David Kiplagat, the first of many Kenyan runners to venture north to attend UAA, has won plenty of races over the years. But he's never had a finish-line welcome like the one he received Saturday after he won the Mayor's Marathon for a record fourth time.
Hugs and smiles came from his wife, Maureen, and their children — Vincent, 14; Bekele, 11; and Barmasai, 9.
None had ever seen Kiplagat race before.
Kiplagat treated them to a great show. He earned his victory by edging his brother, three-time Mayor's winner Paul Rottich, by one second.
Kiplagat, 34, came to UAA in 2004 at age 20. He was a three-time NCAA Division II All-American who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees and spent a couple of seasons as a volunteer running coach at UAA before joining the U.S. Army in 2013.
Whenever he could, he returned to Kapsabet, Kenya, to visit his growing family. Maureen and the kids didn't move to the United States until December 2016 — about the same time Kiplagat was deployed overseas. They settled in New Mexico, where Rottich and another of Kiplagat's brothers lives.
Now a member of the Army reserve, Kiplagat joined his family in New Mexico after his release from active duty about a month or two ago. That's also when he started training for Saturday's marathon.
Kiplagat covered the 26.2 miles from Bartlett High to the west end of the Delaney Park Strip in 2 hours, 25 minutes, 43 seconds. Rottich clocked 2:25:44.
Taking the women's win with what is believed to be the 10th-fastest time in the race's 45-year history was defending champion Keri McEntee of Fairbanks.
McEntee placed 10th overall in 2:59:47 and was one of 10 runners to break the three-hour mark on a challenging course. The race goes up Arctic Valley Road to the tank trails in the Chugach Mountain foothills and then winds a few miles in Far North Bicentennial Park. Once on Campbell Airstrip Road, runners are on pavement for the final miles to the downtown finish line.
It was McEntee's third career marathon. She ran her first one at last year's Mayor's Marathon, winning in 3:04:25, and in April she registered 2:55 to place 36th among women at the Boston Marathon.
A 29-year-old occupational therapist, McEntee looked fresh at the finish line.
"Once I got to the last mile I thought, 'Oh, I can go farther,' but halfway through there's always those ups and downs," she said.
McEntee said she has learned how to work through the lows since moving to Alaska from New York three years ago.
"I live in Fairbanks, and it'll be zero degrees and I'm 10 miles from home and I can't give up, because it's a matter of life or death," she said. "I have to finish."
McEntee finished more than 26 minutes ahead of women's runnerup Deirdre Keane of the Bronx (3:26:06). Jane LeBlond of Fairbanks was third (3:26:47).
McEntee said she hopes to enter a fast, flat marathon this year to see if she can meet the 2:45 women's qualifying standard for next year's U.S. Olympics Trials.
Kiplagat has similar aspirations — he hopes to meet the men's Olympics Trials qualifying standard of 2:19.
Coming into Saturday's race, Kiplagat, Rottich and Larry Seethaler (1978, 1980, 1986) shared the record for most Mayor's wins with three apiece.
Kiplagat's victory ended Rottich's run of three straight victories. Bookending the Rottich reign are wins by Kiplagat – and in both cases, Kiplagat beat his brother. In 2014, Kiplagat beat Rottich by two seconds.
The margin between brothers shrunk to one second this time. "I let him win it," joked Rottich, 32, another former UAA runner.
Rottich and Kiplagat took turns in the lead after turning the into a two-man duel — third-place Allan Spangler of Juneau was more than seven minutes back in 2:33:18. The two ran a steady pace and switched places every three miles or so, Rottich said.
Rottich got a Mayor's PR by two minutes — his previous best was 2:27:11 in 2017 — but he said he had no answer when Kiplagat took a slight lead in the final 800 meters.
"Because you are already tired," he said. "It's too much to make up."
Kiplagat was about two minutes off his Mayor's personal-best of 2:23:23, posted in 2013, but he had no complaints. He didn't resume serious training until he left the Army and joined his family in New Mexico.
"It's good, because I was training for one month. I'm good with that time," he said. "I was trying to see how fast I can run after two years of not racing — the last race I did was Mayor's."
In New Mexico, Kiplagat trains with Rottich and another brother, Solomon Kandie. All three competed at the 2014 Mayor's Marathon, where Kiplagat led the brothers to a 1-2-3 finish. Thirteen seconds separated them at the finish line.
As often as Kiplagat has raced with his brothers, he had never before raced with his wife and children watching. Racing in front of them in Anchorage made it all the better.
"I wanted them to see the place where I was going to school," Kiplagat said. "I tell them I used to live far away in the north."
A field of 614 completed the marathon, one of three races held Saturday.
In the half-marathon (13.1 miles), victory went to a Kenyan who just finished a successful freshman year at UAA.
Felix Kemboi, the Great Northwest Athletic Conference's freshman of the year in cross country, clocked 1:12:06 to lead a field of 1,242 half-marathoners. He beat runnerup Jacob Kirk by more than a minute.
Jess Klain led the women in 1:33:24, beating Melissa Colby by eight seconds.
In the 5K, a high school runner set the pace for 415 runners, and women grabbed four of the top 10 spots.
Daniel Bausch, who will be a senior at Chugiak in the fall, won by nearly two minutes in 15:20. Slade Manning was second in 17:11 and was followed by two women — Hallidie Phillips (17:52) and Morgan Ekemo (17:58).