The 2007 ING Georgia Marathon represented one of the most ambitious and successful inaugural marathons in the history of USA marathoning and demonstrated that local marathoning is strong and growing. Discounting the two largest inaugural marathons of the last ten years (the "new" Las Vegas Marathon and the Rock 'N' Roll Arizona Marathon) as events that were developed by organizations with a long history of putting on multiple marathons and with the benefit of strong marketing arms, the Georgia Marathon arrived as the largest debut marathon in over a decade boasting more than 4,300 marathon finishers and filling a void in the southeast for a major early-spring marathon.
Having planned this event for two years, Race Director Victoria Seahorn passionately built this race in Atlanta with a course passing through an urban sprawl of diverse neighborhoods and over many of what the race director dubbed "healthy hills". No one should doubt the amount of preparation required for a new marathon/half-marathon, and especially for one that was able to close its registration at the announced cap of 15,000 entrants.
As a result of the collaborative effort of sponsors, seasoned veterans in the running community and race participants, organizers created a complete blueprint for their first year. No easy task to stage an event of this size - an impressive number of participants took to the city streets - with over 13,000 total finishers including 4,300 marathon finishers and over 8,900 half marathon finishers.
And Now...The Race
Giant illuminated white balloons hovering above the start line beckoned runners down the dark streets of downtown Atlanta. Although the start was set in the cooler hours of the morning, unseasonable temperatures in the upper 70s reaching into the 80s were predicted for later in the race.
The elite line-up was strong for an inaugural marathon featuring especially some experienced Kenyans and Russians as well as some new or relatively new to the marathon distance.
Joseph Chirlee, 27 residing in Georgia, but originally from Eldoret in Kenya - home to many famous marathoners including Olympian Kip Keino - ran his debut marathon just four months earlier at the December 2006 Rocket City Marathon which he won with a time of 2:23:32. This experienced half marathoner with a personal best of 1:02:18 at the 2007 Rock 'N' Roll San Diego Half Marathon, had become interested in distance running having seen his compatriots race the New York City Marathon. Drawn to the marathon distance himself, Chirlee, who was originally registered to run the half marathon, made a last minute change in participation to the full marathon less than 48 hours before the race.
Kenyan Charles Kamindo, 24, who lives and trains in Boulder CO, had a well-known running resume featuring regular wins at the Kentucky Derby Festival, Akron and Little Rock Marathons. Recently, Kamindo finished third in the January 2007 Miami Marathon with a 2:23:04... most notably running the last six miles of that marathon in his socks having shed his shoes due to the discomfort of his waterlogged shoes which were wet from the rain earlier that morning.
Jonathan Ndambuki, 31 of Kenya, who currently splits time between Kenya and Santa Fe NM, was the winner of the December 2006 California International Marathon with a time of 2:14:58. Also, in 2006, Ndambuki was runner up at three important marathons: Deseret Morning News Marathon, Quad Cities Marathon and Hartford Marathon. Ndambuki also had the fastest PR going into the event, a 2:10:58 time at the 1998 Rock 'N' Roll Marathon San Diego 1998.
Wioletta Kryza, 38 of Poland, was competing in her 59th marathon was determined to tackle the heat and humidity of the Southeast US, having just flown in from Poland two days earlier. Kryza won the 2006 Montreal International Marathon with a time of 2:43:05. Coming off a busy marathoning year in 2006, she was a runner up in the Detroit Marathon and placed 3rd in the Miami Marathon and California International Marathon. [PR = 2:31:45 Pittsburgh Marathon 2002]
Valentina Levushkina, 24 (RUS), a Russian National Champion in both the Half Marathon and 10K distances from Beloretsk, was running her debut marathon at this inaugural race.
Alena Vinitskaya, 35 (RUS) was fresh off a finish at the 2007 LA Marathon where she took second place with a time of 2:42:54. In 2006, she was a runner up at the Hartford Marathon and Quad Cities Marathon, 3rd place at Austin Marthon and 6th place at Houston Marathon. [PR = 2:32:17 Austin Marathon 2002]
Viktoriya Zoueva, 23 (RUS), a runner up at the 2005 Belgrade Marathon with a time of 2:38:40, would be joining her two countrywomen at the start.
This elite line-up dominated by Kenyans and Russians featured some of MarathonGuide.com Outstanding Marathoners of the Year. With seasoned marathoners racing against each another - Jonathan Ndambuki (KEN) and Charles Kamindo (KEN), Wioletta Kryza (POL) and Alena Vinitskaya (RUS); and with notable newcomers - the win was anybody's guess.
Men's Race - The pack remained tight from the start as they sped through the streets of downtown Atlanta maintaining a 5:26 pace through the 10K split. Through the half marathon mark with a time of 1:10:18 Jonathan Ndambuki and Joseph Chirlee were at the lead. Joseph Sitienei (KEN) and Charles Kamindo rounded out the lead pack. At the 20 mile mark Chirlee was at the lead. Sitienei trailed 40 seconds behind. Kamindo and Ndambuki were one minute to one and one-half minutes behind Chirlee respectively. The elites were caught up weaving around the congestion of middle-of-the-pack half marathoners who shared the course from 17.5 miles to the finish. Chirlee won with a two minute lead ahead of Sitienei.
Winner - Joseph Chirlee - 2:19:41
2nd Place - Joseph Sitienei - 2:21:58
3rd Place - Johnathan Ndambuki - 2:22:45
4th Place - Charles Kamindo - 2:23:17
5th Place - Meyer Friedman - 2:27:39
Women's Race - The lead pack consisted of Alena Vinitskaya, Viktoriya Zoueva, Valentina Levushkina and Wioletta Kryza who reached the 10K split at about 39:02. Coursing through the hills of Atlanta, the pack remained tight at the half marathon mark maintaining a 6:08 pace. Zueva and Levushkina, the two young Russians, surged and reached the 20 mile mark together still maintaining negative splits at a pace of 6:07. Vinitskaya trailed five seconds behind. Within the last 10K Zueva began to crumble and Levushkina pushed ahead towards the finish winning with a time of 2:43:15. Zueva almost one and one-half minutes behind collapsed with exhaustion at the finish.
Winner - Valentina Levushkina - 2:43:15
2nd Place - Victoria Zueva - 2:44:58
3rd Place - Alena Vinitskaya - 2:45:56
4th Place - Wioletta Kryza - 2:49:49
5th Place - Miranda Shapiro - 3:00:22
The finish was an unexpected surprise with Joseph Chirlee who was slated to run the half marathon up until the Friday prior to the race and Valentina Levushkina who had her debut in the marathon distance both winning the race with such a distinct lead among their competitors.
Prize money was significant for an inaugural marathon: Chirlee and Levushkina won a first place prize of $5,000 each. Runners-up Sitienei and Zueva, received $3,000 each. Ndambuki and Vinitskaya received $1,750 each for their 3rd Place finishes. 4th Place runners, Kamindo and Kryza, received $750 each. 5th Place runners, Meyer Friedman and Miranda Shapiro, received $500 each. Miranda Shapiro also received a special prize reserved for the first place Americans living in Georgia - an all expense paid trip to the ING Amsterdam Marathon courtesy of race sponsors Delta and Mizuno. Local resident, Tom Cutter, who was first with a 2:30:11 also was awarded this trip.
The race continued through the heat of the day with 2,775 men and 1,565 women conquering the marathon's challenging course. The youngest marathoner was 17 year old Julian McAdams who finished with a time of 4:00:20 and the oldest runner 78 female Alma Curti had a finish time of 6:22:35.
It was more than an inaugural race for the race director. A teary eyed Seahorn dedicated the race to friend, Lindsay Gabe, who had died of breast cancer in 2005. And to winner Chirlee, "It's is not about winning. Everybody that finishes a marathon is a winner." Next year, Georgia will be on the minds of many returning to better their times and other new runners looking for a great spring marathon.
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Sponsor Balloons Greeted Runners at the Start
Joseph Chirlee leading the field
The Lead Pack (l to r): Charles Kamindo, Jonathan Ndambuki, Stephen Tanui, Joseph Sitenei, Joseph Chirlee
Women's Lead Pack (l to r): Valentina Levushkina, Victoria Zueva, ??, Wioletta Kryza
Chirlee crossing the line
Joseph Sitienei finishing second
Valentina Levushkina winning
Victoria Zueva on course for second place