Rog makes statement in farewell race

It likely was his last race in his hometown this year, and Connor Rog went out with a bang.

Testing himself against 4,500 other distance runners -- including a handful world-class racers -- the 18-year-old Rog finished 11th in the Strattan Faxon Fairfield Half Marathon Sunday and was the first from Fairfield County to cross the finish line.

He posted a personal-best time of 1:13.38, finishing nine seconds faster than Norwalk's Eneas Freyre, who finished 12th.

"It was great," Rog said.

As well the recent Fairfield Prep grad ran, Rog got a taste of just how good world-class runners are. He was a full 8 minutes behind Ethopia's Tesfaye Girma's winning time of 1:05.37.

Girma ran neck-and-neck with his countryman and training partner Ketema Niguesse for 13 miles. But Girma's finishing kick was better, as he nipped Niguesse by one second to win the 32nd-annual race.

"This is good for me," the 29-year-old Girma said.

Nelson Kiplagat of Kenya was third, 2 minutes, 42 seconds behind Niguesse. Morocco's Marofit Mourad and Kenya's Boniface Kipkosgei-Biwott were fourth and fifth, respectively.

In the women's race, Morocco's Malika Mejdoub won for the second straight year, with a time of 1:17.47, six seconds faster than Turkey's Tertza Dengersa.

Among Connecticut men, 23-year-old Christopher Zablocki of Essex was the top finisher, coming in seventh overall with a time of 1:10.45. New London's Scott Mindel was ninth and Marc Robacznski of Canton finished 10th.

Rog did not run the Fairfield half marathon last year as a 17 year old. But as he heads off to run for the University of Virginia, he was happy with his Connecticut send-off.

"I love this race and was a little upset that I didn't run it last year because I love this race," Rog said. "This means a lot. I don't know how many more of these I'm going to do, but I'm going onto bigger and better things at Virginia."

Trumbull native Julian Saad -- who finished 18th with a time of 1:17.19 -- set a pace with Rog for much of the race.

"We were dropping 6:30 to 7 minute pace for about six miles," Rog said. "After mile six, I started going."

In the women's race, winner Mejdoub was delighted with her victory.

"I'm so happy," Mejdoub said. "I won last year and came with the idea to win this year too."

Wilton's Amy Bevilacqua -- a former Fairfield-resident running her first half-marathon -- was the top-American woman to finish, placing sixth overall with a time of 1:25.10. Stamford's Caitlin Stote was seventh with at 1:25.43.

"I think I ran a pretty steady pace," Bevilacqua said. "I didn't want to go out too fast because I was afraid I would not have much gas in the tank."

Meade Fogel was the top-female finisher from Fairfield, crossing the finish line in 1:36.49.

In the men's race, Niguesse finished second for the second straight year. Last year's winner, Kumsa Adugna of Ethiopia, did not enter this year's race.

For the first three miles Sunday, the pace was set by Girma, Niguesse, Kiplagat, Mourad and Kipkosgei-Biwott.

Then Girma, Kiplagat and Niguesse broke from the pack. Kiplagat hung with the Ethiopians until about the six-mile mark, when Girma and Niguesse began to pull away.

The two Ethiopians shared strides, cups of water and the lead through a hot and hilly course, waiting for the final one-tenth of a mile to make their last moves.

"It was very hot," Girma said of the 90-plus-degree temperatures. "It wasn't a difficult course, but it was very hot."

Niguesse agreed. "It was hot, which made it difficult," he said.

Outbound, Girma and Niguesse stayed together through Southport and Greenfield Hill, then back through Southport and into Fairfield. Neither advanced more than a stride from the other, and they posted a 10-mile time of 49:56.

"After five miles, we just went together," Girma said. "We train together and know each other very well. We're close and good friends."

Women's winner Mejdoub shared the men's sentiment about the heat, and she said it dictated a more deliberate pace.

"Today was a little bit hot," she said. "The pace was slow. Nobody wanted to push because of the weather."

ppickens@bcnnew.com; twitter.com/Pat_Pickens