Shanna Ailes Istnick wanted her best competition to keep up, to stay in it.
Around the 21-mile marker of Saturday’s Akron Marathon, Istnick finally overtook last year’s winner, Becki Michael, by 15 minutes, and tried to cheer Michael into a second (or third or fourth) wind.
“I told her to keep it up, run with me, run with us,” Ailes Istnick said. “There were a couple people running with us. We tried to get her to go, but we could tell she was cramping. I just wanted to offer some encouragement.”
Ailes Istnick, 34, of Kent, ran away from the field from there and finished with a time of 2:55:09, four minutes ahead of second-place finisher Lizzie Jesko, 26, of Akron.
Ailes Istnick finished third in 2010 and second a year ago, so she was naturally one of the favorites. But even she was surprised to come in first, considering this race was supposed to be only a training exercise for a marathon in Italy in a few weeks.
A little after midway through the race, though, she realized the chance to break the tape at the finish line was up for grabs.
“I didn’t taper for this race, so I’m kind of shocked myself,” she said. “I ran 100 miles last week, so based on that, I didn’t expect to do anything great. … I figured by mile 20 I’d see where I was. Somebody told me I was catching her [Michael], so I figured I might as well go ahead and finish it out.”
On the men’s side, Kenyan Richard Kessio, 38, who lives and trains in Toledo, ambushed the field and took first by more than six minutes. He was dangerously close to the course record — Kessio’s time of 2:18:51 was three seconds off the mark set in 2005 by Charles Kamindo. If he didn’t get caught up in traffic, he might have made history.
Kessio had the record in the forefront of his mind and was fully aware he had a shot at it.
“I knew … I knew I was going to break it,” he said. “But there were so many people when I turned over there. It was difficult to go through the people.”
Kessio was pushed for most of the morning by former Kent State University runner Aiman Scullion. Saturday’s marathon was Scullion’s first (he had never ran in a half-marathon, either). Scullion was able to keep up with Kessio step for step until the Kenyan found another gear for the final leg.
“I tried to surge on him a few times but he seemed pretty comfortable,” Scullion said. “There was a point in the park where you did a little loop; I knew then I was just trying to hold off for second place. Kessio’s a 2:12 guy — that’s moving.”
Scullion finished ahead of Peter Kemboi, last year’s winner
“I have a lot of respect for the full marathon,” he said, smiling. “I wanted to come in naive, I thought that would help me. But I don’t think there’s anything I could have done preparation wise to get me ready for the pain I felt, so I respect everybody who runs the full marathon.”
Akron Marathon races totaled about 15,000 registered runners.
Kessio’s Kenyan training partners in Toledo, Philip Lagat (1:07:01) and Dorcus Chesang (1:17:57), won the men’s and women’s half-marathons, respectively.
Lagat was only 13 seconds short of Kent resident Andrew Carnes’ half-marathon record of 1:06:48, set in 2010.
Carnes finished third Saturday with a time of 1:08:01, despite battling a torn tendon in his right foot. He said he hopes to be 100 percent next fall. At least for 12 months, his record is safe from Lagat.
Each men’s winner in the masters divisions for runners 40 or older set records Saturday. Sergey Kaledin (2:28:24), of Eugene, Ore., won the full marathon in the division for the fourth time in five years and broke his course record for the third time.
In the masters half-marathon, John Piggott of Williamsburg, Va., who normally runs the full marathon, decided to run only the half as he deals with a hamstring issue. By the eighth mile, Piggott realized he was in the clear and put his foot down, so to speak.
“Today, the hamstring didn’t do anything and it was good the whole race,” he said. “I knew in mile eight I was on pace so I said, ‘OK, it’s gonna be a good day.’ I picked it up after that.”
Kristy Kenna, 42, of Akron, won the women’s masters full marathon with a time of 3:04:44. Kenna, who proudly announced this was her fourth Akron Marathon and pointed toward one of her four kids after completing the race, credited one of the marathon’s time pacers, Chris Gregory, with her first-place finish.
“We saw the leader and he kept saying, ‘We’re gonna catch her, we’re gonna catch her,’ and we did,” she said.
Josephine Weeden, 44, of Saline, Mich., won the women’s masters half-marathon with a time of 1:28:31.
Ryan Lewis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the high school blog at http://www.ohio.com/preps. Follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/RyanLewisABJ and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sports.abj.