TUPELO – Eric Chirchir and Janet Cherobon lived up to their names on Saturday.
The Kenyans sloshed through a steady rain to win the men’s and women’s overall titles in the 31st annual Gum Tree 10K, an event neither had entered before this year. Chirchir clocked a time of 29 minutes, 31 seconds, while Cherobon hit the line in 33:41.
Chirchir, in Kenyan, means “running fast.” Cherobon’s name has two meanings: the first three letters are “girl,” the last five “rain.”
Both runners got off to quick starts in a race delayed 14 minutes by a thunderstorm. Cherobon, 30, was running by herself by the second mile, but she was not in a comfort zone with wind and rain buffeting her slight frame.
“Especially when you come from the third mile, you come straight to the wind. The wind and the rain, it’s just in your face,” said Cherobon.
So she looked back, saw a male runner close behind and waved him to join her. That runner was Oxford’s Brian Pope, a Gum Tree veteran, and he gladly ran in front of Cherobon to shield her from the elements.
“She was willing to get out there and run against the wind as well,” said Pope, who finished second in the masters division with a time of 33:26 – 68 seconds behind winner Scott Strand of Birmingham. “I told her she could get behind me if she wanted to, which she was happy to do, because the wind was pretty tough out there.”
Cherobon, a former All-American at Harding University in Arkansas, didn’t register until Saturday morning. She drove from her home in Rome, Ga., to Tupelo on Friday night.
It’s been a busy year for Cherobon. She’s won eight or 10 races – she’s lost count – and lost just one. She’s coming off a victory at the Mini-Marathon in Indianapolis last weekend.
Her early lead was typical of her race style.
“I just kick it out,” she said. “Whoever wants to go with me, great. If you cannot hold on, I’m sorry.”
Finishing second among the women was Rahab Ndungo (35:25), and third place went to Firaya Sultanova-Zhda (36:35), who took the masters division title. Last year’s winner, Caroline Kiptoo, finished sixth (37:58).
For Chirchir, it was a race of attrition. He was part of an early eight-man lead pack that slowly dwindled to five, then four, then three. At the 17-minute mark, Chirchir peeked over his right shoulder to see that he had opened up a good lead on Alphonce Yatich, who would finish fourth.
Ernest Kimeti took second place in 30:05, while Peter Matelong captured third (30:11). Last year’s winner, Joao Ntyamba, did not enter the race.
“I didn’t win easy, because I know these guys are strong,” Chirchir said.
The 24-year-old Chirchir, who lives in El Paso, Texas, didn’t like the rain any more than Cherobon did. He and the other runners had to navigate around or through several small ponds during the residential portion of the run.
All in all, Chirchir was happy with his experience.
“It was so wonderful. I enjoyed it, and the people here were very welcoming,” he said. “I’m looking forward to coming back next year to win again.”
Wheelchair division winners were Jay Poindexter (37:14), of Michie, Tenn., and Courtney Fortune (1:04:44), of Corinth.
Brad Locke/NEMS Daily Journal