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Tufts 10K for women

Race win streak reaches 5

Construction on the Longfellow Bridge forced a slight course change, so runners crossed the Mass. Ave. Bridge twice. Construction on the Longfellow Bridge forced a slight course change, so runners crossed the Mass. Ave. Bridge twice. (Dina rudick/globe staff)
By Barbara Matson
Globe Correspondent / October 11, 2011

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This is not the time to get in Janet Cherobon-Bawcom’s way.

A day after winning the Boston Athletic Association Half Marathon, the 33-year-old from Rome, Ga., ran away from the field in the Tufts Health Plan 10K for Women yesterday, claiming the USA Track and Field national 10K championship with a time of 32 minutes 47 seconds. Two-time champion Katie McGregor finished a strong but distant second in 33:17, and Kim Conley was third in 33:35.

Cherobon-Bawcom’s Tufts title was her fifth consecutive race victory. She also won the US 20K championship last month in New Haven (1:08:31, her first national title), the Great Cow Harbor 10K in Northport, N.Y., Sept. 17, the USA 10-Mile championships Oct. 2 in Minnesota in a personal best 54:15, and Sunday’s BAA Half Marathon in 1:11:58. Cherobon-Bawcom surely must be counted as America’s fastest female road warrior this fall.

A Kenyan-born US citizen, she anticipates a little downtime before she resumes training, her sights set on the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston in January.

Yesterday, a record 7,569 runners hit the pavement for the annual Tufts race, but only McGregor was anywhere near Cherobon-Bawcom after the halfway mark.

Cherobon-Bawcom crossed the finish line wreathed in a smile, which soon was topped when the champion’s laurel wreath was perched on her head.

“I can’t believe I won here,’’ she said. “This morning I was a little tired.’’ The solution? She went for a jog, then back to bed.

“I guess it all worked out,’’ she added. “I just wanted to go out pretty hard and just maintain it and see how it goes.

“I didn’t break away until almost three miles. I just went with what I felt I had today.’’

The temperatures that soared into the 80s at racetime couldn’t slow Cherobon-Bawcom, though she felt the heat.

“I just tried to hydrate a lot,’’ she said of New England’s surprise heat wave. “I ran the BAA [Half Marathon] last year and came in second and it was cold. So when we came in this year, we were just drenching with sweat so it’s a little different.’’

Cherobon-Bawcom first came to the US from Kenya in 2000 to compete for Harding University, where she was the NCAA Division 2 champion at 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters in 2005 (she ran as Janet Kogo, after an administrator enrolled her using her stepfather’s last name). She earned a nursing degree and became an American citizen last November.

With three-time Tufts 10K defender Molly Huddle not running yesterday while recovering from foot injuries, the field appeared to be wide open. Cherobon-Bawcom closed it quickly.

She was at the head of the lead pack of nearly 20 that enjoyed an opening run down Beacon Street, a course change made to accommodate construction on the Longfellow Bridge. Instead, the runners left Boston on the Mass. Ave. Bridge, and the pack clung together through an opening 5:08 mile. But the group began to stretch out as they raced across the bridge in breezy, hot conditions.

Ethiopian runner Bekelech Bedada led the group into the sharp right turn exiting the bridge onto Memorial Drive. By the turnaround just short of Mile 2, (which the leaders passed in 10:18), a trio of runners were out front, including Bedada, Cherobon-Bawcom, and Conley, with McGregor about 10 yards back.

Cherobon-Bawcom assumed the lead during the third mile, and after passing the Mile 3 marker in 15:38, she surged out front by herself for the rest of the race. Even as McGregor began to look stronger, moving decisively into second, she could not keep up with the pace of the leader, whom she trailed by some 17 seconds at Mile 4 (20:57).

It was all Cherobon-Bawcom’s race then, and when she turned right onto the Mass. Ave. Bridge to make the return trip to Boston, she was greeted by a wall of sound as the middle and back of the pack runners cheered and waved as she ran past them.

“Oh man, that was awesome, I almost stopped,’’ Cherobon-Bawcom said. “I thought what can I do to support them, but then I guess winning, that’s why everybody’s out here.

“It was really amazing, I felt like I should just high five everybody and then I’m thinking, ‘You have to focus the whole time.’ ’’