Ian Connor outkicked Kenyans Eric Chirchir and Patrick Nthiwa to win the Richmond Marathon 8K.

He could barely walk for three days afterward.

At Thursday's 68th Manchester Road Race, he was still in recovery mode. And there were the familiar faces of Nthiwa, the defending Manchester Road Race champion and Chirchir, a late entry. Connor had told Chirchir about Manchester in Richmond.

This time, Nthiwa - aware of Connor's kick - got ahead of him a little earlier. Then he outkicked Chirchir in the final 100 meters of the 4.748-mile race. He won in 22:16, a second ahead of Chirchir.

It was the second time in five days Nthiwa, 22, had beaten Chirchir, 21, by a second. The two raced Sunday at the Philadelphia Marathon 8K, which Nthiwa won.

Karl Keska of England finished third (22:20) and Connor, of Blowing Rock, N.C., was fourth (22:25).

"After Richmond, I've been struggling to try to get my legs together for this race," said Connor, 25, a former Ohio State steeplechaser who ran in the Olympic 1,500 meter trials this summer.

Nthiwa became the first back-to-back winner since Phillimon Hanneck in 1994-95.

Providence College senior Kim Smith of New Zealand, who won the NCAA cross country championship Monday in Terre Haute, Ind., won her Manchester debut in 24:47. Five-time winner Amy Rudolph of Providence was second (25:14) and Laura O'Neill of New Haven was third (25:19).

Defending women's champion and course record holder Emilie Mondor of Canada dropped out after 2 miles because of a sore right ankle.

Smith's college eligibility ended Monday. Thursday was her first race as a professional runner. She will graduate from Providence College in May.

"I was worried I'd be a bit tired from Monday," said Smith, 23. "But my legs seem to have recovered well."

Smith dueled with Mondor early on Highland Street, leading a pack of 10 up the hill, but broke away toward the top.

"She's so strong," said Rudolph, a 1995 Providence graduate. "I knew she would come here and be right in the mix of things."

About 11,000 started the race. There were 8,836 official finishers. Temperatures were warm for Thanksgiving: It was 57 degrees and humid at the start.

That might have affected the times. Nthiwa ran 39 seconds slower than his winning time last year.

Unlike Chirchir, who didn't get to see the course because he got in late Wednesday night, Nthiwa knew the quirky nature of the finish.

"When you turn the last corner, you think the finish is right there, but it's not," Nthiwa said. "So you have to focus on how you can get to the finish because last year it was like, `This finish is very near.' Today I knew that, `No, I have to wait.'"

A large pack went through the first mile in 4:38. Teddy Mitchell of Albuquerque, N.M., who finished eighth, led briefly. But Nthiwa took the lead at the top of the hill. He looked around, saw Chirchir and said, "Come on, let's go."

Keska and Connor went with them. The two Kenyans stayed slightly ahead until they all turned onto Main Street and the real race began.

"It was a difficult situation. I was 10 yards back with a quarter mile to go," said Keska, 30, who lives in Portland, Ore., and was running his first race in a year coming off a stress fracture. "I thought I had a chance of coming back at them, but they found another gear, as often is the case. And I didn't have that other gear."

Neither did Connor, although he was pleased with the race.

"I was actually surprised at the amount of efficiency I had," he said.

Nthiwa was worried about him. He kept looking around to see where Connor was. When Chirchir began to move, he had to go with him, even though it was a little early.

"I couldn't give him a chance to break from me and then still be there with him [at the end]," Nthiwa said.

Although he didn't have an elite number, Chirchir enjoyed the race and the local hospitality and said he would be back. He and a friend went to the Café on Main earlier in the morning. They told him if he placed in the top 10 to come back for some free food. He was heading back there.

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