Six miles into Saturday’s Quad-City Times Bix 7, Cynthia Limo looked around and found herself surrounded by competition.
“Whoever could be the strongest was going to win,’’ Limo said. “We were all so close. It was going to be a sprint.’’
Limo decided then and there to take a chance.
She broke away from a group that included her training partner Mary Wacera, 2015 Boston Marathon winner Caroline Rotich, Diane Nukuri and Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton, finding enough separation to win her first Bix 7 championship. She won by 10 seconds over Wacera in a race that saw the top five finishers cross the finish line within 18 seconds of each other.
The separation between the top-five finishers was the closest in the women’s race at the Bix 7 since 2008, when there was 14 seconds between first place and fifth in a race won by Edith Masai.
Limo, who finished as the runner-up to Wacera at both the Utica Boilermaker 15K and the Subaru Buffalo 4-Mile Chase the previous two weekends, won the race in 36 minutes, 57 seconds in her first appearance at the seven-mile race through the streets of Davenport.
“This is not an easy race. The hills, they were very challenging,’’ Limo said. “All of the athletes, they ran a good race today. They were all right there. It was an excellent run.’’
Limo, a 25-year old from Kenya who has trained this month with Wacera in Lansing, Mich., welcomed the competitive finish.
“In women’s races, it is not always that way,’’ she said. “It was a sprint all the way down Brady. Everyone was right there. The competition was good for all of us.’’
Limo said she was able to separate herself from the other four runners as they made a final turn onto Third Street in downtown Davenport, gaining enough of an edge to hold off a possible late surge.
“I was able to have the strength that I needed to pull just a little bit in front of the others,’’ said Limo, who earned $12,500 for winning the race.
Rotich maintained a short lead over Wacera and Limo as the race reached its midpoint and by the time runners reached the four-mile mark, they had been joined by Nukuri and Tuliamuk-Bolton.
At that point, Nukuri suspected that this year’ race would develop into the battle it became.
“Everyone was running strong, running well,’’ she said. “I moved up with them with about three miles left and when I was still there with two miles to go, I forgot about the fact that I wasn’t feeling my best today and I just went for it.’’
Nukuri, a three-time all-American at Iowa who is from Burundi, said the front five were still together as the race moved beyond the six-mile mark.
“I didn’t have enough after that to get to Cynthia. She ran well, but it felt good to be up there and competing like that,’’ Nukuri said. “It was anybody’s race with a mile left. We were all right there.’’
Nukuri described it as the “most fun’’ she has had in a race in some time.
“To be part of a pack like that, so competitive with the race on the line, that is why you compete,’’ Nukuri said. “We were all there. I’ve been training a lot lately with (Rotich and Tuliamuk-Bolton) so for us to finish 3-4-5, that was great. It turned out to be a good race and coming back to Iowa, it was great for it to work out that way.’’
Rotich, the Bix 7 champion in 2011 who won her own sprint to the finish in Boston this year, said the competitiveness of the women’s field created a memorable race.
“We were all right there. Everyone in the front pack had a chance. It was Cynthia’s day,’’ the 31-year-old Kenyan said.
And it came near the end of what has been a dominating month for Wacera and Limo.
“Mary and I have run well together and it has been a good few races for us,’’ Limo said. “She was right there again. We push each other to become better. I was able to be strong at the end and that was the difference. Everyone ran a good race.’’
Wacera finished in 37:07, one second in front of Rotich, who ran two seconds faster than Nukuri. Tuliamuk-Bolton finished in 37:15 to take fifth, crossing 50 seconds in front of sixth-place finisher Monicah Ngige of Kenya.
Ruti Aga of Ethiopia, Hitomi Nakamura of Japan, Ann Wanjiru of Kenya and Kaori Morita of Japan rounded out the top 10.
The top American finisher was Stephanie Brown of Springdale, Ark., an eight-time all-American at Arkansas who finished 13th in 41:50.