Weldon Kirui broke away from fellow Kenyan Willy Koitile in the final mile to win the men’s division of Sunday’s 31st annual Los Angeles Marathon, while Nataliya Lehonkova of Ukraine was the women’s winner.

Kirui completed the 26-mile, 385-yard course in two hours, 13 minutes and seven seconds, 17 seconds ahead of Koitile. Kenyan Daniel Limo, who won last year’s race, was third in 2:13:52.

Lehonkova won in 2:30:42, ending a stretch of five victories in six years by African women.

Serkalem Abrha of Ethiopia was second among the women, at 2:32:24, and Julia Budniak, a native of Poland who now lives in the Los Angeles area, was third in 2:44:44.

Kirui and Lehonkova both earned $23,000 for their victories, while Koitile and Abrha each received $11,250 from a total purse of $100,000. The top five male and female finishers received prize money.

The threat of hot weather did not materialize for the elite runners with temperatures in the 60s from Dodger Stadium to Santa Monica.

Thick fog enveloped the last mile of the course and the winners could not see the finish line until they were a half-block from it.

Kirui’s luggage was delayed on his flights from Africa to Los Angeles, and he was running in a pair of new shoes provided by his sponsor, Sketchers Performance, which is also the race’s title sponsor.

Lehonkova attributed her personal-best time to speed work in training and a weekly long run of about 18 miles.

Lehonkova said she moved to the lead because of the slow pace in the women’s division in the opening kilometer.

Abrha said she had a “stomach illness” at a point in the race she did not specify and a cramp in her right leg after 20 miles.

“It was a little bit difficult,” said the 28-year-old who trains in New Mexico.

The race drew 25,495 entries, the fourth most in its history. A record 26,054 runners registered for the race in 2010, the first year of the “Stadium to the Sea” course.

Last year’s race drew the second-largest amount of entrants, 26,046, according to figures supplied by organizers.

Koitile led from the ninth through 17th miles, with Alex Chesakit of Uganda taking the lead in the 18th mile.

Koitile regained the lead in the 20th mile. Kirui moved into second in the 22nd mile, with the same time as Koitile. They were 1-2 with the same times until the final mile when Kirui made his move.

The 33-year-old Lehonkova was the women’s leader throughout the race.

The last time a male runner from outside of Africa won the men’s race was 1997. A U.S. runner last won in 1994.

This was the second time the race was not run in March. The shift was made so it could coincide with Saturday’s U.S. Olympic Team Marathon Trials.

The first February edition of the marathon also meant this was the first time the race was run on Valentine’s Day. The race had several ties to the romantic day.

At the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Vine Street, in the 10th mile of the course, a stage was set up with 36 couples either getting married or renewing their wedding vows during the race, a race official said.

Some of the couples ran the entire race together, said Tracey Russell, the CEO of Conqur Endurance Group, which conducts the race.

For this year only, participant shirts, bibs and medals were Valentine’s Day themed.

Organizers expected a record number of finish-line proposals.

The race, officially known as the Skechers Performance Los Angeles Marathon, was run for the seventh consecutive year on the “Stadium to the Sea” course from Dodger Stadium to Ocean Avenue and Santa Monica Boulevard in Santa Monica.

One slight change was made. In the 21st mile, the course went around the Veterans Administration grounds rather than through it, making a north turn on Sepulveda Boulevard and then a west turn on Wilshire Boulevard.

The field included runners from all 50 states and 62 nations. There were 157 runners who have run in all 30 previous races.

There were 50 bands playing on the course, which will had six entertainment centers.

More than 100 official charities participated in the race.

The race customarily draws complaints from some residents of the four cities the race passes through — Los Angeles, West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica — about the street closures caused by the race.

“I think most Angelenos love the marathon,” Mayor Eric Garcetti told City News Service.

“It’s a moment to see friends and families,” Garcetti said, citing the Students Run L.A. program, which trains middle school and high school students to run the marathon.

“A little inconvenience is nothing compared to living in a great city that can stage the best events on the face of the Earth.”

The other time the race was not held in March was in 2009 when it was run on Memorial Day.

When the group backed by then-Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt purchased the rights to the race, the City Council stipulated that the race be shifted to a Monday holiday to limit the impact on Sunday morning church services.

The race returned to March the following year.
–City News Service

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