Lagat, Slusser take Ogden Half Marathon crowns

WHEELING – Philip Lagat believed he knew what he was getting into by signing up for the 38th annual Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic.

”I knew the course was hilly, so I adjusted my training,” said the 31-year-old native of Kenya, who runs out of Hebron, Ky.

As it turns out, the course Saturday morning offered a lot tougher terrain than Lagat anticipated. Not that it really mattered in the end, though.

Lagat ran away from the competition in a big way, crossing the finish line in 1:08:57, to take the overall men’s title. His time was nearly two minutes better than his closest competitor, and friend, Wesley Ochoro, 36, who crossed in 1:10:38.

”That is my strategy for a half marathon. I need to go, go, go,” Lagat said. ”At the start, I was in the front.

”About two or three miles, I was with my friend from Kenya. But during my last two or three (miles), I just go by myself.”

When Lagat goes, everyone else has little option but to follow.

Coming off a personal-best 2:12.39 in a victorious effort at the 37th Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon six days earlier, Lagat showed no sign of fatigue. His time was just shy of a PR for a half marathon, set in 2006, in Virginia Beach.

Colin Gundling, a Wheeling native who currently resides in Sewickley, Pa., was the top local finisher and ended third overall. Coming off his second victory in the Ogden Mile a night earlier, Gundling finished in 1:18:41. To put Lagat’s dominance into perspective, he beat Gundling, a former champion of the event whose time was better Saturday than it was that year, by a little less than 10 minutes.

Brian Waters of Camp Hill, Pa., was fourth and Cedric Robinson of Martins Ferry, himself a former Ogden Mile winner, rounded out the top five with a time of 1:21:52.

Winning the women’s title was 49-year-old Tammy Slusser of Monroeville, Pa.

”I’m stunned,” she said after breaking the tape in a time of 1:32:26.

”We run every Tuesday night,” Slusser said. ”I should actually be an honorary West Virginian because I run in every big race in the state. ”This is unbelievable.”

Ditto for Wheeling Central and recent Marshall University graduate Kelley Mortakis. She heard chatter along the course and had to do a double take when her second-place finish was announced as she crossed the finish line.

”Everyone kept saying ‘second female’ and I was like, really?’ ” she said.

Yes, really.

Mortakis finished in 1:33:48, just off the time of Slusser, and said finishing second was important, but can’t duplicate the feeling that merely competing brings her.

”My mom’s been running this race for years and she can’t run anymore, so it means a lot,” Mortakis said. ”I think this is for a good cause and it’s a tough course.

Sherri Martin, 52, of West Alexander, Pa., crossed in a time of 1:37:21 to finish third. Flannery O’Rourke, 32, of Pittsburgh, finished fourth and Marian Tullius, a 54-year-old from Wexford, Pa., rounded out the top five.