SANTA FE – New Mexico – via Africa – had a strong showing at Monday’s Boston Marathon.
Caroline Rotich, who has lived and trained in Santa Fe for about five years, used a late kick to bust through the tape first among the women runners in the 119th running of the prestigious event.
And the third-place finisher, Buzunesh Deba, also an Ethiopian, trains part of the year in Albuquerque.
“Boston is one of the big marathons in the world,” Rotich said in a phone interview hours after her victory. “Winning it is unbelievable. I’m happy to be one of the champions of the Boston Marathon.”
Rotich, 30, found a spark over the final 200 meters to beat Mare Dibaba of Ethiopia by four seconds in a time of 2 hours, 24 minutes and 55 seconds.
It was a three-woman race until Deba fell off the pace in the final mile, leaving Rotich and Dibaba to sprint it out to the finish.
“She pulled ahead of me and I thought that was it,” Rotich said of Dibada. “But I found some more and I thought, ‘I’m not going home second.’ And I caught her in the last 100 meters. I looked back and she wasn’t following me. “I thought, ‘I’ve got it now.”
As Rotich crossed the finish line, a group of fourth-graders more than 2,000 miles away cheered her on.
Ted Freedman, a retired physical education teacher at Wood Gormley Elementary School in Santa Fe, watched the finish at the school on his cellphone surrounded by students.
Since Rotich has been in Santa Fe, she’s helped out at the school’s annual running clinic and has become a student favorite because of her easygoing nature, he said.
“I happened to be at school (on Monday) helping my wife with her PE classes,” Freedman said. “A bunch of the kids got around me as we watched the last mile or so. A lot of the kids know her because she’s always at the running clinic that we put on. She’s one of the ones that’s always consistently here.”
During the thrilling finish, the students got loud and excited, he said.
“I really got in trouble with my wife because the kids broke away from my wife and were watching it with me,” Freedman said. “They were jumping up and down and whooping and hollering. It really means something to them because they know her.”
It was Rotich’s third attempt at the race, after finishing fourth in 2011 and pulling out after about 20 miles in 2012. She bypassed the 2013 Boston Marathon, which was overshadowed by the bombings at the finish line, to instead run and win the Prague Marathon. And last year she raced the London Marathon.
Rotich said she spends nine to 10 months a year training in Santa Fe, running the trails there, as well as visiting Albuquerque to run the bosque.
“I don’t have a favorite trail,” she said. “They’re all great. We have great trails in Santa Fe.”
And the terrain “reminds me of back home,” Rotich said.
Her local trainer, Ryan Bolton, said he had a sense Rotich was in for a special performance.
“There are so many great athletes at Boston, so you can never be certain, but I had a good feeling,” said Bolton, an elite runner himself who competed in the first Olympic triathlon at the 2000 games in Sydney. “Her fitness was real good. The last two months of training went really, really well.”
Elite African runners like Rotich and Deba undergoing high-altitude training are a common sight on Santa Fe and Albuquerque’s walking and jogging trails.
“This is great,” said Mbarak Hussein, one of New Mexico’s best-known elite runners. A Kenyan-born U.S. citizen, the Sandia High School boys track and field coach several times competed for a spot on the men’s U.S. Olympic team. “New Mexico had a great representation at the Boston Marathon.”
Winning the Boston Marathon was a breakthrough for Rotich that also carried a hefty prize: $150,000.
“I don’t know, I might take a little vacation,” she said of her plans for the money.
As for her longer-term plans, after a bit of a break Rotich hopes to earn a spot on her country’s Olympic team.
“I’ll come back to Santa Fe, relax for a while and take it from there,” she said. “The Olympics, that’s my dream. That hasn’t happened yet. That’s part of my training, so I can qualify.”