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November 04. 2012 10:35PM

Manchester works fine for marathon winner


MANCHESTER - Marathons are the ultimate test of physical endurance, but Sunday's Manchester City Marathon was merely a warm-up for the more serious trial awaiting Ben Payne overseas.

A 31-year-old captain in the U.S. Air Force who is scheduled to deploy for Afghanistan on Wednesday, Payne won the 26.2-mile trot through the streets of Manchester in two hours, 24 minutes and 43 seconds, outrunning 2009 champion Fikado Lemma by exactly one minute.

Muliye Gurmu, a 28-year-old Ethiopian runner who lives in New York City, won the women's marathon. She finished in 2:55:16, more than five minutes ahead of Denise Sandahl, a 32-year-old Rochester resident.

Another Ethiopian, Tadesse Girma, won the concurrent Manchester City Half Marathon. A 32-year-old Malden, Mass., resident who came to the United States a little more than two months ago, Girma finished the 13.1-mile course in 1:12:18, outlegging Kenyan Joseph Ekuom of Kingston, N.Y., by nearly two minutes.

And Heidi Westover, a 31-year-old teacher from Walpole, successfully defended her women's half marathon crown. Westover finished in 1:19:41, more than a minute ahead of Sheri Piers, a 41-year-old runner from Falmouth, Maine.

Each marathon winner earned $1,500, while the half marathon winners took home $1,000.

Marathon winners Payne and Gurmu were among the influx of runners who ran in Manchester after last Friday's cancellation of the New York City Marathon following Hurricane Sandy. A pilot with the Air Force's 34th Special Operations Squadron stationed at Hurlburt Field near Fort Walton Beach, Fla., Payne drove a rental car from New York to Manchester on Saturday and registered for the race upon his arrival just a few minutes before the 7 p.m. deadline.

"I was in the New York City Hilton waiting to run and found out the race was cancelled," Payne said. "So then I got online and started looking for some close marathons just because I needed one this weekend (since) I'm due to leave. This was the best option."

By winning his first marathon, Payne made the journey worthwhile. A 2004 Air Force Academy graduate from Denver who has been running marathons since 2006, he was in the lead pack early with Lemma and third-place finisher Bryan Morseman before pulling ahead at the 21-mile mark.

"I started creating a little bit of distance, and then I was by myself through the finish and really just hanging on," he said. "My legs were shot through all those hills."

Lemma, an Ethiopian who lives in the New York City's Bronx borough, fought pain from a hamstring injury throughout the race.

"After a while, I just couldn't push with (Payne)," he said.

Gurmu, another Bronx resident whose credentials include a victory in the 2009 Marine Corps Marathon in Washington, D.C., had been planning to run in New York but instead traveled to Manchester with her countryman Lemma. She fell behind Sandahl early but surpassed her late.

"She was following for maybe 17 miles, and then I hit a wall," said Sandahl, a former University of New Hampshire runner who won September's Smuttynose Rockfest Marathon. "My legs seized on me. I'm just glad I finished."

Girma, whose half marathon victory was his third in a month - he won the Applefest Half Marathon in Hollis on Oct. 6 and the Ashland (Mass.) Half Marathon on Oct. 28 - took an early lead over Ekuom and never let up, breaking away at the nine-mile mark. And Westover, who finished 15th earlier this year at the U.S. Olympic Marathon trials and 10th last month at the Twin Cities Marathon, led throughout the race and held off Piers for the second consecutive year.

"It was windy out there, and coming four weeks off a marathon, I'm happy with it," said Westover, who also won the Manchester City Half Marathon in 2008.

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