Sentayehu Ejigu came to Boston from Ethiopia expressly to run the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women. It was a smart decision.
The 28-year-old pulled away from a pack of six in Mile 4 and raced away to victory and the $5,000 first prize Monday in 31 minutes 33 seconds, smashing a 25-year-old course record. Anne Hannam of New Zealand ran 31:38 in 1988.
Twenty-three-year-old Emily Infeld of Portland, Ore., running in her first 10K, finished second in 31:47, and Risper Gesabwa of Kenya was third in 32:12.
Ejigu does not speak more than a few words of English and was so shy she had to be convinced to relay her thoughts to manager Matt McCarron by a phone call from her good friend, Ethiopian Olympic gold medalist Meseret Defar.
“I’m very happy for this race,’’ Ejigu told McCarron. “It means a lot to me to come here, my first good performance after two years.’’
A nagging leg injury kept Ejigu from competition for more than a year. But Defar told her she was in good shape and that she should head to Boston. Good advice, as Ejigu ran a personal best for the 10K, improving on her 31:58 from 2011.
Ejigu was part of a thick pack of 20 runners that led the field of 7,012 down Beacon Street under bright blue skies with temperatures in the 60s. A six-pack of runners moved ahead as they turned right off the Mass. Ave. Bridge onto Memorial Drive, with Ejigu, Infeld, and Gesabwa joined by Janet Bawcom, Alice Kamunya, and Grace Kahura. The six concentrated on moving away from the rest of the field and then Ejigu surged just before turning back onto the bridge. She moved steadily away from Infeld and Gesabwa as the others dropped back, but kept turning around to check until the finish line on Charles Street.
“I felt comfortable throughout the race but I kept looking back because I didn’t see kilometer markers,’’ Ejigu told McCarron. “I don’t know miles very much, and I was unsure of my fitness because I haven’t had a good competition after more than a year of injury.’’
Between Miles 4 and 5, Ejigu ran 4:59. Only Infeld and Gesabwa stayed close, and by the time Ejigu came off the bridge, she had a 10-second lead on Infeld.
“I could definitely feel her taking off and I didn’t know if my legs had it in me to go with her,’’ said Infeld. “I tried to go with her a little bit I just didn’t think I had it in my legs. I don’t know what her mile [time] was but I think it was significantly faster.’’
McCarron said Ejigu said she had only a minimal idea of how quickly she was running during the race, because she couldn’t interpret the mile markers, and she had no idea until she finished it was a record time.
Infeld, who trains with coach Jerry Schumaker in Portland, and training partners Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher, was thrilled with her race, which comes on the heels of a second-place finish in the US 5K championships in Providence (15:30) Sept. 22.
“I’m super happy with my time,’’ she said. “I was just super excited. Kara [Goucher] talked to me about this race previously and she had dominated here and that got me really excited. It’s my first 10K ever so I’m excited.
“I ran a 6-miler earlier and felt good, so basically, the same thing. But I feel like I got that little extra.’’
A Georgetown graduate, Infeld is just in her second season as a professional.
She’s piling up some good results.