The next time Yonas Mebrahtu runs a competitive race, he may employ a new, unusual strategy: no sleep. Such was the case before Saturday’s Shelter Island 10K for the champion of the 35th annual race.
A native of Eritrea, a small east African country that borders the Red Sea, Mebrahtu’s journey to Shelter Island took him on a long path leaving him no time for rest.
He flew from Flagstaff, Ariz. into Boston, landing around 10 p.m. Friday and then drove to Newark, arriving around 4 a.m.
“I didn’t even sleep,” he said. “I just came right away.”
His next stop was Shelter Island, his first time ever running the prestigious race. While much of the pre-race hype centered around another Meb, it was the 26-year-old Mebrahtu who crossed the finish line first in 29 minutes, 6 seconds, just ahead of 29-year-old Isaac Kitur in 29:10.
Boston Marathon winner Meb Keflezighi, running his first race since his inspirational win in Boston, clocked in fourth in 30:24.
The 39-year-old, who was the first American to win the Boston Marathon since 1983, spoke to the crowd before the start of the race, offering a few inspirational words.
“I know you guys did not set your alarm clock because it’s not your typical morning run,” he said. “You have your lunch, ready to go, you’ve done the training. The last mile is going to dedicated to soldiers who pass away, let’s think about that. I know a 10K does hurt. When it hurts, just know that we are able to do the things we do. Finish strong.”
While Keflezighi has excelled in the marathon — he won silver in the 2004 Olympics — Mebrahtu proved to be stronger in the shorter distance. Mebrahtu said he mainly runs 10Ks and half marathons.
“10K you have to have more speed,” Mebrahtu said in comparing the race to the marathon.
Last month, Mebrahtu won the Brooklyn Half Marathon in 1:04:23.
Mebrahtu figures to sleep well tonight, and he’ll need his rest. He’s scheduled to run a half marathon in Connecticut tomorrow.
Mebrahtu ran in college at Iowa State University before transferring to Graceland University where he excelled on the track teams.
Frances Koons, a 28-year-old from Pennsylvania, was the top female finisher. The former Villanova University star runner crossed the finish line in 34:26.
“This is my first summer road race,” she said. “This was kicking off the season.”
She finished ahead of a longtime friend and a familiar rival in races, Katie Dicamilo, who ran in college at Providence University. While the two ran mostly different events in college, they’ve seen even more of each other since then in road races.
Koons twice came close to winning a NCAA title. In 2009, she finished second in the 5,000 at the NCAA Indoor Championships. In the same race at the Outdoor Championships later that season, she finished third. Between track and cross country, she was a 10-time All-American in college.
Dicamilo was coming off an injury, Koons said, so they weren’t as close as they might normally be.
“I know she’ll be there later in the summer,” she said.
Koons was a late entrant into the race.
“Janelle Kraus was kind enough to let me in at the last minute,” Koons said. “It’s been an honor to get to talk to Cliff [Clark]. He’s a pretty great runner and he had some really good advice for running the course.”
Clark took Koons on a tour of the course this morning.
“I don’t think I necessarily took his good advice,” she said with a laugh.
For Koons, running the last mile was an extra proud moment for her. Known as “Joey’s Mile” in honor of Lt. Joseph Theinert, who died in 2010 in Afghanistan, the last mile featured 6,820 American flags — one for every military member who died in the recent wars. Three additional flags were placed today after the original total of 6,817.
Koons said her brother served in the Army, completing two tours in Afghanistan and a tour in Iraq. While her brother didn’t know Theinert personally, he knew of his story.
“He’s a real inspiration,” Koons said.
Her brother recently returned to Pennsylvania for post-military life with his wife and son.
“I think it’s really important that we have events like this to support our military,” Koons said. “It just means so much to be a part of something. You can tell this community really gets behind that.”
Shelter Island may become a yearly destination for Koons.
“I sure hope so,” she said of running future 10Ks on the Island.