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Markos Geneti beats the odds, and record, to win L.A. Marathon

The Ethiopian had never run a marathon, wasn't used to racing in the rain and had a pain in the stomach, but it didn't stop him from recording the best time in event history.

March 20, 2011|By Melissa Rohlin
  • Markos Geneti begins to celebrate after his record-setting victory in the L.A. Marathon.
Markos Geneti begins to celebrate after his record-setting victory in… (Katie Falkenberg / For The…)

On what's believed to be the stormiest day in L.A. Marathon history, Markos Geneti had a lot of things working against him.

The Ethiopian had never run a marathon, wasn't used to training in the rain, and had a terrible stomach stitch.

So when the 26-year-old plowed through shin-deep puddles to shatter the race record by almost two minutes with a time of 2 hours 6 minutes 35 seconds, he said he even surprised himself.

"I was hoping to run 2:07:30," he said through an interpreter. "But I ran a minute faster."

Geneti not only won, he crossed the finish line with the second-fastest time in the world this year and the fastest time in California history.

"My muscles are a little sore," said Geneti, who ran a 4:49.7-mile pace during the 26.2-mile race from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica.

Geneti took the lead at the 13th mile and left his competition in his wake at the 17th mile.

He finished 2:51 ahead of second-place finisher Nicolas Kamakya of Kenya — the second-largest margin of victory in marathon history — and 6:37 ahead of third-place Laban Moiben of Kenya.

Two-time defending champion Wesley Korir, who had set the race record of 2:08:24 in 2009, finished fourth in 2:13:23. He said his legs gave out at the 21st mile.

"First of all, I'd like to thank God that I'm still alive," said Korir, smiling. "I thought it was the end of my life."

He might not be the only marathoner with that sentiment.

Thousands of runners were evaluated for hypothermia and 26 were taken to hospitals for treatment, according to Santa Monica fire Capt. Judah Mitchell.

By 6 p.m., when an estimated 95% of runners had crossed the finish line, about 2.05 inches of rain had fallen in Santa Monica and downtown Los Angeles, and 2.30 inches of rain had fallen in Beverly Hills.

The city of Santa Monica parked 10 to 12 of its buses at the finish line for runners seeking warmth and shelter from the deluge, and about half a dozen small hotels along Ocean Avenue opened their ballrooms to runners, race officials said.

About 1 p.m. at the Fairmont Miramar Hotel & Bungalows, hundreds of runners sat in the hallways wrapped in towels, shivering.

One woman waiting to use the bathroom said the marathon should be moved to April as she tugged at her bright yellow poncho. The women in front of her nodded as her teeth audibly chattered.

The MTA had four buses following the remaining runners in case anyone was unable to complete the race and needed refuge from the weather.

On the women's side, Ethiopia's Buzunesh Deba, 23, won in 2:26:34. She beat American Amy Hastings — who led for much of the race — by 29 seconds.

Deba said she received an unexpected assist from Kamakya down the stretch — he handed her his drink as he passed her.

"He's so nice," she said, smiling.

Hastings, 27, posted the fastest marathon time (2:27:03) by an American woman this year and became the eighth-best American performer all-time. It was her first marathon.

"I didn't realize how fast I was going," said Hastings, a former All-American distance runner at Arizona State. "That might have been to my benefit in this one."

The male and female winners each won $25,000 and a 2011 Honda Insight. Geneti also won $100,000 for being the first runner — male or female — to cross the finish line. The women were given a head start of 17:03 to even the field.

Smiling broadly, Geneti said he plans to invest his earnings in a school in Addis Adaba.

Krige Schabort of Cedartown, Ga., won the men's wheelchair race for the second consecutive year in 1:33:15, and Shirley Reilly of Tucson won the women's wheelchair event in 1:57:25.

During the last couple of miles of the race, Geneti kept looking over his shoulders. He seemed shocked that there was no one in sight.

He no longer doubts himself.

"I am very happy with my race," he said. "It was good."

melissa.rohlin@latimes.com

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