The Washington Post

Rojas pulls away from Simpson; Kimutai cruises in men’s race

- BY SPENCER NUSBAUM sports@washpost.com

The Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run takes about 50 minutes for the top female runners, and Nell Rojas waited through almost all of them before startling the women beside her. With about half a mile to go Sunday, Rojas’s pace crescendoe­d as she separated herself from the pack and made her final kick, finishing in 52 minutes 13 seconds to edge second-place Jenny Simpson (52:16).

“At seven or eight miles, I was more surprised that it started to slow down and I found myself in the lead,” Rojas said. “I could tell everyone else was working hard . . . and I was like, ‘I’m not working hard.’ So at that point, I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to let myself believe I can win this thing.’ ”

Many 10-mile races develop a pecking order about halfway through, but by the eighth mile, the top six runners were still bumping elbows without a frontrunne­r. Simpson, who was running the first long-distance race of her career after a decade as one of the world’s best middle-distance runners, was in that group — and firmly in the heads of the top runners.

“If I was in there with Jenny Simpson? I’d get the hell out of that pack,” said Keira D’amato, the American women’s 10-mile record holder who sat in the truck that drove ahead of the elite runners. Simpson said she expects the second-place finish to eat at her in the coming months, and she believes her coaches will encourage her to run more long-distance races.

Behind Simpson, Kenyans Antonina Kwambai (52:23) and Caroline Rotich (52:25) and Minnesotan Annie Frisbie (52:26) rounded out the congested top five.

The race, usually held in April, is named for the cherry blossoms that pop up in Washington’s spring season. On Sunday morning, the 65-degree weather was a warm consolatio­n prize as the race was held in person for the first time since 2019. Virtual runs were held in April 2020 and April 2021. The race also served as the USA Track & Field 10 mile championsh­ip.

The men’s side was decidedly less contested, with Kenya’s Edwin Kimutai (45:45) finishing 33 seconds ahead of American Abbabiya Simbassa (46:18). Kimutai, one of the favorites entering the day, finished the race with the same expression that he held during it: focused.

“I was good the whole time,” Kimutai said of his stamina. “For me, I’m normally running for the marathon.”

He was also dealing with tragedy: His wife died Aug. 23. He ran the race in her memory.

Behind Simbassa, the next three fastest men were Americans, too: Augustus Maiyo (46:23), Reed Fischer (46:59) and Frank Lara (47:13).

“I’ve been hunting for a long time, and it finally happened today,” said Simbassa, who finished eighth in this event in 2018. “It feels good; I love this place. It felt great, back in D.C.”

 ?? BOB BURGESS ?? Nell Rojas separated herself from the pack with half a mile to go and finished first in the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run on Sunday.
BOB BURGESS Nell Rojas separated herself from the pack with half a mile to go and finished first in the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run on Sunday.

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