ALEXANDRIA, VA (17-Nov) — After injecting one surge after another, Aaron Braun separated himself from chasers Shadrack Biwott and Tyler Pennel to win the inaugural .US National Road Racing Championships here this morning. Timing 34:28, Braun missed Steve Spence’s 12 kilometer American record by two seconds, though was ecstatic after earning his first national title.
“I’ve been close so many times,” Braun, 26, told members of the media moments after crossing the finish line next to the Potomac River. “So many times I’ve been right there and got second or third. I didn’t want to let it go down to a kick. If it did I’d be ready for it, but it’s so great to finally cross the line and be U.S. champion.”
Between brick houses lining Old Town Alexandria, Braun established his spot up front within the race’s first mile. As planned, the father of one wanted to be aggressive throughout the contest.
“I just wanted to make a good honest pace. I didn’t want to mess around,” Braun said, draped in an American flag with the winner’s medal around his neck.
With each kilometer that passed, Braun seemed to inject a momentary spurt of speed. Promptly the pack of about 16 would respond, led by four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman and Biwott. The group went through five kilometers inwith Braun a step in front.
Running confidently in his yellow adidas vest, Braun seemed poised and comfortable. Each stride looked effortless, while his rivals seemed to be keying off every move he made. In essence, Braun controlled the destiny of the race.
Just like he had planned going into today’s contest, the Adams State alum wanted to make a noticeable move at the race’s turn around point at about 7 kilometers.
“Me and my coach talked about at that turn around point around 4.5 miles that that would be the perfect time to make a move,” Braun said with a smile. “In college, when you make a move I was strong enough to immediately get rid of people. But with this kind of field, that wasn’t going to happen. So I had to keep my foot on the pedal, keep it nice and steady, and be able to hold that pace all the way to the finish and hope it would eventually drop them.”
The move would shake up the group, yet core members Biwott, Pennel, Abdirahman, and Josphat Boit remained.
Over a bridge between miles five (8 km) and six (10 km), it appeared that Abdirahman was readying for the final charge to the tape. That was when disaster struck: coming off the bridge and taking a very sharp turn, Abdirahman lost his footing. Falling to the ground hard, he let out a loud “Ahhh!”
“Oh my Goodness, I saw him [go down] and felt sorry for him,” recounted Biwott. “I was worried running if he was OK because I heard him going down hard and I looked back and saw him holding his face. I was like ‘Oh my gosh. I hope he’s OK.'”
The next time anyone would see Abdirahman was coming across the finish line in a medical vehicle, draped in a paramedic jacket and with a drop of blood on his left cheek.
As if in unison with Abdirahman’s fall, Braun surged again, this time creating separation back to Biwott and Pennel. What was a three-second lead at ten kilometers (which Braun crossed in 28:48) soon became ten.
Coming down the final straightaway with the early morning sun on his right, Braun celebrated with the victory in his pocket. Swept up in the emotion of his first national title, Braun waved to the crowd before breaking the finish tape in 34:28. Told he missed Steve Spence’s USATF-ratified American record of 34:26 by two seconds, Braun simply shrugged it off with a smile.
“It’d be cool to say I was an American record holder, but it’s not like it’s one of those [major] records,” he said, noting that it wasn’t on his radar coming into the race. “First national title was absolutely the main focus.”
Braun credited his recent racing success to moving back to Colorado and training under college coach Damon Martin. This fall Braun has placed second at the USA 5-K National Championships, timed 1:03:52 at the B.A.A. Half-Marathon, taken third place at the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line 5-K, and now earned the $20,000 first-place prize here. Next up, he will try and retain his title at the Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day where he jointly owns the course record with road racing legend Philemon Hanneck.
“I’m not plateauing,” said Braun. “To keep in this sport you have to keep getting better, because everyone else is getting better too. So if you’re staying the same you’re getting passed. I’m determined to keep getting better year after year.”
After a late charge that saw him make up some ground, Biwott claimed second in 34:35. With his podium finish and Matt Tegenkamp’s eighth place showing, Biwott earned enough points to overtake the latter on top of the USA Running Circuit leaderboard, making him this year’s champion and giving him an additional $6000 on top of his $10,000 second place prize.
“If that’s true, then I’m a happy man,” said the former University of Oregon Duck, speaking conservatively as he hadn’t yet seen official results. “It’s great, man.”
Still in Biwott’s legs was his third place finish at the USA Marathon Championships six weeks ago. Despite the fatigue, he was pleased with how today’s race turned out.
“To be honest I’m exhausted. My legs are tired right now. I’ve never been so tired in a race like today,” he said.
Rounding out the top three in somewhat of a surprise was Pennel, who hadn’t raced since the USA 10-K Championships at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race last July, where he finished 14th overall and seventh among Americans.
“I had a great block of training,” said Pennel, a member of North Carolina-based Zap Fitness. “I took some risks hoping I was ready to run and that got validated.”
Finishing fourth and fifth, respectively, were Christo Landry and Elliot Krause, 34:40 and 34:43, respectively. Placing eighth, 22 seconds behind Braun was Tegenkamp, his final time 34:50. Teammate and fellow Jerry Schumacher-coached athlete Chris Solinsky did not finish; his last registered split wasat 5 kilometers, just before he fell off the lead pack.