For Komen, it’s Twilight time again

Kenyan native wins Rockville Runfest for third straight year; Gaithersburg’s Chulakh takes women’s title

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

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Chris rossi⁄the gazette
Wilson Komen, Washington, D.C. by way of Kenya, won his third straight Rockville Rotary Twilight 8K Runfest Saturday evening in a time of 24 minutes, 15 seconds — 28 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor.

The spectators lining the streets around Rockville Town Center knew Wilson Komen. The Kenyan native, who now lives in Washington, D.C. was the two-time defending champion of the Rockville Rotary Twilight 8K Runfest, and on Saturday night, he looked to extend that streak to three. However, as he separated from the pack, one unknown runner, who was not wearing one of the low numbers reserved for invited professionals, stayed with him stride for stride.

‘‘I think he’s from Morocco or something,” one race official, watching the race from the vantage of the lead truck, said. ‘‘I heard he’s pretty fast.”

In fact, Komen, 28, knew exactly who his competition was. The runner that matched his pace of 4 minutes, 45 second miles over the first part of the course was not an imported ringer, but his training partner with the Georgetown Running Company, Christopher Raabe. The two set out on the first half of the course as an extension of their training runs, pushing each other through the back streets, before Komen made his move through the campus of Montgomery College. Distancing himself, Komen crossed the finish line as darkness fell in a time of 24:15, 29 seconds ahead of the second-place Raabe. For his efforts, Komen collected a $350 first prize and his third straight victory in the event.

‘‘Chris and I, we train together all the time,” Komen said. ‘‘We try to maintain the pace and push each other to get a good time. I knew that we would have to do that. I ran a good time and so did he.”

On the women’s side of the race, however, there was no such early duel. Tatyana Chulakh, a native of Cheboksary, Russia who now lives and trains in Gaithersburg, had planned on staying in the lead pack of female runners for at least the first half of the race before making a move, but the warm, humid weather slowed the pace. Instead, Chulakh seized the lead in the first mile, and never let up, crossing the finish line in a time of 27:06, a full 1 minute and 32 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher, countrywomen Elena Orlova. Chulakh, who placed second in this event last year, also collected a winner’s check of $350.

‘‘I thought that if we started out as a group I would have kept going with them,” Chulakh said through aan interpreter. ‘‘But that strategy didn’t work. I had to break away on my own because I didn’t feel like I was running that fast. Even though the weather was warm, I was comfortable.”

Several local runners also posted impressive performances in the event. Walter Johnson alum Andrew Jesien, now running at the University of Virginia, finished seventh in the Men’s Open Division. Jesien, 19, had a storied high-school career, and was named The Gazette’s Indoor Track and Field Athlete of the Year in 2003-04, and 2004-05, as well as Outdoor Track Athlete of the Year in 2005, his senior season. His time of 25:26 was below U.S. Track and Field age group guidelines. Kyle Gaffney, 16, a soon-to-be senior at Blake also finished under USTAF age-group guidelines, crossing the finish line in 27:07, to place 30th overall.

Yet the story of the night were the two winners that made the move to take the difficult decision to run the final miles alone in the growing darkness. With no one there to push them, the race to the finish line became a mental battle as much as a physical one. Komen approached the finish line, the first of the 1,947 runners to finish the course, and the crowd let out a cheer. He finally allowed himself to smile in relief that the race was over.

‘‘It’s very hard to run alone sometimes,” Komen said. ‘‘The whole thing though, is that you have to concentrate, whether people are around you or not. I was very fortunate to win.”


Men’s Open Division (top county finishers)

5. Edmund Burke, Burtonsville, 25:17

7. Andrew Jesien, Rockville, 25:26

15. Awit Johannes, Rockville, 26:01

20. Christopher Brown, Potomac, 26:14

22. Benjamin Koch, Damascus, 26:19

25. Frank Sprtel, Silver Spring, 26:33

28. Jason Dwyer, Bethesda, 26:41

29. Jake Klim, Rockville, 26:42

30. Kyle Gaffney, Silver Spring, 27:07

31. Chris Barnard, Olney, 27:12

Women’s Open Division (top county finishers)

1. Tatyana Chulakh, Gaithersburg, 27:06

2. Elena Orlova, Germantown, 28:38

14. Melissa Tanner, Bethesda, 30:59

20. Halsey Sinclair, Silver Spring, 32:24

25. Elizabeth Montgomery, Silver Spring, 33:02

36. Masha Berge, Potomac, 33:51

37. Kristin Del Bazo, Derwood, 33:56

40. Christine Brown, Potomac, 34:04

41. Terry McMahon, Wheaton, 34:08

55. Deborah Flynn, Gaithersburg, 34:33