FALMOUTH — The morning before the Falmouth Road Race, Ben Flanagan took his family to eat at The Black Dog Heights Cafe before going for a run.
The 2018 race champion was practicing sprint repeats over the final mile of the famous seaside course while scouting his strategy. He picked out a 25 miles-per-hour speed limit sign at the intersection of Grand Avenue and Melrose Avenue near Kite Park, near the crest of the final hill. Just less than a half-mile from the finish, that’s where he was going to start his final kick.
“I don’t think people are ready to go that early,” he said after winning the 49th annual 7-mile race Sunday morning in 32 minutes 16 seconds with a strong finish. “I think that’s what ultimately got me [the win] today.”
While the 2021 race was scaled back from 12,800 entries to 8,000, it still featured many of the usual trappings, a sun-splashed course lined with tens of thousands of enthusiastic spectators winding along the water from Woods Hole to Falmouth Heights.
“A great race on a beautiful day,” said second-place women’s finisher Emily Durgin.
Flanagan’s victory was a homecoming of sorts for a Canadian who considers Falmouth his “second home.”
In 2018, Flanagan had just graduated from the University of Michigan after winning an NCAA championship in the 10,000 meters. He entered Falmouth that summer as “a giddy college runner” and won in 32:21.
But a hefty Nobska Lighthouse medal wasn’t all he took from his first trip to Falmouth. When his host family forgot to pick him up from the Health and Fitness Expo the day before the race, Scott Ghelfi, president of the race’s board of directors, offered him a place to stay for the night. Ghelfi’s daughter, Hannah, was a golfer at Michigan and the two began dating, bringing Flanagan back to Falmouth several times since.
“I have so many strong ties to this community and to this race,” he said. “It’s kind of an emotional advantage.”
A stress fracture prevented Flanagan from defending his title in 2019 and the 2020 race moved virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic — so he relished another chance to compete on the seaside course.
“Coming back finally was amazing,” he said. “It’s pretty emotional, to be honest.”
Flanagan ran in a lpack of 15-20 elite men who were led for much of the race by eventual fourth-place finisher Frank Lara, who maintained his lead despite making contact with the lead race truck early in the race. It wasn’t until the final kilometer that Flanagan moved into the top spot.
“I couldn’t believe how long it took for people to drop off,” he said.
Biya Simbassa finished second in 32:19, followed by Emmanuel Bor in third (32:21).
Kiplagat pulls away from women’s field
Kenyan Edna Kiplagat, a three-time third-place finisher (2006, 2009, 2010) and the 2017 Boston Marathon winner who trains in Boulder, Colo., pulled away from the field during the fourth mile of the women’s race, cruising to a 27-second victory in 36:52.
By the 2-mile mark, Kiplagat and Iveen Chepkemoi started pulling away from the rest of the lead pack. During the fourth mile along Surf Drive, Kiplagat put room between herself and Chepkemoi, who eventually finished eighth after struggling in the heat.
“I decided to try to make it and I did my best,” Kiplagat said. “I was able to pull away from [Chepkemoi] toward the finish line.”
That left a battle for second place, which was won by Emily Durgin (37:19), who beat out Fiona O’Keeffe (37:20) on the downhill finish by a second.
“At the end of the day it came down to that last little uphill and that’s where I tried to make one final move,” Durgin said.
Seidel rolls in charity run
Fresh off winning an Olympic bronze medal in her third career marathon, Molly Seidel, a Wisconsin native who lives in Cambridge, wasn’t going to miss a race she has run three times, finishing ninth in 2019.
But she wasn’t going to run as just another bib in the crowd. Instead, she started last and earned $2 for each of the 4,761 runners she passed for Tommy’s Place, a vacation home for kids fighting cancer. Her final tally: $9,522, which was matched by Tim O’Connell, founder of Tommy’s Place for a total of $19,044.
“I was almost trying to count people off and then I didn’t even bother anymore,” Seidel said.
Seidel admitted to being a little weary since returning from Tokyo.
“It’s been crazy,” she said. “My sleep is all over the place. I’m so tired right now. But it’s been really fun getting to come back and celebrate. Everyone is so excited when you bring the bronze medal with you.”
Hermin Garic won the men’s wheelchair division in 25:24 and Emelia Perry won the women’s wheelchair race in 37:59.