[caption id="attachment_1305" align="alignleft" width="250"] PhotoRun[/caption]
ATLANTA - June 26, 2016 - You’d think the prospect of winning her fourth AJC Peachtree Road Race would be incentive enough for Kenya’s Lineth Chepkurui as she heads for Atlanta this week but, as it turns out, she’s looking forward to a lot more than that.
“We are there to celebrate your Independence Day,” said Chepkurui, who won in 2009, 2010 and 2013 and was runner-up in 2012 by a just one second. “Everyone is very welcoming; the crowd cheers us all the way. It’s a race where you really want to give everything. It’s very special.”
Chepkurui, 28, is not only a three-time winner of Peachtree—a fourth victory would tie her with the legendary Grete Waitz for second-most behind Gayle Barron and Lornah Kiplagat—but also owns the second-fastest women’s time ever for the course, at 30:51, behind only Kiplagat.
“I run very well there,” she said, her eyes laughing in understatement.
Her #2 time came in 2010, in the midst of one of the most successful campaigns ever on the U.S. roads. Between April 3 and Sept. 19, Chepkurui claimed victory in seven races, including Peachtree, and finished as runner-up in the only two races she didn’t win to finish the year ranked as the #1 woman at 10K in the world.
But her proudest Peachtree victory came in 2013, in the slowest of her winning times. That year, she was coming off a hip and lower back so sore that “I couldn’t even bend down to wash my clothes,” she told columnist Toni Reavis that summer. “Winning in 2013 was really a big surprise for me,” she said recently. “When I won at Peachtree, I knew I was better.”
Hip and lower back issues have hampered Chepkurui on and off for much of her decade-long career but, as her 2010 juggernaut would attest, she’s been formidable when healthy. In addition to a 12K world record that year, her personal best (30:45) makes her the 10th-fastest woman in history at the distance. Off the roads, she has finished in the top 10 at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships three times, placing fourth in 2009.
So far in 2016, Chepkurui’s two best finishes have been fourth, at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile in early April and the Lilac Bloomsday Run 12K in early May. But come Atlanta, she said, “I’m ready to fight for anything.”
She knows that she’ll have plenty of company. While she’s racing down Peachtree Street, making the turn on to 10th Street and then battling to the finish, she is focused on nothing but the road ahead, barely aware of the 60,000 or so runners behind her that unite to form the largest road race in the U.S. But later, after catching her breath, speaking with the media and cooling down, she will glance back.
“You are like, ‘wow, look at everyone still coming in,’” she said. “It’s such a wonderful race.”
Chepkurui joins an All-Star elite field at the AJC Peachtree Road Race that includes previously announced entrants Jared Ward, a member of the 2016 U.S. Olympic Team in the marathon; Neely Spence Gracey, the top American woman in the 2016 Boston Marathon and Edna Kiplagat, a two-time World Champion. The 47th running of the AJC Peachtree Road Race will take place on July 4.