FAIRFIELD -- The starter's gun went off, the Fairfield Half Marathon began its 13.1-mile trek through this town to Westport and back again, and from the liquid flow of runners leaning from the men's starting line, a solid group precipitated at the front.
And it stayed there awhile, even if it shrank along the way.
The pack lingered for 11 miles and beyond, a pulsing mass of runners, giving ground, taking it back, communicating like a living organism of elite athletes.
As the horde charged down Fairfield Beach Road, close to 20 runners packed together. Probably a dozen of them put themselves in front at one point, however briefly.
Some vanished back into the masses, some faded, some even ducked out and cheered the leaders as they turned for home. After three miles, that pack had slipped to 12 men. Around the halfway mark, it was seven, and the men who'd been leading at the three-mile mark had fallen off.
"This race was, like, a technique race," Yonas Mebrahtu of Eritrea said. "No one was looking to push. We just maintained the pace."
When they pushed it a little, some runners fell back. By the eight-mile mark, about 40 minutes in, only five remained. There was some obvious talking within the pack most of the way.
"There's a lot of communication," said Kenya's Amos Sang, the Danbury Half Marathon record-holder, who lives in Springfield, Mass. "Somebody tries to take the lead. Somebody says `let me get a water.'"
The pack was a bit like last year's in Fairfield, Sang said, when a three-man pack finally started to separate about 10 kilometers in. It was a different cast, though, and he certainly took a look at who he was running with.
"Oh, yeah, definitely. You go through a pack of five guys, you're going to be looking around like, `who's here,' `who's not here,' Sang said.
"Most of the guys are new here; I've never raced with them. It's a kind of different setting, `who should I look to,' who not to."
Meanwhile, the communication was fairly typical as well, Mebrahtu said, runners helping each other.
At the 11-mile mark, the eventual champion made his push. Quickly, they were in a line, with Philip Lagat of Kenya second, Ayele Megersa Feisa of Ethiopia next, Mebrahtu following (Mebrahtu won a 10K on Shelter Island, all the way out on Long Island, on Saturday on barely any sleep, not that he was excusing himself), Sang to follow.
That's how they finished, 49 seconds separating first and fifth after they'd been neck-and-neck for 11 miles.
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