Henry Rutto couldn't have asked for a better debut on U.S. soil. Esther Erb's second time competing in Philadelphia proved as successful as Rutto's first.
Rutto, a 29-year-old Kenyan, and Erb, a 26-year-old North Carolina resident, were the winners in the elite male and female divisions during Sunday's 33d annual Blue Cross Broad Street Run.
On a day with low humidity and favorable weather for a 10-mile race, the running world clearly was focused on Philadelphia. There were 40,000 registered for the event, which began at Central High School and ended at the Philadelphia Navy Yard.
Rarely in a race of this length does a runner lead from start to finish, but that was the case with Rutto, who was clocked in 47 minutes, 5 seconds. That was 1:38 better than the time of runner-up Birhanu Feyissa Alemu of Maryland.
"All the time I kept looking back, thinking there was someone [there], but there was no one, and I was surprised," Rutto said.
Rutto acknowledged that he wasn't accustomed to running alone, but he wasn't complaining, either.
"I am used to pacemaking and taking the pace, but I was fine with being alone," he said.
This was Erb's second consecutive year competing in the Broad Street Run; last year, she finished fourth.
Having competed last year "helped, especially knowing where the finish line was," said Erb, who finished in 55:26 — 25 seconds ahead of runner-up Askale Merachi of Washington, D.C.
The winning times weren't records for the event, but still impressive for their decisiveness. The men's record was set in 2007 by Patrick Cheruiyot of Kenya. His time of 45:14 is the best 10-mile time ever recorded in the United States, according to meet officials.
Catherine Ndereba, another Kenyan, set the women's record of 53:07 for the Broad Street Run in 1999.
Both of this year's winners were energized by the crowd, which lined the streets and cheered the massive wave of runners.
"It was really good; it really helped me to push it on and on — and I really liked the crowd, the music along the way," Rutto said. "I really liked it."
So did Erb.
"It was definitely a great feeling, and people can see I was smiling most of the way," she said. "The cheering was great."
Rutto has run races in Europe and will compete in his second U.S. race on Saturday — the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in New York City.
He said he wasn't sure what to expect going into the Broad Street Run.
"I was a little bit worried with the Ethiopians," he said. "I knew I was going to have a tough race, but at three miles I was all alone, and I really pushed it, and it was so nice."
Erb was a standout runner in college at Division III Case Western Reserve University.
As a senior in 2008, she won the NCAA Division III championship in the 10,000 meters.
Because her sister lives in Philadelphia, Erb said she decided to enter last year, enjoyed the experience, and came back.
Erb said she has improved while training for Zap Elite in North Carolina. Despite her high finish last year, she was taken aback by winning this year.
"It was a big surprise," she said. "I haven't won a race of this size ever. It was definitely a great feeling."
Both Rutto and Erb had such a good time that both said they hope to compete next year. Each certainly will have a lot to live up to if they return to Philadelphia.