Molly Huddle was a little worried that a hill on the University of Minnesota campus might come back to haunt her. Huddle began the TC 10 Mile at a brisk pace, and she thought the challenging climb in the second mile could leave her with less energy for the finish.
Neither the hill, nor anything else, could stop her Sunday. Huddle quickly built a huge lead on the women's field and ran most of the race with no one else in sight, winning in a course-record 51 minutes, 44 seconds. The 31-year-old Olympian also became the first woman to win the $10,000 "equalizer bonus'' for being the first finisher of either gender to cross the finish line on the State Capitol grounds.
Sam Chelanga, a native of Kenya who just became a U.S. citizen in August, outkicked Tyler Pennel to win the men's title in 46:47. Pennel finished one second behind in 46:48, and Dathan Ritzenhein was third in 46:53.
The race served as the national championship for the 10-mile distance and awarded $12,000 to each winner.
Huddle finished 1:19 ahead of second-place finisher Neely Spence, with Alexi Pappas another seven seconds back. The title was her third this season. She already had won the U.S. 5K and 10K championships and came into Sunday's race with a solid training base.
"I ran pretty fast up that hill,'' said Huddle, who crushed Kara Goucher's 2007 course record by 92 seconds. "I was worried that might come back to get me. Fortunately, my legs held up.
"Sometimes it's a little risky [to take a large early lead]. Today, I thought it was my best bet. I thought if I went 53:30 or lower, I'd have a good chance to win the equalizer.''
Twin Cities in Motion, which runs the Twin Cities Marathon and TC 10 Mile, was offering the equalizer for the third time. The women's field was given a head start of 6:18 in the hope of setting up a sprint to the finish between the top man and top woman. In 2011 and 2012, men's champ Mo Trafeh passed women's winner Janet Bawcom in the final mile.
Chelanga said to beat Huddle on Sunday, the men's field would have had to commit to a swift early pace they didn't want. The men's leaders ran in a pack of 12 early on, which dwindled to a half-dozen by the 7-mile mark.
"If you know Molly, I was almost sure she was going to win it,'' Chelanga said. "She's tough.''
Huddle was so far ahead that Chelanga couldn't see her, either. He had his hands full with Pennel, who won the Twin Cities Marathon last year. The two were locked in a head-to-head match over the final mile, with Chelanga outsprinting Pennel over the final 100 meters.
"That last mile was fast,'' Pennel said. "I kept putting in surges until the finish, hoping to break everyone. I just couldn't get away from Sam.''
Many top competitors were using the 10 Mile as part of their training toward the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in February. Huddle, the American record holder in the 5,000 meters on the track, said she is likely to skip the marathon trials and try to make the 2016 Olympic team in the 10,000 meters. Chelanga and Pennel both expect to compete at the marathon trials.